By DANIEL ASIDO
MANILA – Progressive groups have expressed their dismay over the order of the National Telecommunications Commission to block 27 websites, saying that it mirrors the martial law days under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. where press freedom was stifled.
“This situation is like a throwback to 1972 when Marcos Sr. closed down private media and broadcasting networks and maintained only government mouthpieces. Such dirty tactics of website blocking have no legal basis even in the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL),” farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
Their statement came after internet service providers (ISP) acted on the NTC memorandum ordering the DNS blocking of the 27 websites, per the “request” of the National Security Council. Included in the list are websites of farmers and fisherfolk, human rights groups, activist groups, and independent media.
Not a shred of evidence was presented on the supposed terror tagging of the said groups, apart from citing resolutions of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Council. Legal experts, however, said the terror law did not carry any provision that allows blocking or shutting down of websites, even for designated terrorists.
“The NTC and NSC’s action stifles freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and undermines the people’s right to know,” KMP added.
Last-minute moves to further stifle freedom of expression
For environmental group Kalikasan, the blocking of the 27 websites is but a last-ditch effort of the Duterte administration to stifle dissent.
Under the Duterte administration, independent news agencies were subjected to red-tagging and relentless cyber-attacks. There was also a spate in the use of libel and cyber libel charges in an attempt to silence journalists, including Nobel Peace Prize awardee Maria Ressa.
Women journalists, on the other hand, experience gender-based attacks, particularly from online harassment.
“We fear that this shrinking democratic space will be furthered by the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., Bongbong Marcos Jr. It might be the prelude to another free speech crisis as BBM won through massive disinformation, fake news, and red-tagging,” said Kalikasan.
“Amid a worsening environmental, political and economic crisis, the role of people’s organizations as watchdogs is crucial in assuring that the state is not amiss to its duties and responsibilities to the people,” Agham, a group of Filipino Scientists, said.
Both Kalikasan and Agham run a column at Bulatlat, titled “Kalibutan” and “Lab Notes,” respectively, where they write on people’s struggle for land, life, and environment.
Focus on providing services
Instead of blocking their websites, progressives said the Philippine government should instead focus on improving the lives of the Filipino people.
“It is enraging that amid the food crisis, the weekly incessant oil price hikes, the increasing prices of staples, the government chose to silence organizations that are calling for an immediate and concrete response to this crisis,” said Zen Soriano of Amihan.
Amihan is one of the 27 websites ordered by the NTC to be restricted.
The women farmers organization has also long been subjected to red-tagging, with their bank accounts frozen since last year.
“We urge telcos to reject these baseless and arbitrary orders. This is a brazen attack meant to silence progressive organizations and critics advancing the interests of the peasantry and other marginalized sectors,” Soriano added. (JJE, RVO)