By Genalyn Kabiling
Freedom of expression is not absolute and is subject to derogation, Malacañang said Thursday after a United Nations (UN) rights chief called out the Philippines for its alleged clampdown on free speech during the coronavirus pandemic.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Bayanihan law has a provision that penalizes peddlers of false information amid the public health emergency.
“Freedom of expression is not absolute; it is subject to derogation. [And] one form of derogation is the criminal clause ‘no, iyong penal clause po na nandiyan na kabahagi ng Bayanihan We Heal as One Act (the penal clause in the Bayanihan We Heal as One Act),” he said in a press briefing Thursday (June 4).
Roque assured the UN rights body that the country’s justice system continues to work. He noted that some cases against suspected violators of the Bayanihan law provision against false information have actually been junked.
“Ang magandang balita naman po ay gumagana po ang ating institutions, lalung-lalo na ang ating hukuman. At marami po sa mga nakasuhan ay dinismiss naman po ng ating piskalya pa lamang ang mga kasong ito. So, the system works po (The good news is our institutions, especially our courts, are working. Many of those charged were dismissed by the fiscal. So the system works),” he said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet expressed her alarm about the alleged clampdown on freedom of expression in the Asia Pacific region during the coronavirus crisis. She claimed that people had been fined, arrested, and attacked for allegedly spreading misinformation or criticizing the government’s response in countries like the Philippines.
Roque, however, asserted that free speech cannot be suppressed in the country.
“I think dito sa Pilipinas, hindi mo na talaga masusupil ang karapatan ng malayang pananalita, dahil hindi na po papayag ang sambayanang Pilipino (I think in the Philippines, you cannot suppress freedom of expression because the Filipino nation won’t allow it),” he said.