The restriction of several websites that are being linked by the government to the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) is “a win” for the Philippines, outgoing National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. declared Wednesday, June 22.
“The restriction of communist terrorist group (CTG)-affiliated websites is a win for the nation against leftist misinformation, NPA recruitment, and propaganda,” Esperon said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, it was revealed that Esperon requested the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to block online access to at least 25 websites that are linked to the CPP-NPA-NDF.
He submitted the request letter to the NTC last June 6 and the NTC responded two days later by having the websites restricted. The request was made public only on June 22.
“Upholding and promoting the truth is a national security responsibility imbued with public interest. My letter, addressed to NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, dated June 06, 2022, expressed our concern for the welfare of the Filipino people who continually use digital resources as means by which to be informed and educated,” Esperon stated.
However, controversy arose when Esperon included as among the targeted websites independent media organizations such as Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly as well as some progressive organizations.
The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the inclusion of independent nedia groups, saying it was an attack to press freedom and freedom of expression.
“Blocking access to these sites leave a gap in discourse and in the flow of information, and highlights the threats posed by the Anti-Terrorism Law on the freedom of expression and on freedom of the press,” the NUJP said.
Esperon justified the inclusion of Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly in the list of restricted websites as he quoted alleged excerpts from their online posts that fell under the Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
The said posts, entitled “Limang Katwiran ng Armadong Pakikibaka,” and “NPA at Masa, ‘di Matitinag,” supposedly published by Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly respectively, justified the occurrence of armed struggle and recruitment of NPA fighters, according to Esperon.
He said the posts fell under Section 9 (definition of terrorism) and Section 10 (recruitment to and membership in a terrorist organization) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, respectively.
Esperon clarified that the restriction of access to the websites “does not necessarily mean a restriction for these organizations to engage in free speech.” He said Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, and other websites stated in his letter to NTC “are free to continue publishing articles and editorial pieces that fit their messaging lines, but they will not be accessible to internet users in this country.”
“Simply put, these websites through the order of the NTC dated June 08, 2022, will not be accessible to users within the bounds of the country’s Internet Service Providers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Esperon did not provide an explanation why other progressive groups such as Save Our Schools Network, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Pamalakaya Pilipinas, and AMIHAN National Federation of Peasant Women were also included in the list of restricted websites but some of these have previously been accused by the government of being front organizations of the CPP-NPA-NDF.
“The right to free speech is protected, even under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020—and should be used responsibly and for a good cause. Hate speech, unjust propaganda, and seeking support for CTG-affiliated organizations should be seen as separate offenses that need to be limited, especially in our country where misinformation remains to be addressed with care and consistency,” Esperon noted.