Only seven out of the over 20 websites ordered blocked by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) are affiliated with Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the party said on Wednesday.
In a statement, CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena condemned National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.’s request for the internet service providers to block websites allegedly linked to "communist-terrorists,” stressing that it is a form of censorship and suppression of the people’s right to free speech against the incoming Marcos administration.
“CPP denounces the National Security Council and various agencies of the reactionary government for the push to erect a Marcos Anti-Democracy (MAD) Internet Firewall in a desperate bid to censor online criticism and dissent against the incoming illegitimate Marcos II regime, as well as suppress progressive, patriotic and revolutionary journalism and literature that exposes the ills of the ruling system,” he said.
The Marcos Anti-Democracy (MAD) Firewall has nothing to do with "anti-terrorism" as it is nothing but barefaced censorship. It shows how "anti-terrorism" is being used as an arbitrary category to suppress all forms of opposition and people's resistance.— Marco Valbuena (@cpp_marco) June 22, 2022
Fight the MAD Firewall! pic.twitter.com/W6ZkVmDqR5
Among the sites blocked by the NTC were those of progressive groups Save Our Schools Network, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Pamalakaya Pilipinas, and BAYAN. It also included independent news organizations Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.
Valbuena claimed that the incident “is just the opening scene for a general crackdown against Philippine media” by the government led by President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
“The push for the MAD Firewall is a direct outcome of the so-called Anti-Terrorism Law and exposes its real authoritarian and draconian intent. In fact, the MAD Firewall has nothing to do with ‘anti-terrorism’ as it is nothing but barefaced censorship. It shows how ‘anti-terrorism’ is being used as an arbitrary category to suppress all forms of opposition and people's resistance,” he added.
GMA News Online sought the comment of Marcos’ camp regarding CPP’s statement, but it has yet to respond as of posting.
'Brazen violation of media freedom'
In a statement on Wednesday in reaction to Esperon's request, Bulatlat said NTC's action was a violation of its right to free speech and free press as provided for under the Philippine Constitution.
"Bulatlat, the longest-running and award-winning online media outfit and the authority in human rights reporting in the Philippines, condemns this brazen violation of our right to publish, and of the public’s right to free press and free expression," it said.
Bulatlat said it already asked NTC and the Department of Information and Communications Technology to investigate the matter on June 20 but it has yet to receive a response.
The Altermidya Network, of which Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly are members, called on the NTC to reverse the order.
"This is a brazen violation of media freedom and the public's right to information," it said in a separate statement. "It sets a very alarming precedent for independent journalism and for media freedom."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said such state-backed blocking of media and civil society websites is another dimension to the government's "outrageous, rights abusing efforts to red-tag and harass civil society actors, including journalists and activists."
"This is nothing less than a brazen attempt to undermine them and censor these media outlets and groups. What’s astonishing is how easily the government escalates its defamatory rhetoric, moving from red-tagging them to classifying them as terrorists, in effect terrorist-tagging them," Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy director in Asia, said.
Some lawmakers also criticized the move, with Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate describing it as "another throwback to the martial rule era and a blatant violation of the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and of the press."
ACT Teachers party-list lawmaker France Castro said the action was "red-tagging in the context of the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act."
In a text message to reporters, Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, who is set to join the minority bloc in the 19th Congress, said Esperon's move was not a "good idea."
"Let us expose our people, especially the young ones, to all sorts of ideas and theories. This is part of the process in developing our own critical thinking capability," he said.
"They might be too broad and we may be keeping our people, especially the young generation, ignorant of other perspectives, other ways of solving our problems. Allowing access to other thoughts (which are not in agreement with our thoughts) is one necessary step in the development of critical and independent thinking. And of course, we want Filipinos to have the capability to be critical thinkers," he added. —with Hana Bordey/LDF/VBL, GMA News