Websites Esperon has sought to block in PH

MANILA, Philippines — The content of the majority of websites blocked by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in the Philippines raises questions about the basis — and purpose — of the Duterte administration’s latest decision.

A look at National Security Advisor Hermogenes Esperon Jr.’s June 6, 2022 order list shows that while there are websites explicitly linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the majority do not fall into this category.

At least two are alternative media outlets based in the Philippines while several websites are linked to long-standing progressive groups in the country. The list even includes at least four websites run by overseas-based organizations or individuals that focus on a wide range of issues affecting not just the Philippines, but multiple countries.

Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly: Shining a Light on Marginalized Groups

Alternative media outlets based in the Philippines blocked by NTC include Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.

Bulatlat, one of the country’s leading alternative media outlets, was established in 2001 in response to the “blatant corruption of those who claimed to work for the interests of the Filipino people” following the Estrada administration.

Over the years, he has published articles on pressing human rights issues in the Philippines, including land reform, the rights of indigenous peoples and the welfare of migrants, among others, and earned them several prices over the years. The outlet was a three-time finalist for the Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for Excellence in Journalism.

Bulatlat’s approach to stories is aligned with its goal to contribute to the “struggle for truth and justice, freedom, against all forms of oppression, and against abuse and abuse of power by the main political leaders in the country,” according to its website.

“For the past 21 years, Bulatlat has been committed to bringing light to issues that affect the marginalized and oppressed,” the group said in a statement.

“These stories are often underreported or ignored by mainstream media, primarily due to the economic and political interests of their owners,” he added.

Over the past month, the outlet has featured stories about Marcos’ incoming presidency, rising fuel prices and its impact on public utility vehicle drivers, and the plight of farmers arrested at Hacienda Tinang in Tarlac, among others. .

Pinoy Weekly, meanwhile, is an alternative news magazine that also publishes articles highlighting the issues and prospects of the country’s vulnerable sectors. It was established as a print magazine in 2002 and eventually launched its own website in 2008.

Besides text articles, Pinoy Weekly also produces explainer videos on the issues that dominate the news cycle. The most recent episode of ALAB, or Alternatibong Balitatackled the transportation crisis facing commuters and drivers, and the arrests of activists in the Philippines.

PinoyMedia Center, publisher of Pinoy Weekly, called NTC and Esperon’s decision an “outright violation” of freedom of the press and free speech, as well as an affront to the people’s right to information. in a context of endemic disinformation in the country.

“Our mission to provide the public with alternative viewpoints on issues concerning marginalized sectors will be hindered by such publication,” he said in a statement.

Both Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly have been victims of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in recent years, particularly in 2021, which aimed to take down their respective websites. In its report, Qurium Media, a Swedish-based digital forensics nonprofit, said it found links to the Department of Science and Technology and the military in the DDoS attacks on Bulatlat.

STRUGGLE. Pamalakaya is leading a protest movement in Cavite. Photo by PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas FB
Latest Attacks vs. Progressive Groups

Other websites blocked by the NTC belong to progressive groups that have long been the target of threats, harassment and legal action by the Duterte administration under the guise of its counter-insurgency campaign.

BAYAN, one of the country’s veteran progressive groups, has always been red-flagged by Duterte and his allies. Its secretary general, Renato Reyes, said the latest orders “show how arbitrary the use of terrorist labeling and red tags has become”.

“No due process, no evidence, guilt by association,” he said on Twitter.

Save our Schools Network is a coalition of groups advocating for the well-being of children and their right to education, including the creation of alternative schools for the Lumad. The SOS Network has also recorded attacks on Lumad schools during the Duterte administration, particularly following threats from the president himself.

Pamalakaya, meanwhile, is a group that has extensively documented the plight of fishermen, who belong to one of the poorest sectors in the Philippines. In recent years, he has called on the government to respond appropriately to reported harassment of Filipinos by Chinese fishing vessels.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) is a national church-based organization and has both priests and lay members. It was established in 1969 and has since worked to empower farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples. RMP is one of the mission partners of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, one of the groups that filed a petition against the anti-terrorism law in the Supreme Court.

AMIHAN Women, a federation of peasant women’s organizations, called out the Duterte government for its misplaced priorities amid more pressing issues facing Filipinos.

Nakakagalit na sa panahon ng krisis in pagkain, halos linggo-linggong pagtaas ng presyo ng gasolina and pagtaas ng presyo nga pangunahing bilihin, pinili ng gobyernong ito na na ang as organisationasyong nananawagan ng kagyat and kongkretong tugon in umiiral na sosyo-economikong krisisAmihan National President Zenaida Soriano said in a statement.

(It is frustrating that at a time when there is a food crisis and an almost weekly rise in fuel and food prices, the government has chosen to further crack down on organizations that call for concrete actions to help the country recover. coping with this socio-economic crisis.)

Focused on the foreigner? Deceased?

What is also surprising in the list of websites blocked by Esperon is the inclusion of at least four sites linked to overseas-based organizations that publish not only Philippines-specific publications, but a broad range of topics. These are Counter Punch, International Action Center, Monthly Review and People’s March.

Counter Punch describes itself as an article publisher with “an independent, leftist perspective”. An archived version of her About Us page shows she is based in California, United States, and “published a newsletter and magazine from 1993 to 2020.”

Monthly Review, on the other hand, is based in New York, also in the United States, and has been in circulation since 1949. Its website states that it is an “independent socialist magazine”, which since then “speaks for a critical but fiery socialism, independent of any political organization.

“In an era of Cold War repression, the magazine published pioneering analyzes of political economy, imperialism and Third World struggles, drawing on the rich heritage of Marxist thought without being tied to narrow view or to a party line,” the website’s About page reads. .

One of its first published papers, in fact, was written by scientist Albert Einstein. He has also published articles by socialist professor and former vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello and other Filipino scholars.

The International Action Center, established in 1992, describes itself as an “anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist” grassroots organization in the United States. A box on its website shows that it focuses on “information, activism and resistance to [US] militarism, war and corporate greed, linked to struggles against racism and oppression within the [US].”

The People’s March, meanwhile, appears to be owned by a group based in Kerala, India, which claims to be the “voice of the Indian revolution”. A look at his website shows that he may have been inactive for a long time. His last post was published in 2008, 14 years ago.

The content of these sites, particularly those linked to organizations clearly not designated as terrorists by the government’s counter-terrorism council, raises not only the question of the basis of the maneuver, but also of its objective.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the Duterte government’s latest move “is nothing less than a brazen attempt to undermine…and censor media and groups.” .

“What’s amazing is how easily the government escalates its defamatory rhetoric from branding them red to labeling them as terrorists, labeling them as terrorists,” he said.

“But the main thing is [Duterte administration] has provided no solid evidence to support its claims that these groups are working with the Communists, let alone preparing to bear arms against the government,” he added. –