Groups condemn govt order to block news sites

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 22) — Press freedom and human rights watchdogs on Wednesday lambasted the National Security Council's order to block access to news sites allegedly linked to communist rebels, branding the move as a new effort to silence organizations that are critical of the government.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) denounced the "arbitrary inclusion" of Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, and other independent news sites in a list of those tagged as being "affiliated to and are supporting" the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

READ: NSA lobbies to block access to websites of CPP-NPA, alternative media, progressive groups

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon earlier asked the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to prohibit access to the news sites because of the organizations' alleged affiliation with communist rebel groups.

The NUJP said the government did not provide any notice to the newsrooms nor provided them an opportunity to refute the National Security Council's (NSC) "reckless claims".

"Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly have existed for years and have built a track record of reporting on people's issues. Sometimes, that reporting has been critical of government and its policies, but it is dangerous to equate this with affiliation or support that the government now claims," it said.

"Blocking access to these sites leaves 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 added.

Amnesty International also took to Twitter to criticize the order, stressing it is "deeply concerning" that this was released a week before a new administration led by President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos takes office.

"The order to block websites including independent media outlets Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly is a blatant attack on freedom of information & expression," it said.

"Press freedom and freedom of expression are rights guaranteed in the constitution of the Philippines and under international human rights law. They must be protected. We call on the government to rescind this unacceptable order immediately," Amnesty International said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, sees the move as government's new attempt to "red-tag and harass of civil society actors, including journalists and activists" despite the absence of solid evidence to back its claims.

"The NSC instead falls back on vague, catch-all weasel words, using descriptions like “affiliates” of the insurgents, to throw a blanket over these civil society groups," he said.

Senator Koko Pimentel, on the other hand, said the move may prevent the Filipino youth from developing critical thinking.

"That might be too broad and we may be keeping our people esp our younger generation ignorant of other perspectives, other ways of looking at things, other ways of solving our problems. Allowing access to other thoughts (which are not in agreement with our own thoughts) is one necessary step in the development of critical and independent thinking," he saiid.

Other progressive groups included in the list are Save our Schools Network, UMA Pilipinas, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, and Pamalakaya Pilipinas.