National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon on Thursday defended his request to have 26 websites blocked, which he said have sowed “enmity and discord” through misinformation to support the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which the government has declared as a terrorist group.
“Misinformation remains to be one of the nation’s greatest enemies and is in fact a powerful tool used by the Communist terrorist group to sow enmity and discord—dividing Filipinos from objectivity and truth,” Esperon said after his decision drew heavy fire from human rights groups and leftist lawmakers.
Esperon pointed out that upholding and promoting the truth is a national security responsibility imbued with public interest.
He said some websites like the independent Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly have been using their platforms to spread information on causes important to communist ideology.
“We cannot simply turn a blind eye to the fact that they have actively supported organizations affiliated with the CPP-NPA-NDF,” Esperon said.
Both Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly have condemned the move to block their websites as an affront to freedom of speech and of expression.
Esperon expressed gratitude to NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba for granting his request to restrict the influence of some websites for allegedly supporting the CPP, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
“We understand that the cost of leadership is high, especially with issues as sensitive as this. Nevertheless, the goal to protect and preserve our nation’s integrity and objectivity means that we are prepared to make difficult decisions needed to prevent further negative influence from the CPP-NPA-NDF and its affiliated organizations to spread in our cyberspace,” Esperon added.
Esperon dismissed this criticism, saying restricting access to these websites does not necessarily mean a restriction on these organizations to engage in free speech.
“The right to free speech is protected, even under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2022 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 added.
Upon the request of the NSC, the NTC has ordered internet service providers to block these websites, including the independent media.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) also defended the NSC move.
DILG Undersecretary and spokesperson for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) Jonathan Malaya said the legal basis for restricting these websites primarily emanates from “The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson, one of the authors of the law, said the affected websites can challenge the move in court.
He said this was the basic right of an aggrieved party.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said blocking the sites was a bad idea.
“We may be keeping our people, especially our younger generation ignorant of other perspectives, other ways of looking at things, any other ways of solving our problems,” he said.
“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 said. “And of course we want the Filipino people to have the capability to be critical thinkers.”