Media groups submit complaints to UN experts before PH human rights review

GENEVA, Switzerland - Media and academic groups submitted complaints to the office of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor several days before the United Nations Human Rights Council conducts its universal periodic review on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Pinoy Media Center (PMC), publisher of Pinoy Weekly, reported that then National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon has ordered the blocking of their website and 27 other organizations, which is still inaccessible to the public.

In its letter to Lawlor, the independent media outfit also stated that its website have also been subject to continuous cyber-attacks since 2018. The website www.pinoyweekly.org had also been hacked between November 17 and 18, 2021, the PMC said.

“Enforcing restrictions to access our website does not only violate our rights to freedom of the press, speech and free expression, which are guaranteed under the Philippine Constitution,” PMC, though its executive director Angela Colmenares, said.

PMC added that copies of Pinoy Weekly’s print editions have been confiscated and burned by members of the Philippine Army and the Bulacan Philippine National Police three times between September 5, 2019 and July 25, 2020 in Pandi, San Jose del Monte City and Norzagaray.

Bulatlat.com, the country’s longest running alternative media outfit, also complained of its website’s blocking by the National Telecommunications Commission last June 8 as well as incessant cyber-attacks using the Department of Science and Technology infrastructure assigned to the Philippine Army.

“Perpetrated by the state, the attacks are tantamount to content-based prior restraint and censorship,” Bulatlat managing editor Ronalyn Olea said.

The submissions were made by the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch, a network of church and human rights organizations, that is currently in this city to participate in the United Nations Human Rights Council review on the human rights situation in the Philippines on November 14.

Justice secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla is again expected to represent a high-level mission to represent the Philippine government.

Philippine UPR Watch also submitted to the UN experts a report on academic freedom developments in the Philippines by the Scholars at Risk Network.

The report said attacks and pressures on academic freedom escalated during the transition between the Rodrigo Duterte and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. governments.

“These have included the threat of red-tagging, anti-terrorism legislated, and censorship that undermine academic freedom and freedom of expression,” according to the report.

As both Pinoy Media Center and Bulatlat, the academics said scholars and academic institutions have been subjected to red-tagging, it adds.

The report also cited the killing of two volunteer teachers of indigenous peoples’ schools in February 2022 as well as former anti-insurgency task force spokesperson Lorraine Badoy’s red-tagging of former Ateneo School of Law Dean Antonio La Vina.

Threats to academic freedom in the Philippines include the censorship of books in libraries of state universities by the Commission on Higher Education and the banning of the publication of books by the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino, an attached agency of the Office of the President.

Philippine UPR Watch said that aside from Monday’s review of the Philippines, the submissions are in anticipation of the official visit of UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan to the Philippines next year.

*Copies of the complaints/submissions are available upon request.