Karapatan warns of growing threats to freedom of expression as gov’t jails salesman for post vs Duterte, Go

As a social media post against President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Bong Go led to the illegal arrest of a 41-year-old salesman in Agusan del Norte, human rights group Karapatan expressed its deep concern over the palpable crackdown on dissent, saying that the already-diminished space for free expression for Filipinos dismayed with the Duterte administration is fast shrinking.

“While we all grapple with the worsening impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the government is hell-bent in stifling dissent even on online spaces to go after those who are expressing frustrations and criticisms, especially on government’s inadequate response to the public health crisis that is affecting millions of Filipinos,” Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said.

On Wednesday, May 13, 2020, police arrested Reynaldo Orcullo for allegedly committing cyber-libel after posting on his Facebook account the following: “ALAM NA PATTERN, MOSALIDA SI GO KONUHAY SIYA MOHANGYO SA BUANG NGA PANGULO, DIGONG GAGO. BUANG SI DIGONG (The pattern is obvious. Bong Go will make a show of it, as if he’s asking a favor from the crazy President, Digong is stupid. Digong is crazy).”

The Karapatan officer said the case of Orcullo is proof that the provision on libel of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 targets critics of government. “While we recognize that the constitutionally enshrined rights to free speech and expression comes with responsibility, the arbitrary arrest of Orcullo reveals how this government easily violates the rights of individuals, including the right to due process, who catch its ire for airing grievances. No warrants were even issued against Orcullo,” Palabay commented.

“Human rights activists, Church and opposition personalities have been the subject of countless derogatory allegations and statements from the President, other key government officials, and the administration’s supporters, but we never heard anyone from this regime speaking against those malicious and baseless pronouncements. The arrest of individuals expressing opinions and dissent at this time when we are facing a crisis proves that this government is exploiting the pandemic to suppress people’s rights,” she said.

Palabay asserted that “even if government and its agencies try to cover its infringement on people’s rights by organizing dialogues and caravans through its whole-of-nation approach, so long as justice remains elusive and that State perpetrators remain in the comforts of impunity, the Filipino people will bravely speak against violations perpetrated by the government.”