July 13, 2022

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Court denies news website’s plea to stop website ban

A QUEZON City trial court on Wednesday denied Bulatlat.com’s plea to stop the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) from blocking its news website.

In a two-page order, Judge Dolly Rose R. Bolante-Prado said the website could still be accessed by its readers and Bulatlat had been able to update the site with new articles and commentaries.

“Its website is still accessible to the public, hence, there is clearly no suppression of the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech,” she said. “Consequently, there is no irreparable damage, as defined by law, to speak of.”

Bulatlat.com can still be accessed using a virtual private network (VPN).

The news website sued NTC on July 8 and sought a temporary restraining order against the agency, which ordered local internet service providers to block access to more than 20 news websites identified with the Maoist movement.

The court gave the parties until July 18 to submit their memoranda. A hearing was set for Aug. 2 on Bulatlat’s plea for an injunction.

“Its denial [of the restraining order plea] does not affect the main case or the merits of it,” Minerva F. Lopez, Bulatlat’s lawyer, said in a Viber message.

Last month, the country’s telecommunication regulator issued an order to block 26 websites supposedly “affiliated to and are supporting” the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front. The directive was issued upon the request of former National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr.

The Anti-Terrorism Council has labeled these as terrorist groups.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla told reporters in a Viber message they would look into the NTC order.

In its complaint, Bulatlat said it was not associated with terrorist groups and is only engaged in delivering the news.

It added that NTC does not have the power to block the websites, accusing it of violating freedom of expression.

Bulatlat Managing Editor Ronalyn V. Olea earlier said they were never notified of the ban.

Global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch earlier called on civil society and the international community to “publicly condemn this latest attempt to suppress freedom of expression in the Philippines.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez