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End the censorship!

On February 5, 2024, leaders of people’s organizations and the editors-in-chief of two alternative news media organizations wrote the National Telecommunications Commission urging it to rescind its order to block access in the Philippines to 27 websites.

The call was made in agreement with and in support of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan’s declaration, based on her initial findings from her country visit, that the website blocking is a “direct form of censorship.”

The Philippine Constitution explicitly states that no law shall be passed abridging freedom of the press and expression. Any restriction, Khan said, should be done in accordance with international standards of legality, necessity and proportionality. To date, there is no law allowing any government agency to block websites.

In their letter, the signatories said that “such standards were not met when the NTC issued its order” and that there is no legal basis for the commission to block access to the websites of organizations that have not even been designated by the Anti-Terrorism Council.

Despite hope, as well as assurances from the government, of wider civic space and of a better appreciation of basic human rights after the Duterte presidency, the letter went unanswered for three months.

The NTC finally responded and, citing advice from the National Security Council that requested the blocking of the websites in the first place, said that it will not reverse its order and will instead wait for the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to decide on the petition questioning the basis and legality of that order.

The letter, which came after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said at a media forum that he prefers a critical press and after the announcement of the creation of a new “super body” on human rights, casts doubt on the sincerity of such gestures and contradicts the government’s claim of a Bagong Pilipinas.

We, the undersigned, urge the NTC to reconsider its decision and call on President Marcos Jr. to rescind this illegal, unfair and unwarranted restriction on press freedom, the freedoms of expression and association, and the right to due process.

Altermidya
Amihan – National Federation of Peasant Women
Anakbayan Maskom
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
Bulatlat
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU)
Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP)
College Editors Guild of the Philippines
Davao Today
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
Kodao Productions
National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW)
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA)
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Philippine Press Institute
Pinoy Weekly
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)
Union of Journalists of the Philippines – UP

Court denies TRO petition versus NTC memo banning Bulatlat

Editor hopeful ‘damaging order’ will be eventually nullified

A Quezon City Court denied the petition of an alternative news outfit for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) memorandum to internet service providers to ban its website, along with dozen others.

In an order issued on June 13, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 306 said that Bulatlat.com’s website was accessed during the hearing on the same day, prompting defense counsel Ferdinand Topacio to say there is no ground for issuing a temporary restraining order.

Presiding Judge Dolly Rose Bolante-Prado said that the requisites for the issuance of a TRO are not present in the case, noting that Bulatlat is still able to publish news and commentaries.

“Consequently, there is no irreparable damage, as defined by law, to speak of. The plaintiff’s counsel’s claim that the number of Bulatlat.com’s visitors was reduced, is of no moment,” Bolante-Prado’s two-page order reads.

“The inconvenience, if any, that was caused by the questioned Memorandum to the plaintiff is  irrelevant. What is clear is that Bulatlat.com, as revealed today, can still publish online and is accessible to its audience,” it added.

Bulatlat managing editor Ronalyn Olea said they remain hopeful that the NTC memorandum would eventually be nullified by the Court.

“We are saddened by the denial of our prayer for TRO versus NTC memo but still hopeful that the Court will eventually rule in favor of press freedom and the people’s right to information,” Olea said.

READ: JOURNALISM IS NOT TERRORISM

The Court has given both petitioner and the defense until July 18 to submit their memoranda on the petition for nullification of the NTC order.

 “The NTC memo has caused irreparable damage to our Constitutional rights since our website remains inaccessible to significant segments of our audiences. The fact remains that Bulatlat has been labelled as affiliated or supportive of alleged terrorist groups without any evidence. The NTC memorandum constitutes content-based censorship,” Olea added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

JOURNALISM IS NOT TERRORISM

Journalism is not terrorism. (NUJP image)

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) memorandum ordering the blocking of the two media outfits’ websites, and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s shutdown order against Rappler are part of the systematic campaign against independent media.

These recent incidents aim to drown out the truth on one hand, and to drumbeat disinformation and misinformation on the other hand.

Just recently, the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) once again labeled the NUJP as a communist front.

The red-tagging of journalists is a deliberate attempt to discredit, isolate and render the Philippine media irrelevant. We are not taking all these sitting down.

Today, Bulatlat.com is filing a petition before the Courts to have the NTC order stopped and dismissed. We are fighting back. We will persevere in speaking truth to power. History is on our side. Press freedom will always remain a pillar of every democracy while those who sought to curtail press freedom were always repudiated and consigned to the dustbin of history.

#defendpressfreedom

Bulalat mirror site: Bulalat.org

Kung tulad po namin kayong love na love ang Bulatlat, maaari mo na ulit bisitahin ang kanilang website sa pamamagitan ng kanilang mirror site na bulatlat.org.

Group reveals attacks on media and human rights websites

Digital platforms linked to the Rodrigo Duterte government launched attacks on the websites of alternative media outfits and a human rights organization, a Sweden-based digital forensics group revealed.

Several internet protocol (IP) addresses linked to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Philippine Army attacked the websites of media outfits Bulatlat (Bulatlat.com) and Altermidya (Altermidya.net) and human rights group Karapatan (Karapatan.org), Qurium Media Foundation reported.

Qurium said that it was able to identify a vulnerability scan an attack on Bulatlat.com last May 18 by a machine from the DOST network with IP address 202.90.137{.}42.

The vulnerability scan sought potential weaknesses in the targeted network without permission from the system owner, Qurium said.

The group said the IP address’ certificate was registered to IP Solutions, Inc., a supplier of hardware and services to Philippine government agencies.

Another unit under the same IP address was registered to a certain “[email protected] Taguig Red Server.”

The “army.mil.ph” is the official domain and website of the Philippine Army.

The IP address was also traced to an edit in the Wikipedia entry “Chief of the Army (Philippines)” last June 10, 2021, Qurium said.

The series of attacks also included “HTTP flood attacks”, a type of volumetric Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack designed to overwhelm a targeted server with seemingly legitimate HTTP requests.

Kodao was first to announce of an intense DDoS attack that coincided with the attacks on AlterMidya, Bulatlat and Karapatan.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has issued separate alerts on both reports. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Journalists, lawyers slam Nasino’s ‘cruel and barbaric’ BJMP guards

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the personnel of the Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology (BJMP) who tried to prevent political prisoner Reina Mae Nasino from being interviewed by reporters at her infant daughter’s wake in Manila yesterday, October 15.

Four BJMP escorts surrounded Nasino to block her from cameras and later attempted to drag her back to jail in violation of the four-hour furlough granted by the court.

The incident caused a commotion inside the funeral parlor as Nasino’s lawyers prevented the jail guards from snatching the grieving mother.

In a statement, the NUJP said Nasino’s visit to her deceased daughter was clearly a matter of public interest as it is part of an issue that touches on some very basic human rights, “particularly that of a mother deprived of the opportunity to nurture her child and, failing that, to comfort her and bid her goodbye in her final moments.”

“The BJMP personnel who trampled on the rights of both the news personnel covering the event and of Ms. Nasino, whose incarceration does not deprive her of the right to free expression were either ignorant of media’s role in a democracy or did not care, not surprising given how the head of state himself has shown nothing but contempt for a free and critical press,” the NUJP said.

The group demanded an immediate and transparent investigation into the incident and for sanctions to be leveled against both the unit commander and the personnel who obeyed what the NUJP described was an illegal order.

Bulatlat’s video of the commotion caused by BJMP guard at Baby River Nasino’s wake.

Cruelty and Barbarity Without Compare

Nasino’s lawyers said the BJMP also lied when they said before Judge Paulino Gallegos of RTC Manila Branch 47 that they lacked the personnel who can guard Nasino overnight and thus asked that her furlough be shortened from three days to six hours.

The lawyers said about 47 jail and police officers guarded Nasino from the Manila City Jail to the funeral parlor and were armed with high powered firearms in what they said was deceptive overkill.

They also complained that the guards flanked Nasino wherever she went and refused to let her speak with her family and counsel or view her baby in private.

The lawyers, members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said the guards came looking like they were poised for battle even as they knew Nasino would not risk the chance to bury her child by attempting an escape.

“With their sheer number, the guards were the ones who overcrowded the wake. They also did not observe social distancing,” they said.

“It is clear that Ina’s escorts came to scoff at her grief by destroying the solemnity of the funeral with tension, fear, and intimidation. They arrested her on fake charges and caused the early separation of her baby in jail. What is another act of cruelty and injustice?” they said.

Atty. Ma Sol Taule, one of Nasino’s lawyers, said they know the women jail guards who attempted to snatch Nasino away were just following orders but expressed sadness the BJMP personnel did not understand the grief of a fellow woman who has lost a child.

“Hindi kami pumayag. Masyado ng maraming pasakit ang dinanas ni Reina Mae at ng kanyang anak sa kamay ng gubyernong ito,” she said. (We did not let it happen. Reina Mae and her child have suffered too much pain at the hands of this government.) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Media outfits file complaints vs state agents over red-tagging, seizure of news magazine

By EMILY VITAL/Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Alternative media outfits filed before the Commission on Human Rights complaints against government officials and state security agents for violating their “fundamental right to press freedom and expression, and the right to information of the audiences they serve.”

Altermidya, the national network of alternative media outfits, Pinoy Weekly, Kodao Productions and Bulatlat filed separate complaints against members of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and Philippine National Police who have threatened and tagged them as terrorists and communist-fronts.

One of the complaints is the recent confiscation by police in Pandi, Bulacan of thousands of copies of the news magazine Pinoy Weekly, which they maliciously tagged “subversive documents.”

The media outfits also cited that the vicious red baiting done by Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and their suspected agents has put their members’ safety and security at risk.

Bulatlat associate editor Danilo Arao filed a separate complaint as his name was included in a fake “Oust Duterte” matrix last year.

Kenneth Roland Guda, editor in chief of Pinoy Weekly, condemned the PNP Region 3 police for tagging the news magazine as “terrorist-related material.” The label, he said, may be used to file trumped-up charges of inciting to commit terrorism against them.

Under the Duterte administration, attacks on alternative media have been persistent. Altermidya documented one case of frustrated murder, eight cases of arrest and detention, 28 cases of threat and intimidation, which include surveillance, two cases of physical injuries, and six cases of cyber-attacks against its member-media outfits.

One of its members, Frenchie Mae Cumpio, is still detained in Tacloban for fabricated charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) expressed its support to Altermidya.

NUJP said that while Duterte has never directly attacked the alternative media, “those in government, particularly state security, have taken the presidential wrath against the free press as license to go after those who shine the light of truth on the inconvenient truths of Philippine society.”

“It is for this shared history of struggling for press freedom and for the invaluable work they do that we are proud to have our colleagues from Altermidya alongside us in the continuing struggle to resist those who would seek to silence open discourse in our society,” NUJP said.

The complaints were received by Ronnie Rosero and Rommel Tinga of CHR Investigative Division. #

JOINT STATEMENT by Kodao, Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, Altermidya, Suniway, and IP Converge

The parties understand that the plaintiffs claimed to have been victims of what appear to be repeated cyberattacks on their respective online platforms.

Collectively, the parties declare:

IP Converge Data Services, Inc. (IPC), Suniway Group of Companies (Suniway), as well as the individual defendants, namely Ernesto R. Alberto, Nerissa S. Ramos, Anabelle L. Chua, Juan Victor I. Hernandez, Patrick David R. De Leon, Sherwin Torres, Christian Villanueva, Cean Archievald Reyes, Rolando O. Fernando, Julia Mae D. Celis, Mary Ann F. Recomono, and Jiang Zongye (collecively referred to as “defendants”),  express their utmost respect and full support of press freedom as a constitutional guarantee and a tenet of a democratic society.

As defendants have no prior knowledge of, much less consented to, the use of IPC’s and Suniway’s respective cyber-infrastructure for the perpetration of these cyberattacks, defendants commit to support a free press. Effective mechanisms to combat such attacks shall further be improved to prevent a repeat of this kind of situation.

In consideration of such declaration and commitment, plaintiff-operators of Bulatlat.com, Kodao.org, PinoyWeekly.org, and Altermidya.net hereby collectively withdraw their Complaint against defendants with prejudice. Likewise, defendants shall withdraw their counterclaims against the plaintiffs.

With this agreement, the four media outfits as plaintiffs are satisfied that their rights to press freedom and free expression have been recognized and upheld even as they vow to remain vigilant against any future or similar attacks. #

Update on the DDoS defense of alternative media outfits

Respondents Suniway and IP Converge, in their respective answers filed in court, deny any knowledge in the cyberattacks launched against us. Both absolve themselves of any accountability to the three-month long distributed denial of service attacks despite the fact that their infrastructure were used in these attacks.

How could one then explain that after the filing of civil case against these companies, the cyberattacks stopped?

We also decry the counterclaim filed by both companies in the total amount of P6.5 million for allegedly besmirching their reputation. It’s clear that we, the plaintiffs, have no malice and only state, as a matter of fact, the results of forensic investigation done by Qurium identifying them as sources of DDoS attacks.

The filing of counterclaim is an act of harassment against non-profit media outfits and meant to intimidate us. We are not backing down.

Altermidya

Bulatlat

Kodao

Pinoy Weekly

Alternative media outfits fight back, file complaints vs. cyber-attacks

Alternative media outfits identified two companies where the intense cyber attacks against them since December are coming from.

Bulatlat, Kodao, and Pinoy Weekly, as well as the People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya) filed a civil complaint at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court this morning against IP Converge Data Services, Inc. and Suniway Group of Companies they believe are where the cyber-attacks are coming from.

“Through the solid and thorough digital forensic investigation of Sweden-based Qurium Media Foundation over time, it was discovered that the cyber-attacks were coming from companies IP Converge and Suniway,” Altermidya national coordinator Rhea Padilla said.

According to their respective websites, IP Converge Data Services, Inc. is the country’s first cloud services provider while Suniway is an internet services provider.

Exposed IP addresses

Padilla said the digital forensic report revealed that despite hiding behind a Virtual Private Network (VPN), one of the attackers exposed their real IP addresses when they accessed the website without turning on their hidden IPs.

In another instance, one of the attackers also revealed his IP address when he used his Samsung Android phone to check the websites of alternative media groups under attack.

The exposed IP addresses, she added, may easily be traced to IP Converge based on the findings of Qurium.

Meanwhile, Qurium learned that the infrastructure of networks being used to launch the attacks belongs to Suniway, which holds business addresses both in Hong Kong and in the Philippines with two Chinese national listed as among its officers.

“The user agents who conducted the attacks using devices within the premises and under the control and supervision of Defendants IP Converge and Suniway are unidentified at this point,” their complaint said.

First-ever complaint

Padilla said their civil complaint against cyber-attackers is the first ever in the Philippines.

“This is definitely a first and it will serve as a testament that we will neither be cowed nor will we allow these cyber-attacks to continue,” Padilla said.

The complainants were assisted by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.

Since December 2018, alternative media sites have been subjected to sustained cyber-attacks in the form of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

DDoS refers to the malicious attempt to overload the server of a website, aimed to shut it down.

Padilla said this kind of attack “denies legitimate readers of access to truthful reports.”

“Plaintiffs have reasonable ground to believe that there are more than one of them, each one targeting a particular organization,” their complaint said.

Padilla added that launching a cyber-attack with this kind of magnitude and immensity is impossible without the knowledge of the companies.

The alternative media outfits maintained that these relentless cyber-attacks are politically-motivated.

They called on the two companies to reveal their real clients.

“We believe these attacks are state-sponsored and are part of the Duterte administration’s attempt to stifle press freedom in the country. It seems cyber censorship is one of the administration’s tactics to make way for an open dictatorial rule,” Padilla said.

The filing of the complaint coincided with the 25th anniversary of the internet in the Philippines.

In March 29, 1994, the first ever internet message were sent between the University of San Carlos in Cebu City and Syracuse University in New York. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)