MANILA – The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Saturday said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) does not have the authority to block news websites based on the National Security Adviser's request.
The IBP said the NTC cannot "restrict access" to members of the media based on allegations made by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, describing the move as "drastic" and a "shortcut" to silence the press.
"To take down the websites is to muzzle their owners. Such a drastic move can't be anchored on statements that in court would be treated as hearsay," the IBP statement read.
"Neither may it extend the scope of the Anti-Terrorism Council's designation order to 'affiliates' at the barest invocation of terrorism."
Esperon earlier asked the NTC to block access to websites with alleged links to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), which included the websites of progressive groups and independent media.
The NTC's order, dated June 8, covered nearly 30 websites, including those of CPP's founding chairman Jose Maria Sison and the Philippine Revolution Web Central.
The websites of the following were also on the list: Save Our Schools Network, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Pamalakaya Pilpinas, Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly.
The news outfits have criticized the NTC and Esperon, saying there was no due process before their websites got blocked.
The IBP described the NTC's order as "baseless" and can be used to silence human rights advocates and other progressive groups doing "legitimate activities" just because they have been linked to terrorism.
"The [National Security Council's] letter-request, bereft of legal basis, only serves to embarrass the outgoing administration," IBP said.
"The Supreme Court has already affirmed the constitutionality of [Anti-Terrorism Act's] designation process. The NSC is encouraged to use the fruits of this victory and file the proper cases and requests for designation instead of resorting to censorial shortcuts," the group added.