MANILA — A Quezon City court has granted independent media Bulatlat's plea for a writ of preliminary injunction to stop the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) from enforcing its order blocking its website.
In an order issued Thursday, August 11, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 306 Judge Dolly Rose Bolante-Prado ordered the issuance of the injunction order over the June 8, 2022 NTC memorandum "as it orders the blocking of the plaintiff’s website, bulatlat.com."
"The writ of preliminary injunction shall remain effective until final adjudication of the merits of the main case has been made," she said.
The issuance of writ of preliminary injunction in favor of Bulatlat is however conditioned on posting of a P100,000 bond to answer for damages defendants might suffer because of the injunction.
Bolante-Prado said Bulatlat has established a clear and unmistakable right to publish, impart, circulate and disseminate opinion, commentaries and other information and the NTC's blocking memo curtails this right to free speech and of the press.
Bulatlat presented its managing editor Ronalyn Olea who testified that she and some writers and contributors of Bulatlat cannot access their website and publish news and commentaries without using a VPN.
It also presented 3 other witnesses who cannot access the website, to counter the defendants’ position that the website can still be accessed.
"Evidently there is violation or curtailment of plaintiff’s right to free speech and of the press when its publisher’s and reader’s access to its website was limited," the court said.
"To the court, any limitation or restriction in the exercise of one's right, no matter the extent, and for even minimal periods of time, is a form of deprivation, and, clearly, a violation of such right. The violation itself is damage enough on the one restrained which cannot be quantified or measured in terms of monetary value," it added.
The same court earlier denied Bulatlat's plea for a temporary restraining order (TRO) after finding that Bulatlat's website can still be accessed by the judge and the defendants.
Bulatlat insisted that while some could access its website, it has lost 43 percent of its unique visitors since the NTC issued the blocking order.
It asked the court to reconsider the TRO denial but with the issuance of preliminary injunction order, the court said the issue is already moot.
Reacting to the ruling, Bulatlat thanked the judge for "upholding press freedom."
It also thanked its lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, fellow journalists and other supporters.
"It is indeed a collective win for the Philippine independent media. This decision reaffirms the power of solidarity and the righteousness of pushing back against all attempts at muzzling the press," she said.
Aside from Bulatlat, NTC ordered the blocking of more than 20 other websites of groups allegedly affiliated with or supported communist rebel groups earlier designated as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council.
It was based on the letter of then-National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. who cited 3 resolutions of the Anti-Terrorism Council designating the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New Peoples' Army and the National Democratic Front and some of their alleged members as terrorists.
But Bulatlat said it was neither an affiliate or supporter of the 3 groups, nor was it named in the ATC's resolutions.
It challenged the NTC order claiming the regulator has no power, whether under its own law and rules or under the Anti-Terrorism Act, to block access to websites.
The only consequence of being designated as a terrorist under the law is for authorities to freeze bank accounts.
Bulatlat also complained it was not afforded due process because it was not allowed to present contrary evidence before the blocking order was issued and implemented.