Freedom of expression 'under siege' in PH, say human rights groups
MANILA, Philippines – Amid the proliferation of fake news and propaganda on social media, human rights defenders and civil society organizations (CSOs) urged Filipinos to defy threats to freedom of expression on Sunday, December 10.
In a statement released on International Human Rights Day, groups and advocates who gathered in the Freedom of Expression Conference (FreeXP.con) expressed alarm over instances where government officials have attempted to intimidate the media or clamp down on dissent.
"Reaffirming the right to freedom of expression is the most fundamental freedom and right in a democratic society, as enshrined in Article III, Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Philippines and international standards," the FreeXP.con Declaration reads.
The Philippines is not alone in facing challenges to freedom of expression. According to human rights organization Freedom House and press watchdog Reporters Without Borders, just 13% of the world's population enjoy a free press, and the situation is nearing a "tipping point."
What is unique about the Philippines, however, is the apparent legitimization of hate speech by the government through the appointment of social media personalities known to amplify incendiary and misleading social media posts. (READ: Mocha Uson: Fake news victim or fake news peddler?)
More than supporting the Duterte administration and its policies, these appointees have also been known for their targeted attacks against members of the media and individuals critical of the administration. (READ: State-sponsored hate: The rise of the pro-Duterte bloggers)
The groups added that libel provisions under Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and Senate Bill No. 1492 or the Anti-Fake News Act of 2017 further threaten freedom of expression.
"The government has the obligation to foster an enabling environment for freedom of expression by taking measures to promote media and digital literacy, including but not limited to, engaging with civil society organizations and other stakeholders to address the negative effects of disinformation and propaganda," they said. (READ: Propaganda war: Weaponizing the internet)
Signatories of the FreeXP.con Declaration include the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement, Advocates for Freedom of Expression Coalition Southeast-Asia, Amnesty International, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya, Pagkakaisa ng Kababaihan para sa Kalayaan, and Cecilia Lero.
On International Human Rights Day, various groups also took to the streets to urge Filipinos to "fight tyranny" and uphold human rights in the country. – with a report from Raisa Serafica/Rappler.com