Philippine media

Bulatlat seeks to unblock its website, asks court to nullify NTC memo

Jairo Bolledo

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Bulatlat seeks to unblock its website, asks court to nullify NTC memo

MEDIA. Journalists of on field work.

Janess Ellao/Bulatlat

The news organization asks the court for a TRO and/ or writ of preliminary injunction to unblock its website

MANILA, Philippines – Alternative news website Bulatlat has requested a Quezon City court to unblock its website and nullify the memorandum of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Through their legal counsel from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Bulatlat filed a civil case, with a prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or writ of preliminary injunction, before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on Friday, July 8. 

A TRO is an order by the court that could be issued to immediately prohibit threatened action. Meanwhile, the writ of preliminary injunction is an order granted at any stage of the legal action or prior to the final order, which requires a party, court, agency, or a person to refrain from performing a particular act or acts.

In Bulatlat’s request for a TRO and/ or writ of preliminary injunction, the news website argued that NTC’s order, pushed by former national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., “totally prevents” them from exercising their right to publish news. 

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“By issuing and continuing to enforce its 08 June 2022 memorandum, defendant NTC, at the behest of defendant NSC and Esperon, not only impedes, but also totally prevents plaintiff from pursuing its corporate purpose and exercising its clear and unmistakable right to publish such news, analyses, investigative reports, and commentaries,” the news website explained. 

Bulatlat added that NTC’s decision to block their website “does not exist in any rule book.” They added there’s no other remedy but to seek the court’s help. 

“Hence, the plaintiff has no ordinary, speedy, and adequate remedy to prevent the infliction of irreparable injury to its rights as a news publisher except to seek recourse from this honorable court.” 

In June, less than two weeks before the new administration took over, Esperon asked the NTC to block the websites of Bulatlat and fellow alternative news platform Pinoy Weekly. Esperon used the anti-terror law and justified the blocking by citing excerpts from two stories published by Pinoy Weekly, which supposedly mentioned armed struggle and the communist insurgency.

Bulatlat seeks to unblock its website, asks court to nullify NTC memo

Retired Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio said the news organizations can challenge the correctness of the order because they were not designated as terrorist organizations under the draconian law. 

Nullify NTC memorandum

In its complaint, Bulatlat argued that NTC’s order is “ultra vires” or beyond its supposed powers and mandate. The news website said the commission has no power to block websites without securing a court order first. 

“Nothing, expressed or implied, in EO No. 546 dated 23 July 1979, the instrument creating the NTC, and Republic Act No. 7925 dated 01 March 1995 or the “Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines,” which designated it as the principal administrator of the mentioned statute, clothes the NTC with the power to block the websites listed in the memorandum, including, without securing a court order,” the news website said. 

Bulatlat added that NTC’s order violated the news website’s constitutional rights. Bulatlat cited Article 3, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech, expression, and of the press. 

“The questioned memorandum cited no constitutionally permissible restriction to the plaintiff’s freedom of expression and speech. There is no danger, real, imminent, clear and/or present danger that would pass the standard of strict scrutiny to justify the blocking of access to the plaintiff’s website.” – 

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.