Internet freedom in the Philippines remained under threat during the coverage period, despite the government’s removal of limits on free expression in a second set of emergency laws passed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities bolstered their ability to criminalize online speech under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which expands the definition of terrorism, enables the government to detain individuals without a warrant, and extends the time limits on government surveillance. Red-tagging, a form of harassment whereby targets are accused of having links with local communist groups, and physical assaults on government critics continued, as did technical attacks against news outlets and civil society groups.
The Philippines’ decline in internet freedom has occurred amidst an erosion of political and civil rights under President Rodrigo Duterte, whose war on drugs has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings since 2016. Although the Philippines transitioned from authoritarian rule in 1986, the rule of law and application of justice are haphazard and heavily favor political and economic elites. Impunity remains the norm for crimes against activists and journalists.
- There were no reports of the government restricting internet or mobile services during the coverage period (see A3).
- In June 2020, the House of Representatives ordered the shutdown of the television and satellite services of one of the country’s largest news networks, Alto Broadcasting System–Chronicle Broadcast Network (ABS-CBN), after Congress failed to renew its broadcast license. President Duterte has threatened to veto any congressional proposal to grant the network a new license (see B6).
- The government’s emergency COVID-19 decree, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which restricted free expression online and further criminalized certain forms of online speech, expired in June 2020. Subsequent emergency COVID-19 decrees did not include provisions to restrict expression online (see C1).
- Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. were found guilty of cyberlibel in June 2020 based on a complaint from Wilfredo Keng, about whom Santos had written a 2012 article in which he linked Keng to murder, drug trafficking, and other crimes. In February 2020, Keng filed a second cyberlibel case against Ressa, which he withdrew in June 2021 (see C3).
- The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 was enacted in July and includes broad language allowing the government to prosecute online speech, in addition to enabling law enforcement agencies and the military to conduct surveillance for longer periods of time (see C2 and C5).
- In September 2020, online journalist Jobert Bercasio was shot shortly after posting allegations on social media that trucks were operating in a nearby quarry without documentation (see C7).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||4.004 6.006|
At the beginning of 2021, Hootsuite, a social media management platform, reported that the internet penetration rate in the Philippines was just over 67 percent of the country’s total population of 110.3 million.1 The Inclusive Internet Index 2021 report, written by the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked the Philippines 60th out of 100 countries in terms of internet availability. Out of 27 Asian nations, the Philippines ranked 18th due to the weak market for wireless network operators and the country’s outdated broadband infrastructure.2 People in the Philippines access the internet through mobile devices far more than through fixed-line connections. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there were only 5.5 fixed broadband subscriptions and 154.76 mobile cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in 2019.3 The two major telecommunications companies have also introduced fifth-generation (5G) technology for mobile networks nationwide. The 5G network from mobile service provider Smart Communication covers 2,300 sites nationwide,4 while Globe Telecom’s 5G coverage is available in 848 locations in the Manila metropolitan area and Rizal, and 221 locations in Visayas and Mindanao.5
Based on a report relying on January 2021 data from the Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index, the Philippines ranked 86th in mobile internet speed globally, an improvement from the previous year. The Philippines also improved its fixed broadband speed and, as of January 2021, ranked 81st among 177 countries.6 In the same month, mobile internet speeds reached 25.43 megabits per second (Mbps), while fixed broadband speed reached 46.25 Mbps. Still, speeds remain relatively low compared to global averages of 54.53 Mbps for mobile speeds and 105.15 Mbps for fixed broadband speeds.7
Internet usage and data traffic surged in parts of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people relying on the internet to keep informed and work from home.8 The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) directed the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to ensure consistent and reliable telecommunications services in the country.9 Wi-Fi terminals were set up in designated quarantine areas, as well as in COVID-19 monitoring and control centers.10 However, the pandemic exposed the country’s technology infrastructure weaknesses, including the need to build more cell sites and lay fiber-optic cables that will connect to homes.11 To improve connectivity, the DICT, in February 2021, set a target to build 5,000 new cellular towers over the next three years.12
The government also has several other ongoing projects that would improve internet access. In 2015, a group within the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) that became the DICT launched a project to provide free Wi-Fi in some public places in the country. To institutionalize the project, President Duterte signed legislation in 2017 creating the Free Internet Access Program. The law requires public places such as transport terminals, hospitals, schools, and government offices to provide free Wi-Fi at major congregation points.13 In February 2019, Google Philippines partnered with Smart Communications to establish free Wi-Fi stations at heavily trafficked locations, including airports, malls, commercial centers, and universities as part of the Google Station project.14 By July 2019, Google had established 400 Wi-Fi sites, that would continue to be operated by Smart Communications even after Google’s announcement of the project’s conclusion in February 2020.15 In February 2020, the DICT announced plans to activate 10,000 additional Wi-Fi sites by the end of the year as part of the “Free Wi-fi for All” program,16 allotting 7.7 billion pesos ($159.8 million) in its 2021 proposed budget for their implementation.17 As of July 2021, 10,311 sites had been established,18 though the department expressed doubt that they would achieve the 120,000-site installation target by 2022. In May 2021, authorities ended their contract with the foreign service provider installing the Wi-Fi hotspots, announcing they would complete the project on their own.19 In May 2020, the DICT also released the Common Tower Policy, which allows the construction of shared towers for telecommunications companies to provide faster and cheaper internet service throughout the country.20
In May 2021, former DICT undersecretary Eliseo Rio questioned the 466 million pesos ($9.7 million) the government paid to four companies to provide free Wi-Fi in public places, noting the contract only provided for free Wi-Fi for 5 months.21 The DICT rejected the criticism.
During his State of the Nation Address in July 2020, President Duterte threatened to close the companies Smart Communications and Globe Telecoms if they did not improve their services by December, which they did.22 23 Smart announced 73 billion pesos ($1.52 billion) of investments in 2019 and committed to investing between 88 and 92 billion pesos ($1.83 billion to 1.92 billion) in 2021 to expand their fiber-optic and wireless coverage;24 Globe promised to build 2,000 cell sites in 2021.25
In 2017, the president approved the launch of the Government Satellite Network (GSN), as part of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), to transmit government-created videos, photos, and audio.26 The GSN is expected to provide internet connectivity to barangays, or local villages, that currently have none.27 As of the end of the coverage period, the government had provided no updates on the GSN’s progress.
In 2017, the DICT and the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) signed a landing party agreement with Facebook for a project to build high-speed internet infrastructure that would improve the speed, affordability, and accessibility of broadband and internet access in the country.28 In exchange for Facebook’s Pacific Light Cable Network, which was set to connect to the Philippines by the fall of 2020, the government would receive 2 terabytes per second (Tbps) of international bandwidth, free of charge.29 The DICT intended to use this bandwidth to support its free Wi-Fi program and provide inexpensive internet to small service providers. However, in March 2021, Facebook abandoned the project amid pressure from US national security officials.30
- 1Simon Kemp, “Digital 2021: The Philippines,” DataReportal,, February 11, 2021, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-philippines
- 2“Availability rankings – Philippines,” The Inclusive Internet Index 2021, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2021, https://theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com/explore/countries/PH/
- 3ITU. Fixed Broadband Subscriptions, 2000-2019, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx
- 4“Smart launches Unli 5G as its most powerful offer on its fastest technology,” Smart.com, April 17, 2021, https://smart.com.ph/About/newsroom/full-news/2021/04/17/smart-launches…
- 5“Globe brings widest 5G network in the Philippines,” Globe.com, February 22, 2021, https://www.globe.com.ph/about-us/newsroom/consumer/globe-brings-widest…
- 6Zacarian Sarao, “PH fixed broadband internet speed improves; mobile internet speed dips in March,” Inquirer.net, April 18, 2021, https://technology.inquirer.net/109138/ph-fixed-broadband-internet-spee…
- 7“Global speeds May 2021, Speedtest Global Index, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index
- 8Darwin G. Amojelar, “Telecoms ready to manage surge in data traffic amid Luzon quarantine,” Manila Standard, March 23, 2020, https://www.manilastandard.net/business/it-telecom/320237/telecoms-read….
- 9“DICT: Telcos and ISPs must provide ample bandwidth and signal during Covid-19 situation,” dict.gov.ph, March 16, 2020, https://dict.gov.ph/dict-telcos-and-isps-must-provide-ample-bandwidth-a….
- 10Raymond Carl Dela Cruz, “Free Wi-fi terminals installed in Covid-19 patient care centers,” Philippine News Agency, April 16, 2020, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1100083.
- 11“DICT official on current technology infrastructure in PH: “Kulang na kulang’,” ABS-CBN News, May 2, 2020, https://news.abs-cbn.com/business/05/02/20/dict-official-on-current-tec….
- 12“DICT adopts cell tower-building goal of 5,000 a year for three years,” Business World, February 23, 2021, https://www.bworldonline.com/dict-adopts-cell-tower-building-goal-of-50…
- 13“Republic Act No. 10929,” Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, August 2, 2017, http://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2017/08/02/republic-act-no-10929/.
- 14Janvic Mateo, "Google, Smart establish free WiFi stations," Philippine Star, February 15, 2019, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/02/15/1893840/google-smart-esta….
- 15Gelo Gonzales, “Google to shut down free Wi-Fi program,” Rappler, February 18, 2019. https://www.rappler.com/technology/google-station-wifi-program-shutting…
- 16Newsbytes.PH, “DICT sets 2020 goals, sees 3rd telco operating by Q4,” Newsbytes.PH, January 2, 2020, http://newsbytes.ph/2020/01/dict-sets-2020-goals-sees-3rd-telco-operati….
- 17“DICT allocates P7.7 billion for free wi-for for all program,” www.dict.gov.ph, July 17, 2020, https://dict.gov.ph/dict-allocates-php7-7-billion-for-free-wi-fi-for-al…
- 18Raymond Carl Dela Cruz, “Improved connectivity, free internet under Duterte admin,” Philippines News Agency, July 23, 2021. https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1148087
- 19CNN Philippines Staff, “Free Wi-Fi project foreign contractor asked to stop services, provide refund over poor performance – Palace,” CNN Philippines, May 6, 2021, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2021/5/6/free-wifi-project-contractor-d…
- 20Raymond Carl Dela Cruz, “DICT to issue common tower policy in March,” Philippine News Agency, February 26, 2020, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1094897.
- 21“Para makapanood ng Netflix? Ex-DICT official hits P466-M price tag for free wi-fi project,” ABS-CBN News, May 26, 2021, https://news.abs-cbn.com/video/news/05/26/21/para-makanood-ng-netflix-e…
- 22Aika Rey, “Duterte threatens to shut down Globe, Smart,” Rappler, July 27, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/business/duterte-threatens-shut-down-globe-smar…
- 23Joyce Ann L. Rocamora, “Telcos able to improve services after Duterte warning: NTC,” Philippine News Agency, December 8, 2020, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1124155
- 24Smart Communications, “PLDT-Smart heed gov’t call to improve telco services, 2021 capex between P88B – P92B,” December 14, 2020, https://smart.com.ph/About/newsroom/full-news/2020/12/14/pldt-smart-hee…
- 25“Globe eyes to build 2,000 new cell sites in 2021,” December 11, 2020, https://www.globe.com.ph/about-us/newsroom/corporate/2000-new-cell-site…
- 26Ruth Abbey Gita, "Duterte approves launch of government satellite network in 2018," SunStar Manila, December 6, 2017, http://www.sunstar.com.ph/manila/local-news/2017/12/06/duterte-approves….
- 27Jelly Musico, "PCOO rolls out gov't satellite news network in 42k barangays starting June," Philippine News Agency, February 28, 2018, http://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1026826.
- 28Roy Stephen C. Canivel, "PH partners with Facebook to build high-speed internet infrastructure," Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 15, 2017, http://technology.inquirer.net/69252/dict-bcda-high-speed-internet-luzo….
- 29Miguel R. Camus, “PH Internet deal with Facebook a go by September 2020 – DICT,” Cebu Daily News, May 18, 2020, https://cebudailynews.inquirer.net/311087/ph-internet-deal-with-faceboo….
- 30Drew Fitzgerald and Newley Purnell, “Facebook Drops Plan to Run Fiber Cable to Hong Kong Amid U.S. Pressure,” Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2021. https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-drops-plan-to-run-fiber-cable-to-…
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||1.001 3.003|
A digital divide exists in the Philippines, mainly due to the cost of network subscriptions and the geography of network coverage. Connectivity is most concentrated in densely populated urban areas, while many poor, rural areas remain largely underserved.1 To bridge this gap, the Duterte administration launched the National Broadband Plan (NBP) in 2017, to lower costs and improve broadband connectivity.2 In October 2018, the DICT began a pilot test of its fiber-optic cable backbone facility.3 In February 2019, the department received a grant worth 23.8 million pesos ($493,974) from the US government to support the implementation of the national broadband network.4 In 2020, the DICT signed agreements with the provinces of Pangasinan, Zambales, Baguio and Negros Occidental to connect the provincial networks to the national fiber-optic backbone, as part of the first phase of the NBP.5
According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2021 report, the Philippines ranks 79th out of 100 surveyed countries in terms of affordability, which is defined by cost of access relative to income and the level of competition in the internet marketplace.6 The 2020 Affordability Report by the Alliance for Affordable Internet ranked the Philippines 37th out of 72 countries surveyed, nine points down the previous year.7 The cost per 1 gigabyte (GB) of broadband data in the Philippines is $4.23. This is 1.27 percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita.8
- 1Mari Chrys Pablo, "Internet Inaccessibility plagues ‘Social media capital of the world’,” The Asia Foundation, October 24, 2018, https://asiafoundation.org/2018/10/24/internet-inaccessibility-plagues-….
- 2“Full text of Duterte’s State of the Nation Address 2017,” Philstar, July 24, 2017, http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/07/25/1721355/full-text-dutertes…; Department of Information and Communications Technology, National Broadband Plan, August 9, 2017, http://web.archive.org/web/20180714050823/http://www.dict.gov.ph/wp-con…
- 3"DICT to start pilot test for national broadband plan next month," Business World, October 5, 2018, https://www.bworldonline.com/dict-to-start-pilot-tests-for-national-bro….
- 4“U.S. partners with Philippines to improve broadband access," US Embassy in the Philippines, February 7, 2019, https://ph.usembassy.gov/us-partners-with-philippines-to-improve-broadb….
- 5Miguel R. Camus, “More LGUs sign up for National Broadband Plan,” inquirer.net, December 5, 2020, https://business.inquirer.net/313048/more-lgus-sign-up-for-national-bro…
- 6“Affordability rankings – Philippines,” The Inclusive Internet 2021, The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2021, https://theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com/explore/countries/PH/performance/i…
- 7“2020 Affordability Report,” Alliance for Affordable Internet, 2020, https://a4ai.org/affordability-report/report/2020/#full_adi
- 8A4AI. Mobile Broadband Pricing: Data for 2020. https://a4ai.org/extra/baskets/A4AI/2020/mobile_broadband_pricing_gni
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||6.006 6.006|
Score Change: The score increased from 5 to 6 because there were no reported internet and mobile shutdowns during religious events and festivals in the coverage period.
There were no reported internet and mobile network shutdowns during the coverage period.
During previous coverage periods, the government ordered the shutdown of mobile phone networks during major events in several cities. In January 2020, for the Black Nazarene procession, a widely attended Roman Catholic event in the Quiapo district of Manila held every January 9th, the NTC issued a memorandum to Globe Telecom and Smart Communications to temporarily cut network services in specific areas where the procession passed. The memorandum was issued on request of the National Capital Region Police Office.1 That same month, mobile signals were restricted for two days in different parts of Cebu during the Sinulog-Santo Niño Festival, also for security reasons.2
One provider, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), plays an outsized role in the country’s telecommunications infrastructure. The private entity3 owns the majority of fixed-line connections, as well as a 429,000-kilometer fiber-optic network that connects to several international networks,4 as well as a network of 16 international cable systems.5 In line with its modernization plan, PLDT has invested $136.7 million in a new trans-Pacific cable system that will link its landing stations in Camarines Norte in the Philippines to Maruyama and Shima in Japan, and Los Angeles in the United States; 6 the cable is expected to become operational by the end of 2021.7 In 2017, Globe Telecom, a private telecommunications company, launched a $250 million submarine cable that links Davao and the United States.8
- 1“Telcos told to shut off mobile services for Black Nazarene Traslacion,” ABS-CBN News, January 7, 2020, https://news.abs-cbn.com/business/01/07/20/telcos-told-to-shut-off-mobi….
- 2Ryan Macasero, “Signal shutdown to proceed during Sinulog 2020 events,” Rappler, January 17, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/249581-signal-shutdown-sinulog-2020.
- 3“PLDT: From voice to multi‐media (First of Two Parts),” The Philippine Star, October 22, 2012, https://www.philstar.com/business/business-as-usual/2012/10/22/859665/p….
- 4“Doing our very best during the worst of times,” PLDT 2020 Annual Report, 2020, http://pldt.com/docs/default-source/annual-reports/2020/main_pldt-2020-….
- 5Darwin G. Amojelar, “PLDT to invest in two new cable landing stations,” Inquirer.net, November 26, 2020, https://www.manilastandard.net/business/it-telecom/340531/pldt-to-inves…
- 6Miguel R. Camus, “PLDT sees faster internet in 2020,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 24, 2019, https://business.inquirer.net/281777/pldt-sees-faster-internet-in-2020.
- 7Darwin G. Amojelar, “New submarine cable system to increase PLDT’s range five-fold,” ManilaStandard.net, May 30, 2021. https://manilastandard.net/business/it-telecom/355836/new-submarine-cab…
- 8"Globe Commercially Launches SEA-US Cable System," Globe, August 11, 2017, https://www.globe.com.ph/about-us/newsroom/corporate/sea-us-cable-syste….
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||4.004 6.006|
Internet service is currently classified as a value-added service and is therefore subject to fewer regulatory requirements than mobile and fixed-phone services. Companies entering the market go through a two-stage process. First, they must obtain a congressional license that involves parliamentary hearings and the approval of both the upper and lower houses of Congress. Second, they need to apply for certification from the NTC. Globe has separately complained of needing to obtain 25 permits to build a single cell site, a process that can last eight months.1
There were 400 internet service providers (ISPs) registered with the NTC in 2013, according to the most recent government data.2 All of them connect to PLDT or Globe. At present, the telecommunications industry is dominated by two companies, PLDT and Globe Telecom, which each have acquired a number of minor players over the last two decades.3 4 In 2020, PLDT reported an expansion of their mobile coverage to 96 percent of the country’s population,5 while Globe reported a total mobile subscriber base of 76.6 million.6
New service providers face legal obstacles in obtaining a congressional franchise, such as constitutional limitations on the people or companies that can operate a public utility.7 However, a new provider, Dito Telecommunity Corporation, formerly known as Mislatel,8 launched its commercial operations in March 2021 in the cities of Davao and Cebu.9 In May, Dito Telecommunity’s franchise was renewed for the next 25 years by President Duterte.10 As of June, Dito had more than one million subscribers.11 Dennis Uy, founder of Udenna Corporation and Chelsea Logistics, which own 60 percent of Dito, hails from Davao and was reportedly the biggest contributor to Duterte’s 2016 presidential campaign.12
The Philippine Competition Act was signed in 2015, 25 years after it was first filed,13 to protect consumers and preserve commercial competition. The law established the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC),14 but does not prohibit monopolies and will not prevent an entity from dominating a market so long as the company does not commit certain legally prohibited abuses.15
Since its establishment, the PCC has challenged the joint acquisition of the San Miguel Corporation’s telecommunications assets by PLDT and Globe in 2017, a deal that resulted in the two companies controlling about 80 percent of all available cellular frequencies.16 The Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the deal’s validity.17 However, the PCC later said that the NTC could reacquire wireless frequency from PLDT and Globe and redistribute the rights to a third provider if the companies did not improve their services.18
In March 2020, the House of Representatives approved House Bill No. 78, amending the Public Services Act.19 The bill proposes delisting telecommunications as a public utility. Under the existing Public Services Act, noncitizens may hold no more than a 40 percent stake in certain industries designated as a public utility, including telecommunications.20 If the bill is passed, noncitizens would be able to be majority shareholders in telecommunication companies operating in the Philippines.
The Open Access in Data Transmission21 Act, passed by the House of Representatives in March 2021, would liberalize the telecommunications industry and avoid a monopoly by a single provider. Under the law, the government would encourage more players to build and operate broadband networks, promote infrastructure sharing, and make spectrum management more transparent—which would likely lower the cost for users.22 The legislation remained under discussion in the Senate at the end of the coverage period. The Faster Internet Services Act, introduced in 2019,23 mandates the NTC to compel ISPs to only advertise and offer internet service download speeds they can consistently provide. The goal of the law is to bring the country’s average internet connection speed above the global average.
- 1Claire Jiao, “Globe will hold on to frequencies regardless of PCC decision,” CNN Philippines, August 4, 2016, https://cnnphilippines.com/business/2016/08/04/globe-telecom-to-keep-fr….
- 2“2016 Philippines in Figures,” Philippine Statistics Authority, September 19, 2016, https://psa.gov.ph/content/2016-philippines-figures.
- 3PLDT, “PLDT 2016 Annual Report,” May 16, 2017, http://www.pldt.com/docs/default-source/annual-reports/2016/pldt-2016-a…; Globe Telecom, Inc., “SEC Form 17-A,” April 17, 2017, https://www.globe.com.ph/content/dam/globe/brie/About-us/investor-relat….
- 4PLDT, “PLDT 2016 Annual Report,” May 16, 2017, http://www.pldt.com/docs/default-source/annual-reports/2016/pldt-2016-a….
- 5“Doing our very best during the worst of times,” PLDT 2020 Annual Report, 2020, http://pldt.com/docs/default-source/annual-reports/2020/main_pldt-2020-….
- 6Darwin G.Amolejar, “Globe Telecom registered net profit of P18.62 billion in 2020,” Manila Standard, February 10, 2020, https://manilastandard.net/mobile/article/346702
- 7“The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines – Article XII,” Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, 1987, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/constitutions/the-1987-constitution-….
- 8Aika Rey, “Dito Telecommunity sets commercial launch for March 8,” Rappler, February 23, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/business/dito-telecommunity-sets-commercial-lau…
- 9Ralf Rivas, “Dito Telecom services available by March 2021,” Rappler, February 20, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/business/252289-dito-telecom-commercial-operati….
- 10Azer Parrocha, “Duterte renews DITO Telecommunity franchise for 25 more years.” Philippine News Agency, May 19, 2021. https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1140666
- 11Aika Rey, “DitoTelecommunity reaches 1 million users,” Rappler, June 16, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/business/dito-telecommunity-reaches-million-use…
- 12Maila Ager, “Dennis Uy admits close ties with Duterte, Cabinet members,” INQUIRER.net, January 24, 2019, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1077000/dennis-uy-admits-close-ties-with-…; Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema, “Philippines’ new China-led telecom firm surges after Duterte’s ‘chilling’ threat,” Reuters, July 27, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-telecoms/philippines-new….
- 13”Philippine Competition Law (R.A. 10667),” Philippine Competition Commission, 2015, https://phcc.gov.ph/philippine-competition-law-r-10667/.
- 14“Republic Act No. 10067,” Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, July 21, 2015, http://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2015/07/21/republic-act-no-10667/.
- 15Josiah Go, “Finally, Congress passes Philippine Competition Act,” INQUIRER.net, July 10, 2015, https://business.inquirer.net/195004/finally-congress-passes-philippine….
- 16Cellular frequencies are sets of frequency ranges within the ultra-high frequency band that have been assigned for cellular compatible mobile devices, like mobile phones, to connect to cellular networks.
- 17Chrisee De La Paz, "PCC to exhaust options as CA affirms San Miguel Telco buyout," Rappler, October 23, 2017, https://www.rappler.com/business/186133-pcc-exhaust-options-ca-affirms-….
- 18Patrizia Paola C. Marcelo, "PCC: Telcos' SMC asset purchase has performance conditions," Business World, January 23, 2018, https://www.bworldonline.com/pcc-telcos-smc-asset-purchase-performance-….
- 19For a copy of House Bill 78, see https://congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/first_18/CR00005.pdf
- 20"Public Service Act Amendments to Open Economy to More Investments, Generate More Jobs - Poe," Senate of the Philippines, February 15, 2018, http://www.senate.gov.ph/press_release/2018/0215_poe3.asp.
- 21For copy of the bill, see https://www.congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/first_17/CR00423.pdf
- 22Filane Mikee Cervantes, “Open access in data transmission bill hurdles 2nd reading,” Philippine News Agency, March 16, 2021. https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1133820
- 23For copy of the bill, see https://www.congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/basic_18/HB00038.pdf
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||2.002 4.004|
While national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology generally operate independently, all heads of government agencies, including regulatory bodies, are appointed by the president. This framework has led to instances of political interference.1
The DICT is responsible for planning, developing, and promoting the national information and communications technology (ICT) development agenda. There are three offices attached to the DICT: the National Privacy Commission (NPC), a regulatory and quasi-judicial body tasked with monitoring and ensuring the country's compliance with international standards for data protection; the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC); and the NTC, which regulates the industry with quasi-judicial powers and supervises the provision of public telecommunications services.
In 2016, President Duterte appointed former Globe executive Rodolfo Salalima to serve as the DICT’s secretary.2 However, Salalima resigned in 2017, citing corruption and interference in the department without providing further details.3 President Duterte, in turn, claimed he had requested Salalima’s resignation because he had favored Globe and failed to facilitate the entry of other telecommunications players in the country.4 In November 2018, Duterte appointed incumbent senator Gregorio Honasan, a former military officer and longtime friend of the president,5 to lead the DICT.6 In July 2019, Honasan was sworn in.7
How the DICT has allocated its funds raised concerns during the previous coverage period. In January 2020, undersecretary Eliseo Rio resigned, citing concerns over how the DICT spent 300 million pesos ($6.23 million) from a confidential fund; Rio also raised concerns that Honasan had not informed him of the underlying disbursement process.8 Rio and Honasan later issued a joint statement stating the payment was above board.9 In the 2020 budget, the amount allotted to the confidential fund doubled from 400 million pesos ($8.3 million) to 800 million pesos ($16.6 million).10
In May 2020, Duterte accepted Rio’s resignation, replacing him with Ramon Jacinto. Jacinto, his adviser on entrepreneurship and ICT, is a known supporter of the president.11 Rio and Jacinto have previously clashed over their positions on common cell towers. Jacinto was sworn in as undersecretary of the DICT in August 2020,12 but was later reappointed as the Presidential Adviser for Telecommunications, a position within the president’s cabinet.13
- 1Executive Order No. 292, signed in July 1987, states that all Department Secretaries, Undersecretaries, Assistant Secretaries, and senior level officials shall be appointed by the President, see “Executive Order No. 292 [Book IV/Chapter 10-Appointments and Qualifications],” Official Gazette of the Republic of Philippines, July 25, 1987, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1987/07/25/executive-order-no-292-bo….
- 2Trisha Macas, Gma News, Amanda Lago, “Duterte schoolmate to be first DICT secretary,” GMA News Online, June 22, 2016, https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/money/companies/570944/duterte-schoolma….
- 3Miguel R. Camus, "Salalima bares to DICT employees reasons for wanting to leave office," Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 22, 2017, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/932701/salalima-bares-to-dict-employees-re….
- 4Leila B. Salaverria, "Duterte says he told Salalima to resign," Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 29, 2017, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/934190/duterte-says-he-told-salalima-to-re….
- 5Marichu A. Villanueva, "How Honasan earned Rody's trust," The Philippine Star, November 12, 2018, https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2018/11/12/1867773/how-honasan-earned-….
- 6Dharel Placido, "Gringo in charge: Duterte formally appoints Honasan as DICT Secretary," ABS-CBN News, November 22, 2018, https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/11/22/18/gringo-in-charge-duterte-formall….
- 7Javier J. Ismael, "Honasan sits as DICT chief in July - Sotto," Manila Times, March 31, 2019, https://www.manilatimes.net/2019/03/31/news/top-stories/honasan-sits-as….
- 8Llanesca Panti, “DICT’s Rio quits after being kept ignorant on P300-M confidential fund,” GMA News Online, February 3, 2020, https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/724639/dict-s-rio-resigns-a…; “DICT's unspent P300-M budget for projects went to intel fund,” Rappler, February 3, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/250897-dict-unspent-budget-projects-went….
- 9“Official Joint Statement of Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II and Undersecretary Eliseo M. Rio, Jr,” Department of Information and Communications Technology, February 7, 2020, https://dict.gov.ph/official-joint-statement-of-secretary-gregorio-b-ho….
- 10Michael Bueza, “DICT’s P800-M confidential funds: 2nd biggest in 2020 budget,” Rappler, February 8, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/251038-confidential-intellig….
- 11Pia Ranada, “RJ Jacinto replaces Rio in DICT,” Rappler, May 26, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/262005-rj-jacinto-replaces-eliseo-rio-di….
- 12Raymond Carl Dela Cruz, “ RJ Jacinto sworn in as DICT Undersecretary,” Philippine News Agency, August 25, 2020, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1113342
- 13Vito Barcelo, “Rody brings back Evasco to cabinet, taps Jacinto anew,” Philippine Star, December 3, 2020, https://manilastandard.net/mobile/article/341103
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||6.006 6.006|
No systematic government censorship of online content has been documented in the Philippines, and internet users enjoyed unrestricted access to both domestic and international sources of information during the coverage period. Internet users freely access social networks and communication apps including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and international blog-hosting services.
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||3.003 4.004|
The government does not systematically order the removal of online content, although there have been some instances of information being removed in recent years. Government authorities have reportedly forced people to publicly apologize for critical social media posts, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.1
In February 2019, the Philippine Star removed from its website a 2002 article about Wilfredo Keng, a businessman who was suspected of involvement in the murder of a Manila councilman, after Keng threatened legal action against the outlet.2 The takedown took place only a few days after Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa posted bail in connection with Keng’s libel case against the site (see C3).3 Previously, in May 2018, Senate President Vicente Sotto wrote a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer's website, asking the publication to take down three articles from its website, published between 2014 and 2016, that linked him to the 1982 rape of an actress.4 The Philippine Daily Inquirer complied with the request and removed the articles.
Google occasionally reports receiving content removal requests from the government or law enforcement agencies. Between January and June 2020, there were six requests from the government for removal related to regulated goods and services, and another six between July and December 2020.5 Facebook received 35 requests for data from the government between January and June 2020, and another 32 requests between July and December 2020.6 The government made 220 preservation requests to Facebook from January to December 2020 for 1,287 users and accounts, much higher than the 174 requests from last year.
- 1Lian Buan, “Bayanihan Act's sanction vs 'false' info the 'most dangerous',” Rappler, March 29, 2020, https://rappler.com/nation/sanctions-fake-news-bayanihan-act-most-dange….
- 2“Philstar.com deletes 2002 article on Wilfredo Keng,” CNN Philippines, February 16, 2019, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2019/02/16/wilfredo-keng-philstar-artic…; IJF, “Libel cases threatening newsrooms in the Philippines,” February 18, 2019, https://www.ifj.org/media-centre/news/detail/category/press-releases/ar….
- 3Sofia Tomacruz, "Philstar.com takedown of Keng story 'unfortunate' - NUJP," Rappler, February 17, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/223696-philstar-take-down-wilfredo-keng-….
- 4Leila B. Salaverria, "Sotto asks Inquirer.net to remove Pepsi Paloma stories,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 18, 2018, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1001463/sotto-asks-inquirer-net-to-remove-….
- 5“Government requests to remove content,” Google Transparency Report, 2020, https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/by-country/PH…
- 6“Philippines,” Facebook Transparency Report, 2020, https://transparency.fb.com/data/government-data-requests/country/PH
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||4.004 4.004|
Restrictions on the internet are generally fair and proportional to the stated aims. Content blocking is allowed under a law that requires ISPs to prevent access to child sexual abuse imagery.1 The police may request that ISPs block sites hosting such images, and ISPs typically comply with such orders.2
In May 2020, lawmakers proposed the Digital Economy Taxation Act, which would allow the government to block online or digital platforms that do not comply with tax laws or pay the appropriate taxes.3 4
The proposed Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom, introduced in 2012, provides for court proceedings in cases where websites or networks are to be taken down, and prohibits censorship of content without a court order.5 Parts of this legislation were later absorbed into another bill creating a government ICT agency (see A5). Other provisions remain unaddressed in the Magna Carta bill, which Congress had not reintroduced as of June 2021.
Several draft bills relating to false information were filed during the 18th Congress, which runs between July 2019 and July 2022. The bills establish criminal penalties for those who violate its provisions6 and would also allow authorities more latitude to issue takedown orders, to “correct” false or misleading content, or to block websites altogether with no judicial oversight and limited avenues of appeal (see C2).7
- 1TJ Dimacali, “ISPs tasked to block just child porn, not all adult sites – NTC,” GMA News Online, March 17, 2014, https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/scitech/technology/352936/isps-tasked-t….
- 2" Globe blocks nearly 2,500 illegal sites with #PlayItRight," INQUIRER.net, January 8, 2018, https://technology.inquirer.net/71128/globe-blocks-nearly-2500-illegal-….
- 3Ben O. de Vera, “Salceda wants additional tax on digital services like Netflix, Lazada, FB ads,” INQUIRER.net. May 18, 2020, https://business.inquirer.net/297571/salceda-wants-additional-tax-on-di….
- 4See http://congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/basic_18/HB06765.pdf for full copy of House Bill No. 6765
- 5Norman Bordadora, “Santiago Proposes Magna Carta for Internet,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 1, 2012, https://technology.inquirer.net/20769/santiago-proposes-magna-carta-for…; Louis Bacani, “'Crowdsourcing' bill allows citizens' online participation in lawmaking,” The Philippine Star, July 4, 2013, https://www.philstar.com/business/science-and-environment/2013/07/04/96….
- 6Some of these include House Bill Nos. 1324, 2143, 2278, and 4390, the texts of which are available at www.congress.gov.ph.
- 7“Prohibiting the publication and proliferation of false content on the Philippine Internet, providing measure to counteract its effects and prescribing penalties therefor,” 18th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines, https://senate.gov.ph/lisdata/3022527054!.pdf; “Philippines: Reject Sweeping ‘Fake News’ Bill,” Human Rights Watch, July 25, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/25/philippines-reject-sweeping-fake-ne….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||2.002 4.004|
Self-censorship remains a problem for those communicating online. Many journalists, for example, practice self-censorship due to the high level of violence against journalists and the increasing number of civil and criminal cases related to online activity. According to a June 2019 survey from pollster Social Weather Stations, 51 percent of Filipinos responded that it was “dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration even if it is true.”1 In August 2019, a former editor-in-chief of the news site Inquirer.net said that some stories remained unpublished under the Duterte administration due to fear of “pushback.”2
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, a civil society organization, suggested in January 2019 that journalists may be self-censoring around issues related to corruption or illegal drugs.3 The center also asserted that the president's criticism of the press and online harassment have led journalists to use caution when investigating and reporting. Following its mission to the country in April 2019, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed similar concerns that the criminal cases against Rappler and a worsening environment of online harassment had heightened fear and exacerbated online self-censorship.4
The Philippine Star’s February 2019 removal of a 2002 article from its website illustrates how legal action and harassment cause greater self-censorship among entities that publish online (see B2).5 The original Philippine Star article about Wilfredo Keng was quoted in a 2012 Rappler article that became the crux of Keng’s 2017 libel case against Maria Ressa and a Rappler staff member (see C3). Fearing similar legal action, the Philippine Star chose to proactively censor itself.6
Some media groups claim that the governments revocation of ABS-CBN’s license and the media group’s subsequent closure was a form of censorship.7 They claim ABS-CBN’s license revocation was a warning for other media groups against criticizing the government. Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen has also said that ABS-CBN’s license issues and closure have had a chilling effect on expression.8
The trolling and red-tagging of journalists, as well as the threats, arrests, and other forms of harassment and attacks on media personalities like Maria Ressa (see C3 and C7) has also deterred people from freely expressing themselves online. According to news anchor Karen Davila, many journalists double and triple check their stories before publishing to prevent negative consequences or offending the wrong person.9 Vicente Corrales, associate editor of the Mindanao Gold Star Daily, along with his family, have been subjected to online attacks that label them as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (see C7). Corrales said that the first time he was red-tagged, he avoided working on any reports and news stories related to the peace process, armed insurgents, or state forces.10
- 1Social Weather Stations, “Second Quarter 2019 social weather survey,” August 23, 2019, https://www.sws.org.ph/swsmain/artcldisppage/?artcsyscode=ART-201908031….
- 2Gillan Ropera, “Journalists warned vs self-censorship,” ABS-CBN News, August 5, 2019, https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/08/05/19/journalists-warned-vs-self-censo….
- 3Kristine Sabillo, "Better or worse? The state of Philippine media according to watchdogs," ABS-CBN News, January 2, 2019, https://news.abs-cbn.com/focus/01/02/19/better-or-worse-the-state-of-ph….
- 4“CPJ mission finds increased intimidation, shrinking space for free press in the Philippines,” CPJ, April 15, 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/04/cpj-mission-finds-increased-intimidation-shrink….
- 5Sofia Tomacruz, “PhilStar.com takedown of Keng story 'unfortunate' – NUJP,” Rappler, February 18, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/223696-philstar-take-down-wilfredo-keng-….
- 6“Philstar.com deletes 2002 article on Wilfredo Keng,” CNN Philippines, February 16, 2019, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2019/02/16/wilfredo-keng-philstar-artic….
- 7Emily Vital, “Denial of ABS-CBN franchise tantamount to censorship - group,” Bulatlat. July 10, 2020, https://www.bulatlat.com/2020/07/10/denial-of-abs-cbn-franchise-tantamo…
- 8Lian Buan, “A year after ABS-CBN shutdown; What the Supreme Court could have done,” Rappler, May 5, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/explainers/what-could-supreme-court-h…
- 9Nick Villavecer, “Attacks and harassment: Women journalists in the Philippines and the cost of truth-telling,” Rappler, December 26, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/attacks-and-harassment-women-journalists…
- 10Kath M. Cortez, “In Duterte’s Mindanao, journalists get threats and red tag,” Davao Today, August 11, 2020, http://davaotoday.com/main/politics/in-dutertes-mindanao-journalists-ge…
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||1.001 4.004|
Online sources of information have been increasingly manipulated by the government and other actors, with commenters and trolls on social media distorting the information landscape online to shape political outcomes.
Hyperpartisan news outlets, including those on YouTube, have contributed to the growing preponderance of misleading and fraudulent content online.1 Online media is also influenced by political actors and local celebrities.
According to documents from Twinmark Media, the agency banned by Facebook in 2019 for coordinated inauthentic behavior, local celebrities were paid to share content from Twinmark-owned websites to increase views and engagement. Some of the content celebrities shared contained government propaganda and false information.2
Content manipulation was prevalent around the 2016 presidential election. Credible media reports found that commenters could earn at least 500 pesos ($10) per day operating fake social media accounts supporting President Duterte or attacking his detractors.3 Other reports found that purveyors of these accounts earned 2,000 to 3,000 pesos ($41 to $62) per day.4 Automated accounts or bots were also reportedly used to spread political content.5
Many of the accounts that actively supported Duterte during the campaign have continued to operate since he took power, backing the president’s agenda.6 Some high-profile bloggers who supported Duterte’s campaign were given positions in the government or hired as government consultants.7
The government has attempted to control the narrative around COVID-19 and in some instances, agencies have commanded employees to refrain posting critical commentary on social media.8
Research released in August 2019 by the Australian National University’s New Mandala showed how online content manipulation was an important component of candidates’ campaign strategies for the May 2019 midterm elections.9 Disinformation campaigns used “more insidious and camouflaged” tactics, focusing on micro- and nano targeting private social media groups with limited content moderation, as well as having nonpolitical accounts spread election-related content in an effort to make it seem more genuine. Campaigns hired short-term commentators charging relatively low fees, as well as large-scale public relations companies that charged as much as 5.2 million pesos ($108,000) for their services.
In April 2019, the Manila Times published a matrix of news outlets, journalists, and advocacy groups allegedly plotting to overthrow the president. Maria Ressa, Rappler, Vera Files, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) were all mentioned as alleged conspirators in the “coup” and were accused of routinely publishing fraudulent information intended to incite readers. The information about the supposed plot, which had not been corroborated, was reportedly provided by Duterte himself, and the story was written by the chairman emeritus of the Manila Times, who had worked for the president.10 In May 2019, the presidential spokesperson released a new set of diagrams further elaborating on the list of alleged conspirators in the plot.11
Despite challenges in combatting the impact of disinformation, fact-checking initiatives by Rappler and Vera Files continue. In April 2020, the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communications (UPCMC) launched FactRackers,12 a fact-checking initiative that focused on information related to the COVID-19 pandemic.13
Social media platforms have also attempted to respond to the increasing levels of online disinformation in the country.14 Facebook, for example, in September 2020 removed 155 Facebook accounts, 11 pages, 9 groups and 6 Instagram accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior and violating community standards. It also removed 64 Facebook accounts, 32 pages, and 33 Instagram accounts for engaging in inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government organization. The company’s investigations revealed that the removed accounts and pages were linked to the Philippine military and police. The accounts posted about domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, and criticisms of communism and opposition members.15 In September 2020, as a result of the take down of sites linked to the military, President Duterte accused Facebook of inhibiting government efforts to fight communism and threatened to restrict the platform’s operation in the country.16
In June 2020, thousands of Filipinos, including student activists and journalists, reported that dummy Facebook accounts were impersonating them.17 Some students also reported that they were subjected to harassment and death threats from those accounts (see C7). Jose Jaime “Nonoy” Espina, the former chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), reported that “many of the threats are specific to opposition to the antiterror bill or to the current administration’s governance.”18 The Justice Department, in coordination with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the police, the NPC, and Facebook pledged to investigate the matter.19 The NBI later claimed that a technical glitch likely created the accounts, but technology experts said that the scale of cloning suggested that their creation was an organized and coordinated act.20
- 1Jonathan Corpus Ong, Ross Tapsell, and Nicole Curato, Tracking Digital Disinformation in the 2019 Philippine Midterm Election, New Mandala, August 2019, https://www.newmandala.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Digital-Disinform….
- 2Camille Elemia and Gelo Gonzales, “Stars, influencers get paid to boost Duterte propaganda, fake news,” Rappler, February 27, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/investigative/celebrities-influencers…
- 3Rizal Raoul Reyes and Mia Rosienna Mallari, “Money and credulity drive Duterte’s ‘keyboard army’,” Business Mirror, November 27, 2016, https://businessmirror.com.ph/2016/11/27/money-and-credulity-drive-dute….
- 4Eric S. Caruncho, “Confessions of a troll,” August 28, 2016, Lifestyle.INQ, https://lifestyle.inquirer.net/236403/confessions-of-a-troll/.
- 5Computational Propaganda Research Project, Troops, Trolls and Troublemakers: A Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation, University of Oxford, 2017, http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2017/07/Troops-….
- 6Computational Propaganda Research Project, Troops, Trolls and Troublemakers: A Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation, University of Oxford, 2017, http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2017/07/Troops-….
- 7Natashya Gutierrez, "State-sponsored hate: The rise of pro-Duterte bloggers," Rappler, August 18, 2017, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/178709-duterte-die-hard-supp….
- 8“DENR to employees: Do not post negative comments on gov’t Covid-19 response,” CNN Philippines, April 6, 2020, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/6/denr-tells-employees-dont-post….
- 9Jonathan Corpus Ong, Ross Tapsell, and Nicole Curato, Tracking Digital Disinformation in the 2019 Philippine Midterm Election, New Mandala, August 2019, https://www.newmandala.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Digital-Disinform….
- 10Committee to Protect Journalists, “Philippine news and human rights organizations accused of 'plot' against Duterte,” April 24, 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/04/philippine-news-and-human-rights-organizations-…; “Manila Times' big boss is Duterte's PR guy,” Rappler, May 17, 2017, https://www.rappler.com/nation/170038-manila-times-dante-ang-appointed-….
- 11Pia Ranada, "Malacanang releases new diagrams on 'conspiracy' to discredit Duterte," Rappler, May 8, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/229986-malacanang-releases-new-diagrams-….
- 12See https://www.factrakers.org/.
- 13University of the Philippines Media and Public Relations Office, “UP CMC battles COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ through fact-checking,” April 17, 2020, https://www.up.edu.ph/up-cmc-battles-covid-19-infodemic-through-fact-ch….
- 14Nathaniel Gleicher, "Banning Twinmark Media Enterprises in the Philippines from Facebook," Facebook Newsroom, January 10, 2019, https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2019/01/banning-twinmark-media-enterprises/.
- 15“Nathaniel Gleicher, “Removing Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior,” Facebook Newsroom, September 22, 2020, https://about.fb.com/news/2020/09/removing-coordinated-inauthentic-beha…
- 16Sofia Tomacruz, “Duterte threatens to stop Facebook in the Philippines,” Rappler, September 28, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/duterte-threatens-stop-facebook-philippi…
- 17Cecilia Yap and Andreo Calonzo, “Imposter Facebook Accounts Trigger Philippines Probes,” Bloomberg, June 7, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-07/philippines-probes-p….
- 18Regine Cabato, “Death threats, clone accounts: Another day fighting trolls in the Philippines,” The Washington Post, June 8, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/facebook-trolls-phili….
- 19“DOJ to probe sudden surge of fake Facebook accounts,” CNN Philippines, June 7, 2020, https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/6/7/DOJ-probe-fake-Facebook-ac…; Regine Cabato, “Death threats, clone accounts: Another day fighting trolls in the Philippines,” The Washington Post, June 8, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/facebook-trolls-phili….
- 20Alan Robles, “Who is behind surge in fake Facebook accounts in the Philippines,” SCMP, June 8, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3088067/who-behind-surg….
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||1.001 3.003|
Some economic and regulatory constraints have impacted individuals’ ability to publish content online, including instances of licenses being revoked for media outlets critical of the government.
In January 2018, Rappler—which had been critical of President Duterte and his violent war on drugs and had suggested that he had “weaponized” social media to discredit his political opponents—was ordered to close by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for violating a legal provision mandating full Philippine ownership and control of mass media. The SEC based its ruling on depository receipts issued by Rappler Holdings to the Omidyar Network Fund LLC, a fund created by eBay founder and US citizen Pierre Omidyar.1 It was the first time that the SEC invoked the rule to order the closure of a Philippine media company. The move came after Duterte had called for an investigation into the outlet’s ownership in 2017 and had repeatedly alleged its coverage was fake news.2 Following the closure order, the accreditation of Rappler’s reporter at the presidential palace was revoked in February 2019, and the reporter was banned from all official presidential events.3 The outlet remained in operation during the coverage period while awaiting a ruling from the Court of Appeals on a petition contesting the closure.4 Rappler, its executives, and its staff continue to face other administrative proceedings and court cases that could significantly hinder its ability to publish content online.5
In May 2020, the NTC ordered ABS-CBN to close after Congress, dominated by supporters of President Duterte, failed to renew its broadcast license, despite several bills introduced to do so.6 The NTC’s order apparently contradicted earlier expectations that ABS-CBN could continue to operate on a provisional basis while Congress considered the request to renew the network’s license.7 For example, the speaker of the lower house reported that the NTC was “instructed” by Congress to allow the network to continue to broadcast, as Congress had “no intention to order their closure, to shut them down, or take advantage of the situation.” In March 2020, the NTC originally announced that it would issue a provisional license for the network to operate until June 2022 while Congress continued its deliberations.8 However, the Office of the Solicitor General’s (OSG) warned the NTC that issuing such a provisional license would make the NTC liable for criminal prosecution, as only Congress can exercise licensing power.9
Duterte had previously criticized the network several times, including, for example, after it did not air his paid political advertisements during the 2016 presidential campaign.10 He has previously threatened to let the franchise agreement expire.11 Critics have assailed ABS-CBN’s closure as politically motivated and called it an attack on press freedom and democracy.12
In June 2020, while deliberations for the network’s franchise renewal continued in Congress, the NTC ordered the closure of its digital television and satellite services,13 citing an OSG opinion that those services were dependent on the network’s expired license.14 The NTC’s initial May cease-and-desist order did not include the network-operated Channel 43, and most ABS-CBN shows remained available through this channel. In July 2020, the House of Representatives voted to permanently shut the network’s television and radio services down.
After the closure of ABS-CBN, there have been calls from legislators to revive the network. However, in February 2021, President Duterte suggested that he would prevent the revival of ABS-CBN through presidential veto, should Congress grant the network a new franchise.15
In May 2020, the Digital Economy Taxation Act was filed in Congress (see B3).16 The legislation seeks to impose a 12 percent value-added tax (VAT) on digital advertisements, internet-based subscriptions, and transactions made on e-commerce platforms.17 Facebook and Google advertisements would be subject to the proposed tax. Platforms including Spotify and Netflix would also be affected.
The Open Access in Data Transmission Act was approved by the House of Representatives in March 2021 (see B3). The bill calls on providers of data transmission services to treat all internet traffic equally and without discrimination, restriction, or interference; it protects the rights of users of data transmission services; and it gives additional powers to the NTC, including the ability to impose a fine of 300,000 to 5 million pesos ($6,230 to $104,000) on those who fail to comply with the minimum service requirements. The law would also allow the NTC to remove providers who fail to comply with the data transmission industry’s performance standards for three consecutive years.18
With the issuance of the March 2020 COVID-19 lockdown in Luzon, media personnel were required to secure special media passes to travel through areas with high corona virus case numbers.19 Reporters from the alternative media group Bulatlat were allegedly denied issuance of the special media passes and were later told that passes for mainstream media outlets were being prioritized. Authorities claimed the outlet’s online status meant they should work remotely.20
- 1Carmela Fonbuena, "SEC revokes Rappler's registration," Rappler, January 15, 2018, https://rappler.com/nation/rappler-registration-revoked.
- 2“Full text of Duterte's State of the Nation Address 2017,” Philstar, July 25, 2017, http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/07/25/1721355/full-text-dutertes…; “Mocha Uson breached gov't ethics code, admits PCOO's Badoy,” Rappler, August 9, 2018, https://www.rappler.com/nation/209159-mocha-uson-written-reminder-gende….
- 3Nestor Corrales, "Roque: Duterte felt 'betrayed' by Rappler reporter," Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 21, 2018, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/970379/roque-duterte-felt-betrayed-by-rapp….
- 4Jomar Canlas, “Rappler not Filipino-owned and violated law, court rules,” The Manila Times, July 27, 2018, https://www.manilatimes.net/rappler-not-filipino-owned-and-violated-law….
- 5Lian Buan, “LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018,” Rappler, February 25, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/223968-list-cases-filed-against-maria-re….
- 6“ABS-CBN franchise expires May 4,” CNN Philippines, May 4, 2020, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/5/3/ABS-CBN-franchise-expiry.html?…; Neil Arwin Mercado, “Breaking: NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop broadcast operations,” INQUIRER.net, May 5, 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1270074/ntc-issues-cease-and-desist-order….
- 7“CPJ sends letter calling on Philippine President Duterte to reopen ABS-CBN,” https://cpj.org/2020/05/cpj-sends-letter-calling-on-philippine-presiden….
- 8Katrina Domingo, “NTC to allow ABS-CBN to operate until June 2022,” ABS-CBN News, March 11, 2020, https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/03/11/20/abscbn-franchise-renewal-ntc-pro….
- 9Neil Arwin Mercado, “Breaking: NTC: We regret failing to notify congress on stop order vs ABS-CBN,” Inquirer.net, May 14, 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1275029/ntc-we-regret-failing-to-notify-c…; Filane Mikee Cervantes, “NTC regrets failing to notify House on cease and desist order vs ABS-CBN,” Philippine News Agency, May 14, 2020, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1102886.
- 10Committee to Protect Journalists, ”CPJ sends letter calling on Philippine President Duterte to reopen ABS-CBN,” May 11, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/05/cpj-sends-letter-calling-on-philippine-presiden….
- 11Alexis Romero, “Duterte tells ABS-CBN owners to just sell the TV network,” Philstar, December 30, 2019, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/12/30/1980834/duterte-tells-abs….
- 12“Petition vs ABS-CBN ‘parasitic assault’ on press freedom, says anti disinformation network,” Rappler, February 11, 2020, https://rappler.com/nation/void-abs-cbn-franchise-calida-asks-supreme-c….
- 13Ian Nicolas Cigaral, “Gov’t deals fresh blow to ABS-CBN with halt order vs Sky Cable Direct, TV Plus,” Philstar, June 30, 2020, https://www.philstar.com/business/2020/06/30/2024674/govt-deals-fresh-b….
- 14Mara Cepeda, “SolGen advises NTC to also shut down ABS-CBN TV Plus and Channel 43,” Rappler, June 29, 2020, https://r3.rappler.com/nation/265186-solgen-advises-ntc-also-shut-down-….
- 15Pia Ranada, “Duterte won’t recognize any new ABS-CBN franchise granted by Congress,” Rappler, February 8, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/duterte-will-not-recognize-any-new-abs-c…
- 16See http://congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/basic_18/HB06765.pdf for full copy of House Bill No. 6765.
- 17Genshen L. Espedido and Beatrice M. Laforga, “Digital service tax could generate P29B in revenues,” Business World, May 20, 2020, https://www.bworldonline.com/digital-service-tax-could-generate-p29b-in….
- 18Republic of the Philippines, House of Representatives, House Bill 6557, October 5, 2017, http://www.congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/first_17/CR00423.pdf.
- 19Genalyn Kabiling, “PCOO tells media workers to secure special ID cards for travel within Luzon quarantine areas,” Manila Bulletin, March 21, 2020, https://news.mb.com.ph/2020/03/17/pcoo-tells-media-workers-to-secure-sp….
- 20“Bulatlat denounces PCOO’s media discrimination and repression amid Covid-19 lockdown,” Bulatlat, March 22, 2020, https://www.bulatlat.com/2020/03/22/bulatlat-denounces-pcoos-media-disc….
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||3.003 4.004|
Online platforms are regularly used to discuss politics, especially around elections. Generally, the Philippine blogosphere is rich and thriving. In January 2021, researchers focusing on information dystopia in the Philippines reported that Filipinos are shifting away from news organizations as their sources of information, and instead are increasingly relying on digital platforms, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.1
However, several troubling developments threaten the diversity of the online information landscape, including the increase in disinformation, the impact of hyperpartisan content, continued harassment against independent outlets and journalists, online self-censorship, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against alternative media outlets (see B4, B5, C7, and C8). With the closure of ABS-CBN’s television and radio stations, some of the network’s content migrated to its digital television services, websites, and social media accounts, which were also impacted by the shutdown (see B6).2
- 1Yvonne T. Chua, Nicole Curato, and Jonathan Corpus Ong. Information Dystopia and Philippine Democracy. Internews, January 28, 2021, https://internews.org/resource/information-dystopia-and-philippine-demo…
- 2“List: Where you can still access ABS-CBN content,” Rappler, May 6, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/260038-list-where-you-can-still-access-a….
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||6.006 6.006|
Digital activism in the Philippines has had a significant impact in the past, making national and international headlines and at times prompting positive action from the government. Mobilization tools and websites are freely available for users.
The use of hashtags on social media is popular, both as a tool to draw attention to individual events and as a means of participating in broader social movements. After the NBI arrested Maria Ressa in February 2019 following a libel complaint, the hashtags #HoldTheLine and #DefendPressFreedom were employed in support of Ressa, Rappler, and freedom of expression. With the closure of ABS-CBN television and radio stations, people flocked to social media to express their dismay over the network’s closure, using the hashtags #DefendPressFreedom and #NoToABSCBNShutdown.1
Citizens also frequently employ online petitions to call for action on matters relevant to the public. Several groups and individuals started online petitions to reopen ABS-CBN, for example.2 A petition was launched in March 2019 demanding an apology from broadcaster Erwin Tulfo after he verbally berated and threatened Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Rolando Bautista for declining to be interviewed live by Tulfo. The campaign gathered more than 4,000 signatures, and Tulfo subsequently apologized.3
Despite the coronavirus lockdown, during which outdoor gatherings were generally prohibited by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, rights groups held rallies and protests while trying to maintain physical distancing and other minimum health protocols. On May Day in 2021, workers held large protests in Manila; some protestors were arrested for violating quarantine protocols. Following the incident, police urged groups to hold online demonstrations instead, advice that some groups saw as a government attempt to deny free expression and assembly rights.4
- 1Katrina Hallare, “After NTC orders ABS-CBN ops to stop, #NotoABSCBNShutDown tops PH Twitter trend,” INQUIRER.net, May 5, 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1270230/after-ntc-orders-abs-cbn-ops-to-s….
- 2See National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), “1M signatures for ABS-CBN franchise renewal,"https://www.change.org/p/abs-cbn-one-million-for-abs-cbn-s-franchise; Defend Job Philippines, “Renew ABS-CBN Franchise! #NotoABSCBNShutdown,” https://www.change.org/p/abs-cbn-renew-abs-cbn-franchise-notoabscbnshut….
- 3Carmela Fonbuena, “Soldiers see the online after Erwin Tulfo threatens to slap ex-Army chief,” Rappler, May 31, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/231925-soldiers-seethe-online-after-erwi….
- 4Xave Gregorio, “Workers thwart police attempt to stop Labor Day protests,” Philstar.com, May 1, 2021, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2021/05/01/2095141/workers-thwart-po…
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||3.003 6.006|
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, passed to address the COVID-19 pandemic, expired and its replacement law did not renew free expression restrictions and criminalization of forms of online speech.
The Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution protects freedom of speech and expression, as well as press freedom, although these rights are not always upheld in practice. Under President Duterte’s administration, judicial independence has deteriorated.1
Several draft bills that would better protect users’ rights were pending at the end of the coverage period. Three bills were filed in Congress that aim to amend the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, two of which seek to repeal the act’s cyberlibel provision.2 A review of the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom remained pending in Congress until July 2019 (see B3). The newly elected Congress has yet to refile the bill as of the end of the coverage period.
Judicial independence has deteriorated during President Duterte’s administration.3 The constitution allows the president to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court and lower courts from a list provided by the Judicial and Bar Council, without a confirmation process (Art. VIII, Sec. 9).4 As of December 2019, the 15-member Supreme Court was dominated by Duterte’s 11 appointees.5 Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, a sometimes vocal opponent of the Duterte government’s policies, was ousted in May 2018 when the court narrowly granted a petition from the solicitor general to cancel Sereno’s 2010 appointment, alleging she did not disclose all of her assets.6 The UN’s special rapporteur on the dependence of judges and lawyers expressed concern over the dismissal, calling it a threat to judicial independence.7
To respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government passed the Republic Act (RA) 11469, also known as the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, in March 2020. The legislation gave the president broad emergency powers and further criminalized online expression (see C2).8 Various media and civil society groups warned that the law posed grave danger to freedom expression due to its failure to define false information.9 Instead, law enforcement were able to apply the term broadly, potentially arresting people arbitrarily (See C2).10 A petition before the Supreme Court questioning the law’s constitutionality was filed in May 2020, but was dismissed by the high court.11 However, the law expired in June 2020 and was replaced in September 2020 by RA 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act. This replacement legislation extended the president’s special powers to address the pandemic and provided funds to address the health crisis. The provision in the original law penalizing the spread of false information was not renewed.12
- 1Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2019, Philippines, February 4, 2019, https://freedomhouse.org/country/philippines/freedom-world/2019.
- 2These are House Bill Nos. 1707 and 5672.
- 3Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2020, Philippines, March 4, 2020, https://freedomhouse.org/country/philippines/freedom-world/2020.
- 4“Article XI,” The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, 1987, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/constitutions/1987-constitution/#art….
- 5Eimor Santos, “Two more Duterte appointees join Supreme Court,” CNN Philippines, December 4, 2019, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2019/12/4/new-supreme-court-justices.ht…
- 6Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2020 – Philippines,” https://freedomhouse.org/country/philippines/freedom-world/2020.
- 7United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, “Judicial independence in Philippines is under threat, says UN human rights expert,” June 1, 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23163….
- 8For the text of the law, see https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2020/03mar/20200324-RA-114….
- 9“Hands off our freedom of speech and access to information,” Foundation for Media Alternatives, March 31, 2020, https://www.fma.ph/2020/03/31/hands-off-our-freedom-of-speech-and-acces….
- 10NUJP, @NUJP, [Statement] “’Fake news’ provision threatens freedom of the press, expression,” https://twitter.com/nujp/status/1243066078290268162?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw….
- 11Lian Buan, “Supreme Court junks petition questioning Duterte’s Bayanihan law,’ Rappler, July 1, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/265418-supreme-court-junks-petition-ques….
- 12For the complete text of RA 11494 see https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2020/09sep/20200911-RA-114…
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
Some laws undermine free expression protections granted by the constitution. Users can face criminal charges for online activity under the libel law, which the Supreme Court upheld in 2014. Section 4c (4) of the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act classifies libel as a cybercrime. Section 6 prescribes prison terms of up to eight years for online libel,1 which is almost double the maximum penalty for the offense when it is perpetrated offline.2
The Penal Code also criminalizes online speech. Inciting sedition by means of “speeches, proclamations, emblems, cartoons, banners or other representations” is a crime under Article 142.3 Article 154 penalizes a range of online speech categories, notably “printing, lithography, or any other means of publication” that result in the spread of allegedly false news, which “may endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the state.”4 Individuals prosecuted under these provisions face prison terms varying from one month and one day to six months, or fines ranging from 200 pesos ($4) to 1,000 pesos ($20.76). The law is applied to online activities. 5
Section 6 (f) of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which expired in June 2020, penalized individuals and groups for “creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms,” especially those that are “clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion.” 6 Those who were convicted faced prison terms of up to two months, fines ranging from 10,000 pesos ($208) to 1 million pesos ($20,755), or both (see C1).
In June 2019, the government introduced the Anti-False Content Act, which would criminalize those who “know” or have “a reasonable belief” that they are sharing false or misleading information, use a “fictitious” account to do so, or are “offering or providing one’s service” to spread such information.7 Authors of allegedly false or misleading content could face fines and up to six years in prison, while financing the spread of such content could result in up to 20 years’ imprisonment and significant fines.8
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 was signed into law in July 2020 (see C5). Section 9 of the law criminalizes incitement to terrorism, which is broadly defined as “any person who, without taking any direct part in the commission of terrorism,” incites others to commit terrorist acts “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners and other representations.” Those who are convicted could face 12-year prison terms.9 Those suspected of terrorism can be detained for 14 days without warrant or charge; their detention can also be extended for another 10 days. Civil society groups have objected that the law is dangerously broad, providing the administration with another legal tool to use against its critics10 and stifle legitimate advocacy, protest, and requests for redress of grievances.11 Multiple petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court questioning the law’s constitutionality and for it to be struck down.12
In August 2020, the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) proposed using the Anti-Terrorism Act to regulate social media. By using the implementation section of the law, he claimed authorities could prevent terrorists from organizing and planning attacks and remain “one step ahead of terror groups.”13 After the proposal was harshly criticized, he clarified that he only wanted social media companies to implement more mechanisms to ensure their platforms are not being used for terrorist purposes.14
- 1The LAWPHiL Project, “Supreme Court Decision, G.R. No. 203335,” February 11, 2014, https://www.lawphil.net/judjuris/juri2014/feb2014/gr_203335_2014.html; The LAWPHiL Project, “Concurring and Dissenting Opinion, C.J. Sereno,” April 22, 2014, https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri2014/feb2014/gr_203335_so_2014.html.
- 2Purple S. Romero, “DOJ holds dialogue on ‘E-Martial Law’,” October 9, 2012, Rappler, https://www.rappler.com/nation/13837-it-s-not-e-martial-law.
- 3For crimes against public order, including sedition, see https://www.lawphil.net/statutes/acts/act_3815_noyear.html.
- 4“An Act Revising the Penal Code and Other Penal Laws – Act No. 3815,” The Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, https://www.un.org/Depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/PDFFILES/PHL_revise….
- 5Nestle Semilla, “Cebu optometrist faces raps for allegedly spreading fake news on virus,” Inquirer.net, February 16, 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1229462/cebu-optometrist-faces-raps-for-a….
- 6For the text of the law, see https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2020/03mar/20200324-RA-114….
- 7Senate of the Philippines, 18th Congress, “Anti-False Content Act,” July 1, 2019, http://legacy.senate.gov.ph/lisdata/2624822593!.pdf.
- 8Seventeenth Congress of the Republic of the Philippines, “SB No. 1492,” June 21, 2017, https://www.senate.gov.ph/lisdata/2624822593!.pdf; Ellen T. Tordesillas, "Opinion: SEA lawyers groups call on Senate not to pass Villanueva bill on fake news," ABS-CBN News, November 23, 2017, http://news.abs-cbn.com/blogs/opinions/11/23/17/opinion-sea-lawyers-gro….
- 9“Republic Act No. 11479,” Congress of the Philippines, 2019, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2020/06jun/20200703-RA-114….
- 10“FMA denounces guilty verdict on Rappler’s Maria Ressa and Rey Santos, Jr.,” Foundation for Media Alternatives, June 15, 2020, https://www.fma.ph/2020/06/15/statement-fma-denounces-guilty-verdict-on….
- 11See Statement of Center Law Manila available at https://www.facebook.com/centerlaw.philippines.
- 12“CenterLaw, Vera files and Lyceum law profs assail anti-terrorism law,” Phil Star, August 10, 2020, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/08/10/2034221/centerlaw-vera-fi…; Tetch Torres-Tupas, “Executive, legislative given 10 days to comment on petitions vs anti-terror law,” INQUIRER.net, July 7, 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1303296/anti-terror-story.
- 13Frances mangosing, “PH military chief wants social media use regulated through terror law,” Inquirer.net, August 3, 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1316253/ph-military-chief-wants-social-me…
- 14Janvic Mateo and Evelyn Macairan, “AFP chief backpedals on social media regulation; 27th petition versus anti-terror law filed,” OneNews, August 11, 2020, https://www.onenews.ph/afp-chief-backpedals-on-social-media-regulation-…
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||3.003 6.006|
Journalists and ordinary users continued to face criminal and civil penalties for their online activities, most often under libel laws, a trend that has deepened since Duterte took power in 2016. Over the coverage period, people were arrested, and spurious charges have been brought in what presents as forms of intimidation and harassment (see C7).
A number of libel cases have targeted news site Rappler.1 In February 2019, the Regional Trial Court issued an arrest order for Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. on charges of cyberlibel, under the 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act.2 The charges stem from a complaint filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng against the outlet in late 2017, regarding a 2012 story by Santos that suggested Keng’s involvement in murder, human trafficking, and drug smuggling.3 According to a lawyer from the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA), since the Cybercrime Prevention Act was passed after the story’s publication, the law should not apply to Rappler and its story about Keng. The NBI, however, claimed that the article falls under the theory of “continuous publication,” where it can be assumed that Keng saw the story only after the law was passed.4 In June 2020, a Manila court found Ressa and Santos guilty, specifying that their sentence could include imprisonment ranging from six months and one day to six years, as well as fines.5 The two appealed the verdict later that month.6 In February 2020, Keng filed a second cyberlibel suit against Ressa over a social media post she had made earlier that month that included screenshots of the 2002 Philippine Star article that originally linked him to a murder case (see B2).7 In June 2021, Keng withdrew the second suit.8 A third libel case was filed against Maria Ressa and Rappler reporter Rambo Talabong in January 2021 over an investigative story on alleged corruption at a university. Rappler’s legal counsel observed that “cyber libel is now the first option in case of disagreement on reporting.”9
Several users were arrested for offenses related to their online activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, film writer Maria Victoria Beltran was arrested without a warrant and charged with inciting sedition for posting a satirical remark on her social media account. Mayor Edgardo Labella accused the artist of spreading false news and instilling fear among people.10 Beltran, who was released on bail, sued Labella and police officers for violating her rights during her arrest and detention.11 Beltran was charged under the Cybercrime Law, RA 11469, and the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases law; Though the court dismissed her charges in September 2020, she could have faced 18 years’ imprisonment and a 1 million peso ($20,755) fine.12
Between March and April 2020, the police arrested at least 32 people for allegedly spreading false information related to the coronavirus.13 In early April, over 12 individuals received NBI subpoenas for their social media activities.14 In March 2020, police charged Latigo News TV owner Mario Batuigas and online reporter Amor Virata for allegedly spreading false information, after they shared a local mayor’s social media posts about COVID-19.15
In February 2020, an optometrist from Cebu was charged with violating Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code for allegedly spreading false news on social media about a COVID-19-related death.16 In March 2020, a teacher and her son were arrested for inciting sedition and disobeying authorities, respectively, after the teacher criticized the local government for its food aid distribution policies and allowing residents of General Santos City to go hungry during the COVID-19 lockdown.17
Politicians have filed online libel cases against journalists, bloggers, and ordinary internet users. In February 2021, the Mayor of Caloocan City filed cyber libel cases against five city councilors because they posted a series of videos online in which they claimed that the digital tablets procured by the government for the city were substandard.18 In January 2021, a businessman from Cebu City was arrested for allegedly circulating malicious statements about the Cristina Lee Dino Foundation.19 During the same month, a police officer from the Cordillera region filed a cyber libel suit against the secretary general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, an Indigenous peoples group, for blaming the officer for dismantling a Dulag memorial during a press conferences that was streamed via Facebook.20
In July 2018, blogger Eduardo “Cocoy” Dayao was charged with cyberlibel under the Cybercrime Prevention Act after a complaint was filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto. The complaint came after Dayao posted an article that criticized seven senators for not signing a resolution calling for the government to end the killing of minors.21 The case against Dayao was ongoing at the end of the coverage period.
Then senator Antonio Trillanes, a vocal critic of Duterte, filed a libel complaint against Duterte supporter and blogger RJ Nieto for posting “false and derogatory” statements on his Facebook account in 2017, which accused Trillanes of being a drug dealer.22 In July 2018, Nieto was indicted in the case.23 Hearings were scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020, but no updates on the case were available at the end of the coverage period.
- 1Lian Buan, “LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018,” Rappler, July 9, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/223968-list-cases-filed-against-maria-re….
- 2Lian Buan, “LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018,” Rappler, July 9, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/223968-list-cases-filed-against-maria-re….
- 3Martin Petty and Neil Jerome Morales, “Philippines frees journalist on bail after global outcry over press freedom,” Reuters, February 13, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-media/philippines-frees-….
- 4Anjo Alimario, "Group defends Rappler in online libel case," CNN Philippines, January 20, 2018, http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2018/01/20/group-defends-rappler-in-onli….
- 5Rebecca Ratcliffe, “Journalist Maria Ressa found guilty of ‘cyberlibel’ in Philippines,” The Guardian, June 15, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/15/maria-ressa-rappler-edito…; Raissa Robles, “Philippine journalist Maria Ressa prepares for jail, even as she fights cyber libel conviction,” South China Morning Post, June 17, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/people/article/3089318/philippine-journa…; Human Rights Watch, “Philippines: Rappler Verdict a Blow to Media Freedom,” June 15, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/15/philippines-rappler-verdict-blow-me….
- 6Kristine Joy Patag, “Ressa, Santos appeal cyberlibel conviction,” Philstar, June 29, 2020, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/06/29/2024437/ressa-santos-appe….
- 7Lian Buan, “Keng sues Ressa for cyber libel anew over a 2019 tweet,” Rappler, June 19, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/264257-keng-sues-ressa-cyber-libel-anew-….
- 8Lian Buan, “Wilfredo Keng withdraws 2nd cyber libel suit vs Maria Ressa,” Rappler, Jine 1, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/wilfredo-keng-withdraws-second-cyber-lib…
- 9Lian Buan, “Court orders arrest of Maria Ressa, Rambo Talabong over Benilde thesis story,” Rappler, January 14, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/court-orders-arrest-of-maria-ressa-repor…
- 10Gabriela Baron, “Cebu writer arrested for satirical Facebook post named Freedom of Speech awardee,” Manila Bulletin, May 7, 2020, https://news.mb.com.ph/2020/05/07/cebu-writer-arrested-for-satirical-fa….
- 11Ryan Macasero, “Cebu artist Bambi Beltran sues Mayor Edgar Labella, cops for rights violation,” Rappler, June 19, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/263161-cebu-artist-bambi-beltran-sues-ed….
- 12Pachico A.Seares, “Explainer: What dismissal of charges against Bambi Beltran over Covid-19 post instruct government leaders, social media users,” Sunstar Cebu, September 16, 2020, https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/1870407/Cebu/Local-News/EXPLAINER-Wh…
- 13Philippine National Police, “32 Persons nabbed for fake news on social media,” April 7, 2020, http://pnp.gov.ph/index.php/news-and-information/3682-32-persons-nabbed….
- 14Tetch Torres-Tupas, “NBI summons more than a dozen people over COVID-19 social media posts,” INQUIRER.net, April 2, 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1252807/nbi-summons-more-than-a-dozen-peo….
- 15“PNP files complaint vs Cavite town mayor for ‘causing coronavirus scare,’” Rappler, March 28, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/256209-pnp-files-criminal-charges-novele….
- 16Nestle Semilla, “Cebu optometrist faces raps for allegedly spreading fake news on virus,” Inquirer.net, February 16, 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1229462/cebu-optometrist-faces-raps-for-a….
- 17“Teacher, son arrested without warrant in GenSan over Facebook post,” Rappler, March 28, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/256157-teacher-son-arrested-without-warr….
- 18Joseph Pedrajas, “Mayor Malapitan files cyber libel charges vs 5 city councilors over students’ tablets issue,” Manila Bulletin, February17, 2021, https://mb.com.ph/2021/02/17/mayor-malapitan-files-cyber-libel-charges-…
- 19“Bizman arrested for cyber libel,” Sunstar, January 28, 2021, https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/1884132/Cebu/Local-News/Bizman-arres…
- 20Artemio Dumlao, “Cordillera cop chief sues IP group leader for cyber libel over anti-Chico dam marker,” Philippine Star, February 8, 2021, https://www.philstar.com/nation/2021/02/08/2076216/cordillera-cop-chief…
- 21"Blogger indicted in Sotto libel case," ASEAN Breaking News, July 28, 2019, https://www.aseanbreakingnews.com/2018/07/blogger-indicted-in-sotto-lib….
- 22"Blogger RJ Nieto ordered charged for cyber-libel in 'defaming' Trillanes," GMA News Online, June 30, 2018, http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/658756/prosecutor-oks-cyber-….
- 23"Pro-administration blogger indicted for cyber libel vs Trillanes," CNN Philippines, July 1, 2018, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2018/06/30/thinking-pinoy-cyber-libel-t….
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||4.004 4.004|
There are no restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption in the Philippines. The government does not require user registration for internet and mobile access, and prepaid services are widely available, even in small neighborhood stores. There are legislative initiatives in both houses of Congress aimed at preventing mobile phone–aided terrorism and criminal activities that seek SIM card registration systems.1 A Senate bill, filed in July 2019, called for a limit on the number of prepaid SIM cards an individual can register in the system. Another bill, also filed in July 2019, would require registered owners of SIM cards to be at least 15 years of age.2 One of the authors of the Senate bill said having a name and face behind prepaid SIM cards was important, especially for the purpose of contact-tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.3 The police and several legislators support the bill’s passage, though it has not been prioritized by the 18th Congress.
- 1Ben R. Rosario, "SIM card registration bill's approval seen," Manila Bulletin, March 2, 2018, https://news.mb.com.ph/2018/03/02/sim-card-registration-bills-approval-….
- 2Section 4 of Senate Bill No. 236 filed by Sen. Vicente Sotto III full text of which is available at http://senate.gov.ph/lisdata/3049827372!.pdf, and Section 4 of Senate Bill No. 693 filed by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, full text of which is available at http://senate.gov.ph/lisdata/3107127969!.pdf.
- 3“After getting scammed, Gatchalian files prepaid SIM card registration bill anew,” Newsbytes, January 14, 2021, https://newsbytes.ph/2021/01/14/after-getting-scammed-gatchalian-files-…
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||3.003 6.006|
Despite constitutional protections to ensure the privacy of communications, surveillance is a growing concern in the Philippines.
Documents leaked during the coverage period include evidence that the government intends to procure hardware and software for communications surveillance.1 In January 2021, Bloomberg reported that the Philippines bought surveillance technology from Sandvine, a technology company based in Canada.2 In February 2018, reports revealed that the British government sold high-tech spying equipment worth £150,000 ($200,000) to the Philippines, including tools to listen in on telephone conversations like international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI)–catchers—also known by the product name Stingrays—and surveillance tools to monitor internet activity.3 In 2014, the Philippine government reportedly acquired radio frequency test equipment (RFTE) from an electronic surveillance company based in Germany.4 The Department of National Defense (DND) claimed the acquisition was not unusual and was necessary to protect national security.
Concerns about surveillance grew when, during a visit to Marawi in 2017, President Duterte admitted to wiretapping politicians allegedly involved in the drug trade.5 He implied that the government possessed wiretapping or interception capabilities again in February 2018, when he said he knew in advance that the International Criminal Court (ICC) would undertake an initial review of allegations that he had committed crimes against humanity while conducting the brutal war on drugs.6 Human rights groups and those opposed to the war on drugs, such as Catholic priests, have suspected that their communications are vulnerable to government surveillance.7
The Human Security Act of 2007 allows for law enforcement to “listen to, intercept and record, with the use of any mode, form, kind or type of electronic or other surveillance equipment or intercepting and tracking devices” the conversations of those who are charged with or suspected of terrorism.8 Under the act, law enforcement officials must obtain a court order to carry out such surveillance activities.9 However, the law includes a broad definition of terrorism and critics argue that it is susceptible to abuse.10
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020,11 which amended the Human Security Act of 2007, was signed by the president and entered into force in July (see C2).12 The law expands the definition of terrorism and allows law enforcement and the military to conduct surveillance of any form on an individual suspected of a terrorist act for 60 days, with a potential extension for another 30 days.13 Those suspected of supporting a terrorist organization can also be subjected to surveillance. Civil society groups and critics fear that the law could be used to surveil critics of the government, including left-wing groups that are often tagged as terrorists (see C7).14 Former Supreme Court Justice Renato Puno, acting as impartial critic, expressed concerns that a person “already charged with terrorism can still be the subject of surveillance.”15
A total of 37 petitions were filed before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act.16 In January 2021, one of the lawyers chosen to petition the constitutionality of the law reported that she had spotted men taking photos of her residence and had received anonymous, silent phone calls.17 Attorney Angelo Karlo Guillen, a lawyer for a red-tagged tribal group in the province of Iloilo and legal counsel for one of the 37 petitions to the Supreme Court, was stabbed on his head with a screwdriver and neck by unknown assailants.18
Authorities have increased their capacity to monitor social media platforms. In January 2019, the DICT contracted local company Integrated Computer Systems, Inc. and Israeli-American company Verint Systems, Ltd. for the department’s Cybersecurity Management System (CMS), which includes a social media monitoring component. Monitoring is conducted in “near real time” to identify misinformation and other threats, including during election periods.19 Similarly, the AFP created a social media monitoring cell in October 2018, receiving training from the US military on how to monitor platforms to “counter misinformation by violent extremism organizations.”20
In February 2020, the deputy chief for operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP) encouraged police officers to be more active on social media to aid in crime prevention efforts. The statement followed an earlier order by the PNP’s chief to monitor crimes and abuses on social media.21 The police also monitor social media posts that spread false information.22
In November 2018, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) contracted the China International Telecommunication Construction Corporation (CITCC) to implement the Safe Philippines Project and install 12,000 surveillance cameras in the Manila metropolitan area and Davao.23 Huawei was supposed to provide technology to support the project. In January 2019, Senator Ralph Recto filed a resolution calling for a probe of the project over concerns about Chinese companies’ alleged espionage and hacking.24 In February 2019, lawmakers declined to provide the necessary funding to the project—$400 million—due to these concerns.25 However, Duterte later vetoed the lawmakers’ decision to block the funding in May 2019 and placed the project under “conditional implementation.”26 The Safe Philippines Project was then launched by the DILG in November 2019 in Marikina.27 In January 2020, Senator Leila de Lima of the opposition filed a resolution calling for an inquiry into China’s involvement in the project.28
- 1Foundation for Media Alternatives, Tiktik: An Overview of the Philippine Surveillance Landscape, September 2015, https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3868536-TIKTIK-an-Overview-of-t….
- 2Ryan Gallagher, “Silicon Valley investment firm profits from surveillance states,” Bloomberg Businessweek, January 26, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2021-01-26/private-equity-firm-…
- 3Hannah Ellis-Petersen, "Britain sold spying gear to Philippines despite Duterte's brutal drugs war," The Guardian, February 21, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/21/britain-sold-spying-gear-….
- 5"Duterte admits wiretapping alleged narcopoliticians," CNN Philippines, September 23, 2017, http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/09/23/president-rodrigo-duterte-wir….
- 6Duterte said that a foreign country provided him with recordings of a phone conversation between Loida Lewis, a critic of the president based in the US, and another person in the Philippines, see Virgil Lopez, "Duterte links Loida Lewis to ICC probe, she denies his info from 'foreign country'," GMA News, February 12, 2018, http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/643104/duterte-links-loida-l….
- 7Jodesz Gavilan and Sofia Tomacruz, “Prone to abuse: State surveillance as a tool to silence critics,” Rappler, March 18, 2018, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/198128-philippines-governmen…; “2 human rights activists shot dead in Sorsogon,” CNN Philippines, June 16, 2019, https://cnnphilippines.com/regional/2019/6/16/karapatan-human-rights-ac….
- 8Global Information Society Watch, 2014 – Communications Surveillance in the Digital age, 2014, https://giswatch.org/en/country-report/communications-surveillance/phil….
- 9Congress of the Philippines, Rep. Act 9372, “Human Security Act,” February 19, 2007, https://www.senate.gov.ph/republic_acts/ra%209372.pdf.
- 10“Philippines: proposed amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007 a license for human rights violations,” International Commission of Jurists, June 24, 2018, https://www.icj.org/philippines-proposed-amendments-to-the-human-securi….
- 11The final form of Senate bill no. 1083, which was adopted by the congress, can be found at http://senate.gov.ph/lisdata/3163229242!.pdf.
- 12Arianne Merez, “Duterte signs into law anti-terror bill despite growing opposition,” ABS-CBN News, July 3, 2020, https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/07/03/20/duterte-signs-into-law-anti-terr….
- 13A copy of Senate Bill No. 1083 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is available in https://www.senate.gov.ph/lisdata/3163229242!.pdf.
- 14Raissa Robles, “Could Duterte critics be target of Philippines anti-terror law?,” SCMP, March 3, 2020, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3064656/could-duterte-c…; Melissa Luz Lopez, “Anti-terrorism bill problematic even under the best government leaders – Hontiveros,” CNN Philippines, July 3, 2020, https://www.cnn.ph/news/2020/7/3/anti-terrorism-bill-problematic-across….
- 15Lian Buan, “Ex CJ Puno: Anti-terror law’s designation, arrest, surveillance questionable,” Rappler, May 17, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/reynato-puno-says-anti-terror-law-design…
- 16Lian Buan, “Calida faces ex-SolGen Cadiz, 12 others in anti-terror law oral arguments,” Rappler, January 13, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/calida-faces-ex-solicitor-general-cadiz-…
- 17Gabriel Pabico Lalu, “Lawyer in argument vs Anti-Terrorism Act Law says she may be under surveillance,” Inquirer.net, January 19, 2021, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1385316/lawyer-against-anti-terror-law-sa…
- 18Nestor P. Burgos, Jr., “Lawyer for red-tagged tribal folk stabbed; laptop, documents taken,” inquirer.net, March 5, 2021, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1403259/lawyer-for-red-tagged-tribal-folk…
- 19Miguel R. Camus, “Israeli surveillance firm to build PH cybersecurity platform,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 17, 2019, https://technology.inquirer.net/82783/israeli-surveillance-firm-to-buil….
- 20“Embassy Supports Philippine Army Social Media Cell,” U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, October 3, 2018, https://ph.usembassy.gov/embassy-supports-philippine-army-social-media-…; “US trains Philippine soldiers on social media monitoring,” Philstar, October 3, 2018, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/10/03/1856933/us-trains-philipp….
- 21Christopher Lloyd Caliwan, “Cops urged to utilize social media as part of anti-crime efforts,” Philippine News Agency, February 14, 2020, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1093722.
- 22Christopher Lloyd Caliwan, “PNP to go after purveyors of fake news on social media,” Philippine News Agency, March 23, 2020, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1097458.
- 23“DILG: Safe Philippines project will improve police response time, deter and reduce crime,” Department of the Interior and Local Government, December 17, 2018, https://dilg.gov.ph/news/DILG-Safe-Philippines-project-will-improve-pol….
- 24Patricia Lourdes Viray, “Senate probe into “Safe Philippines’ project sought,” PhilStar, January 17, 2019, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/01/17/1885871/senate-probe-safe….
- 25“Huawei’s Video Surveillance Business Hits Snag in Philippines,” The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/huaweis-video-surveillance-business-hits-s….
- 26Bernadette D. Nicolas, “Duterte vetoes budget restriction on funding,” Business Mirror, May 6, 2019, https://businessmirror.com.ph/2019/05/06/duterte-vetoes-budget-restrict….
- 27Ana Felicia Bajo, “DILG launches ‘Safe Philippines’ project in Metro Manila cities,” GMA News Online, November 22, 2020, https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/metro/716434/dilg-launches-safe-ph….
- 28Franc Luna, “Probe into Safe Philippines CCTV project sought,” PhilStar, January 5, 2020, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/01/05/1982217/probe-safe-philip….
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||4.004 6.006|
In general, technology companies are not required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users, although there are some data retention requirements.
In 2015, the government issued rules under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, clarifying some sections of the law that pertain to surveillance. Under its provisions, ISPs must collect and preserve data for up to six months on request. Law enforcement authorities tasked with investigating cybercrime—the NBI and the PNP’s cybercrime unit—require a court order to access computer data.1
The Data Privacy Act of 2012 established parameters for the collection of personal financial information, as well as an independent privacy regulator.2 Other laws with implications for user privacy include the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, which explicitly states that it does not “require an ISP to engage in the monitoring of any user,”3 though it does require them to “obtain” and “preserve” evidence of violations, threatening to revoke the licenses of noncompliant ISPs. The law also authorizes local government units to oversee and regulate commercial establishments that provide internet services.
- 1Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, “Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 10175,” August 12, 2015, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2015/08/12/implementing-rules-and-re…; “Philippine Government Issues Implementing Rules Under Cybercrime Law - Part I,” B:Inform, March 31, 2016, http://web.archive.org/web/20190214073829/http://www.bakerinform.com/ho….
- 2Alec Christie and Arthur Cheuk, “Australia: New tough privacy regime in the Philippines Data Privacy Act signed into law,” Mondaq, October 27, 2012, http://www.mondaq.com/australia/x/203136/Data+Protection+Privacy/privac…; Republic of the Philippines, National Privacy Commission, “Rep. Act 10173,” National Privacy Commission, https://www.privacy.gov.ph/data-privacy-act/; Janette Toral, “Salient Features of Data Privacy Act of 2012 – Republic Act 10173,” Digital Filipino, December 17, 2012, https://digitalfilipino.com/salient-features-of-data-privacy-act-of-201….
- 3University of Minnesota, Human Rights Library, Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 9775, 2009, http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/research/Philippines/IRR%20%20of%20the%20Anti%….
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities?||2.002 5.005|
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to the increased harassment online in the form of red-tagging, as well as the shooting of online journalist Jobert Bercasio shortly after he posted on Facebook about alleged illegal activity.
Journalists and rights activists, especially women, have been increasingly targeted with online intimidation and harassment in recent years.1 Authorities’ use of red tagging, a form of harassment whereby targets are accused of having links with local communist groups, increased during the coverage period.
In September 2020, Jobert Bercasio, a journalist and commentator for the privately run broadcasting site, Balangibog, was shot and killed while riding his motorcycle. In his last broadcast streamed via Facebook before he was killed, Bercasio had criticized a local politician. According to the NUJP, Bercasio used his personal Facebook page an hour before he was killed to claim that trucks were operating in a local quarry without proper documentation. The NUJP maintains that Bercasio was killed due to his work.2
Independent and critical online outlets and journalists experience sustained harassment from both progovernment social media accounts and the authorities. Days after Maria Ressa was arrested in February 2019, two supporters of the president livestreamed themselves on Facebook sneaking into Rappler’s office and unfurling a sign that condemned the outlet for allegedly destroying the Philippines’ reputation. The video was widely shared by Duterte supporters as well as by groups supporting government-friendly senatorial candidates. Some viewers of the video also posted disturbing comments, including calls for the Rappler office to be bombed and for Ressa to be sexually assaulted.3 Similarly, online attacks against the fact-checking outlet Vera Files escalated after it partnered with Facebook in its fact-checking project in April 2018.4 In June 2019, Margarita “Gingging” Valle, a journalist for the online news outlet Davao Today, was arrested on charges that included murder, was not allowed to contact a lawyer or her family for 8 hours, and was detained for a total of 12 hours. Police then released her, claiming they had mistaken her for someone else.5
The Duterte administration has increasingly employed the tactic of red-tagging to intimidate government critics. Authorities frequently conduct raids against groups or individuals who are tagged as communists or allies of communist groups, planting evidence that can be used to bring charges against them. In December 2020, police arrested Lady Ann Salem, editor of the news website Manila Today, for alleged illegal possession of weapons. The criminal cases filed against Salem were dismissed by the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court. However, she remained incarcerated because government prosecutors refused to accept her release, claiming that the outcome of the case was not yet finalized.6 The Mandaluyong Trial Court finally released Salem in March 2021. After freeing Salem, the judge who tried the case was red-tagged; cloth posters with the judge’s face were hung from footbridges along a major road.7
Journalists and ordinary citizens also get red-tagged publicly on social media.8 In March 2021, Presidential Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, who is also a spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), accused Rappler of being “an ally and mouthpiece” of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army (NPA), and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in a post on Facebook.9 In February 2021, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, another spokesperson of the NTF-ELCAC, threatened an Inquirer.net reporter, Tetch Torres-Tupas, on social media for allegedly supporting terrorists by spreading lies. Tupas had reported on allegations that the military had tortured members of the Aetas community, a group of Indigenous peoples living in Luzon, for six days to make them admit that they were members of the New People’s Army.10 Reporters covering this story denounced Parlade for his remarks and demanded an apology.11
In January 2021, the AFP posted a list of alumni of the University of the Philippines on Facebook, claiming they had joined the NPA and were later killed or captured as a result of their links to the group. Some of those named revealed that they are alive, and that while they participated in rallies during while they were students, they had never joined the NPA. The AFP has since taken down the post, though it was shared with other Facebook pages.12 In a statement, the NUJP claimed the AFP resorted to falsifying this information in order to push the narrative that the University of the Philippines is a breeding ground of enemies of the state.13
In April 2020, a 2013 photo of female journalists conducting a media safety-training session surfaced on social media. The posts description claims that one of the photographed women, who works with ABS-CBN, had links with local communist groups.14 Separately, police in Butuan City posted a photo that named several organizations as communist groups on Facebook, while police in Baguio named several left-wing groups as terrorists on Twitter.15
Celebrities who have publicly expressed opinions on sensitive social issues have also been red-tagged by the military. Lieutenant General Parlade threatened a celebrity of working with the left-leaning organization, Gabriela Youth, suggesting that the celebrity could end up killed like the organization’s namesake, who died from an armed encounter with the military.16 Parlade denied, in a social media post, having red-tagged the actress. Lawmakers have called for an inquiry on the matter.
In June 2020, hundreds and potentially thousands of dummy Facebook accounts were found to impersonate student activists and journalists (see B5). Some of the targets reported receiving death threats and messages threatening sexual violence from the dummy accounts, as well as other incendiary and violent messages. While the motive behind the accounts’ creation remained unclear, some have suggested they were created to intimidate and harass those critical of the government.17
Those criticizing Duterte’s war on drugs have also faced harassment and intimidation. In February 2019, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan, an outspoken critic of the drug war and its abuses, reportedly received text messages that he “was next in line for execution.”18
Violence against journalists and activists is a significant problem in the Philippines, although it is not always directly related to their online activity. In August 2019, Brandon Lee, an American journalist for the English-language newspaper and website Nordis, was shot and severely wounded by unidentified assailants in the town of Lagawe. In the past, Lee reported on government corruption and rights violations, was allegedly surveilled and harassed by the military, and was labelled an “enemy of the state” on social media.19 The CPJ reported that 86 Philippine journalists were killed in relation to their work—most covering political issues like corruption—between 1992 and 2021.20 Attackers generally go unpunished.
- 1Kristine Sabillo, "Better or worse? The state of Philippine media according to watchdogs," ABS-CBN News, January 2, 2019, https://news.abs-cbn.com/focus/01/02/19/better-or-worse-the-state-of-ph….
- 2“Journalist Jobert Bercasio shot and killed in the Philippines,” Committee to Protect Journalists, September 15, 2020. https://cpj.org/2020/09/journalist-jobert-bercasio-shot-and-killed-in-t…
- 3"Duterte supporters call for attacks on Rappler newsroom, journalists," Rappler, February 21, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/224115-duterte-supporters-call-for-attac….
- 4“These fact-checkers were attacked online after partnering with Facebook,” Poynter, September 10, 2018, https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2018/these-fact-checkers-were-att….
- 5Carolyn O. Arguillas, “PNP on Valle’s arrest: ‘mistaken identity’,” Minda News, June 9, 2019, https://www.mindanews.com/top-stories/2019/06/pnp-on-valles-arrest-mist…; Gaea Katreena Cabico, “’Clear state target’: Valle’s family not buying PNP’s claim that Davao journo was ‘mistakenly’ arrested,” PhilStar, June 11, 2019, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/06/11/1925564/clear-state-targe…; “Mistaken identity? Journalist Margarita Valle 'clear state target,' says family,” Rappler, June 11, 2019, https://rappler.com/nation/family-statement-davao-journalist-margarita-….
- 6Catherine Gonzales, “prosecutors oppose journo’s release after Mandaluyong court’s dismissal of criminal charges,’ Inquirer.net, February 12, 2021, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1395101/prosecutors-oppose-journos-releas…
- 7Lian Buan, “After freeing activists, Mandaluyong judge gets red-tagged in an EDSA tarp,” Rappler, March 16, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/after-freeing-activists-mandaluyong-judg…
- 8“De Lima seeks inquiry into PNP red-tagging of activists,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 30, 2020, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1299324/de-lima-seeks-inquiry-into-pnp-re….
- 9“Badoy red-tags Rappler over fact-check articles,” Rappler, March 4, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/national-news/badoy-red-tags-rappler-ove…
- 10Tetch Torres-Tupas, “’Tortured’ Aetas seek SC help against anti-terror law,” Inquirer.net, February 2, 2021, https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1391301/tortured-aetas-seeks-scs-help-vs-…
- 11Lian Buan, “Justice reporters: Parlade posed credible threat under anti-terror law,” Rappler, February 4, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/justice-reporters-statement-parlade-pose…
- 12Michelle Abad, “UP graduates falsely tagged as NPA eye cyber libel complaint,” Rappler, January 23, 2021, https://www.rappler.com/nation/falsely-claimed-npa-up-graduates-eye-cyb…
- 13AFP page red-tags journalist Bobby Coloma and Roel Landingin, others in post. NUJP Statement. January 22, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/229482870373/posts/10164667063180374/?sfnsn=mo
- 14Carolyn O. Arguillas, “Mindanews’ 2013 photo on media safety training maliciously used to red-tag journo in 2020,” Minda News, May 15, 2020, https://www.mindanews.com/top-stories/2020/05/mindanews-2013-photo-on-m….
- 15Franco Luna, “PNP ‘art’ tags activists as terrorists amid debate on anti-terrorism bill,” PhilStar, June 8, 2020, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/06/08/2019480/pnp-art-tags-acti….
- 16CNN Philippines Staff, “AFP official warns Liza Soberano against keeping ties with Gabriela Youth,” CNN Philippines, October 21, 2020, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/10/21/AFP-official-warning-Liza-So…
- 17William Wan, “Death threats, clone accounts: Another day fighting trolls in the Philippines,” June 8, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/facebook-trolls-phili….
- 18Paterno Esmaquel II, "Bishop critical of Duterte drug war gets death threats," Rappler, February 26, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/224414-bishop-pablo-david-gets-death-thr….
- 19“America journalist shot, critically wounded in Philippines,” Committee to Protect Journalists, August 9, 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/08/american-journalist-shot-critically-wounded-in-….
- 20Committee to Protect Journalists, “83 Journalists Killed in Philippines between 1992 and 2021 / Motive Confirmed,” August 3, 2021, https://cpj.org/data/killed/asia/philippines/?status=Killed&motiveConfi….
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||1.001 3.003|
Technical attacks targeting media groups continued during the coverage period. Swedish nonprofit media foundation Qurium reported that the alternative online media sources, Bulatlat and Altermidya, faced distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in May 2021. During the same month, left-wing nongovernmental organization (NGO) and human rights alliance Karaptan was also the target of a DDoS attack.1 Nordis, the news outlet that shooting victim Brandon Lee worked with (see C7), and the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PHRIC) were targeted with DDoS attacks in April 2020.2 In February 2020, at the height of ABS-CBN franchise-renewal discussion, employees of the network reported receiving a Google alert warning them of possible government-backed hacking attempts.3
Between December 2018 and March 2019, Bulatlat, Kodao Productions, Pinoy Weekly, AlterMidya, and the Alipato Media Center all experienced DDoS attacks, following their publication of content that criticized the government or supported dissidents. 4 In March 2019, four of the groups filed a case before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court against two companies they believed were responsible, but ultimately withdrew the charges after the companies agreed to support press freedom and establish mechanisms to prevent similar incidents in the future. 5
In September 2020, the ABS-CBN News website was temporarily inaccessible for 39 hours due to alleged technical problems. In November 2020, the YouTube channels of ABS-CBN News and ANC News were inaccessible for nine hours due to a hacking incident.6 YouTube confirmed the hack.7
Government accounts and websites also experience technical attacks. In August 2020, the government’s central online portal was hacked.8 In December 2020, the online portal of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) was hacked, compromising the personal information of several individuals9 and exposing some 345,000 legal documents online.10 The hackers called on the OSG to stop blackmailing the NTC and give ABS-CBN provisional authority, alluding to the role the OSG played in the closure of the network. After the killing of nine activists in March 2021, a group called CyberPH for Human rights claimed responsibility for a second hacking of the government’s central portal, claiming that they had stolen data.11
- 1“Attacks against media in the Philippines continue,” Quirium-The Media Foundation, June 29, 2021. https://www.qurium.org/alerts/philippines/attacks-against-media-in-the-…
- 2“DDOS Attacks against websites in the Philippines during Covid-19,” Qurium – The Media Foundation, May 2020, https://www.qurium.org/alerts/philippines/attacks-against-websites-in-t….
- 3ABS-CBN News, “Some ABS-CBN employees get alert on ‘government-backed’ hack attempt,” ABS-CBN News, February 21, 2020, https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/02/21/20/google-warns-some-abs-cbn-employ….
- 4“Groups denounce continuous cyberattacks against independent media in the Philippines,” Global Voices, March 13, 2019, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2019/03/14/groups-denounce-continuous-cy….; Jannes Ann Ellao, "What you need to know about the ongoing cyber-attacks vs. alternative news Bulatlat," Bulatlat, February 17, 2019, https://www.bulatlat.com/2019/02/07/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-ong….
- 5Jee Y. Geronimo and Victor Barreiro Jr, "Alternative media groups file civil case amid cyberattacks," Rappler, March 29, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/technology/news/226968-alternative-media-groups….; Janess Ann J. Ellao, “Alternative media groups, IT companies settle cyberattack case,” Bulatlat.com, February 24, 2020, https://www.bulatlat.com/2020/02/24/alternative-media-groups-it-compani….
- 6Camille Elemia, “Hackers attack ABS-CBN News’ YouTube channels,” Rappler, November 3, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/technology/hackers-attack-abs-cbn-news-youtube-…
- 7CMFR staff, “ABS-CBN News YouTube channels back online after hours of shutdown,” CMFR, November 4, 2020, https://cmfr-phil.org/press-freedom-protection/attacks-and-threats-agai…
- 8Art Samaniego, “Hackers breach Philippine government website anew,” Manila Bulletin, August 28, 2020, https://mb.com.ph/2020/08/28/hackers-breach-philippine-government-websi…
- 9Art Samaniego, “Office of the Solicitor General of the Philippines hacked," Manila Bulletin, December 1, 2020, https://mb.com.ph/2020/12/01/office-of-the-solicitor-general-of-the-phi…
- 10Vittoria Elliot, “345,000 sensitive legal documents from the Philippines government have been exposed online,” restoftheworld.org, April 30, 2021, https://restofworld.org/2021/philippines-data-exposure/
- 11Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, “Main Philippine gov’t portal hacked after death of 9 activists,” Business World Online, March 11, 2021, https://www.bworldonline.com/main-philippine-govt-portal-hacked-after-d…
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Global Freedom Score55 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score65 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusPartly Free