The blocking of news websites of two alternative online media, which are being linked by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to the communist rebel movement, is a clear attack on press freedom.

In other countries, like Japan, the Communist Party was allowed to run a newspaper, Akahata, which has been very critical of the ruling government in Tokyo. In Europe and in Latin America, left-leaning political parties and publications have been allowed to operate.

In the Philippines, the government of Rodrigo Duterte will not allow online platforms to spew communist propaganda.

Duterte vowed to use all his powers to end the communist insurgency by June 30 when he steps down from power. But he will leave office without fulfilling his goal.

The Communist Party’s armed wing, New People’s Army (NPA), numbering around 2,500 fighters, remained active in several remote villages in the eastern seaboard from Cagayan in the north to Davao in the south as well in Mindoro and Negros islands.

The rebels are still around even if much of their armed guerrillas have been decimated and mass actions by above ground organizations could no longer muster a big crowd.

Duterte’s security officials, obsessed with dismantling the communist rebels’ propaganda network, had decided to pick some low-hanging fruits by going after individuals and groups which are suspected to be front organizations of the rebel movements.

The NTF-ELCAC, through National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, had actually requested the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to block at least 28 left-leaning websites, including the online news platform Bulatlat, for spreading anti-government propaganda and mouthing the communist ideology.

Esperon believed these websites were being used by communist rebels’ front organizations to malign the government and recruit potential members to the CPP-NPA.
Without due process, the NTC complied and ordered local internet service providers (ISPs) to block the websites, cutting them off without any warning.

It was a Gestapo-like action against the websites. It showed the parochial mindset of the Duterte government. It was a clear violation of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The government has no right to dictate to people what to read and believe from websites available on the internet. It should allow the people to freely discern information coming from these websites. That is the essence of democracy.

The NTC should have observed due process, notifying the websites and giving them a chance to be heard and most importantly, there should be a solid legal basis grounded on a specific law to order a shutdown.

The NTC had also failed to cite a violation of a specific law except a mere reference under the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).

The 28 suspected communist front organizations, whose websites were blocked, are not among individuals and groups designated as terrorists under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

Lawyer Edre Olalia, president of the National Union Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said this was another classic case of inflicting injury and damage by mis-association.

Olalia also questioned the “mechanical and unilateral order to block access to the websites by labeling, lumping and linking alternative media entities and open progressive mass organizations and individuals on the mere say-so of National Security Adviser.”

The NTF-ELCAC’s alleged arguments and purported basis to block access to the websites are sweeping accusations and arbitrary.

“They are non-sequitur as they were stretched to fit into a prejudged mind-set,” Olalia said.

“The faulty leaps in inference and conclusory claims to justify the blocking also appear to be an overreach application as well as a circumvention of the Anti-Terrorism Act which is draconian as it is already.”

Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, he said the government can only do three things—designate, proscribe and prosecute for violations of specific provisions of the law.

Olalia said the ATA does not give the government the power to label organizations or individuals as affiliated and supporting terrorists or terrorist organizations.
Esperon did not use the anti-terrorism law but used the backdoor of administrative sanction to implicate others and not designatem he added.

This is really dangerous because any group or person who are perceived as enemies of the sitting administration could be lumped together with communist groups.

It could become a dangerous precedent and the same tactics could be used by the incoming administration under Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Even if his own security adviser has frowned upo the Duterte’s administration red-tagging activities.

Clarita Carlos is more liberal than the conservative ex-generals serving in Duterte’s Cabinet. But there is real danger the Marcos administration may
change its policies, like what Duterte did.

Remember the insurgency blossomed under the late dictator’s regime, the father of Bongbong Marcos. The NPA strength peaked at 25,800 during the last days of the dictator’s regime in 1986.

In the beginning, Duterte, who declared himself the first socialist president, welcomed left-leaning personalities in his Cabinet and restarted stalled peace talks with the rebels. His predecessor, the late president Benigno Aquino III, refused to sit down with negotiators from the National Democratic Front (NDF), the CPP’s political arm.

A year later, pressures from the military had forced Duterte to purge left-leaning Cabinet members, scrap the peace talks and order an all-out offensive against the NPAs.

Marcos’ national security adviser wanted to resume peace talks but may propose new approaches to end the communist rebellion through peaceful means.

Since 2017, security forces have stepped combat operations, bombing remote villages where suspected rebels are based. Extrajudicial killings also heightened and many old CPP cadres were murdered in their homes.

Marcos should take a different path to solving the insurgency problem. He must live up to his campaign slogan of unity instead of making more enemies through violence.

Marcos has enormous political capital and he can win more support from the public by taking a less divisive and violent approach to ending the Communist rebellion.

Marcos must also be aware that the government does not have a monopoly of ideas and political beliefs. In a vibrant democracy, it should allow dissent. It should encourage a free market of ideas.

It should not worry too much on communist propaganda coming from the 28 websites. These propaganda will only succeed if the root causes of the insurgency are addressed. The people must decide which political and ideological beliefs they should follow.

Propaganda whether from the communist or from the government will be eventually unmasked. The government must stop forcing its own anti-communist propaganda. But it should not arbitrarily block access to rebel propaganda. This is a free country.