Court denies news site’s request to stop site ban

A QUEZON City Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday denied Bulatlat.com’s request to stop the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) from blocking its news website.

In a two-page order, Judge Dolly Rose R. Bolante-Prado said the website was still accessible to its readers and Bulatlat was able to update the site with new articles and comments.

“His website is still publicly accessible, therefore, there is clearly no suppression of the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech,” she said. “Therefore, there is no irreparable damage, as defined by law, strictly speaking.”

Bulatlat.com is always accessible through a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

The news site sued NTC on July 8 and sought a temporary restraining order against the agency, which ordered local internet service providers to block access to more than 20 news sites identified with the movement Maoist.

The court gave the parties until July 18 to file their briefs. A hearing has been set for August 2 on Bulatlat’s plea for an injunction.

“His refusal [of the restraining order plea] does not affect the main case or its merits,” Bulatlat’s attorney Minerva F. Lopez said in a Viber message.

Last month, the country’s telecommunications regulator issued an order blocking 26 websites allegedly “affiliated with and supporting” the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front. The directive was issued at the request of former national security adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr.

The Anti-Terrorism Council has labeled them as terrorist groups.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla told reporters in a Viber message that they would review the NTC order.

In his complaint, Bulatlat said he was not associated with terrorist groups and only engaged in the dissemination of information.

He added that NTC does not have the power to block websites, accusing it of violating freedom of speech.

Bulatlat’s editor, Ronalyn V. Olea, said earlier that she was never told about the ban.

Global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch has previously called on civil society and the international community to “publicly condemn this latest attempt to suppress freedom of expression in the Philippines”. — John Victor D. Ordonez

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