Philippine court orders telecommunications agency to ‘unblock’ Bulatlat media website

By Jairo Bolledo in Manila

Philippine court clears alternative news site from Bulatlat asks to temporarily unblock its website, citing constitutional rights to freedom of the press.

In a decision issued Thursday, Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 306 granted from Bulatlat plea for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction to temporarily suspend the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) memorandum, which blocked the website.

A writ of preliminary injunction is an order made at any stage of the legal action or before the final order, which compels a party, court, agency or person to refrain from performing a particular act or acts.

“Issuance of the writ is conditional on the plaintiff posting a bond in the amount of one hundred thousand pesos (2,800 USD), either in cash or by surety, which will respond to the damages that the defendants would suffer as a result of injunction where the plaintiff is found not to be entitled to it,” said the resolution issued by Judge Dolly Rose Bolante-Prado.

After it is issued, the summons will remain in effect until “a final decision on the merits of the main case has been rendered”.

Since from Bulatlat The preliminary injunction writ plea was granted by the court, his motion for reconsideration of the order dismissing his application for a temporary restraining order is now moot and moot, the resolution added.

Before the end of the term of former President Rodrigo Duterte, his national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. asked the CNT to block Bulatlat and Weekly Pinoy websites.

The former security manager used the draconian anti-terrorism law and justified the blocking by citing excerpts from Weekly Pinoy which mentioned the armed struggle and the communist insurrection.

Right to freedom of the press, of expression
In explaining the decision, Judge Prado pointed to at least two reasons why Bulatlat got the writ.

The decision explained that Bulatlat was able to prove that he had a “clear and indisputable” right to be constitutionally protected under freedom of speech and of the press.

Judge Prado noted that these freedoms included the right to publish opinions and comments and to disseminate them.

Online censorship in the Philippines. Video: Rappler

The same principle was used by Bulatlat in filing the case to justify that the CNT order did in fact violate their constitutional rights. The Alternative News Agency quoted Article 3, Section 4 of the Constitution of 1987.

Judge Prado also noted that Bulatlat was able to prove that there had been “a material and substantial infringement of his right”.

The judge said the news agency was able to establish that after the NTC memorandum came into effect, from Bulatlat the site was no longer accessible.

According to the resolution, the editorial staff could not access and download articles from its website without using a virtual private network, nor could its subscribers access it.

This is a violation of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, according to the resolution, since publishers’ and readers’ access to the website is restricted.

A few weeks after the entry into force of the NTC memorandum, Bulatlat said to have lost half of its readership.

“For the Court, any limitation or restriction in the exercise of one’s right, whatever the extent, and even for minimum periods of time, is a form of deprivation and, clearly, a violation of this right” , said the resolution.

Jairo Bolledo is a Rappler journalist. Republished with permission.

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