MANILA – Malacañang on Thursday asserted that the Philippines is not suppressing freedom of expression and tightening censorship during the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) crisis. “There is no truth to the accusation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that the Philippines is using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to clamp down on freedom of expression and to tighten censorship,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press statement issued Thursday night.
In a statement on Wednesday, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet raised alarm over the supposedly tightened censorship in Asian nations, including the Philippines.
Bachelet also expressed worry over the arbitrary arrests of people who criticize the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis or even simply share views on the pandemic in different Asian countries.
Roque assured Bachelet that Filipinos’ rights and freedoms are protected under the watch of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We remain a nation that takes pride in protecting our people’s rights and freedoms, among which is the freedom of expression,” he said.
Roque also noted that the “consistent” high approval scores of Duterte “affirm public support for his leadership”.
“We remain steadfast in our pursuit of our obligations and commitments in the stewardship of the welfare and the human rights of our people,” he added.
Roque, however, lamented that on numerous occasions, the Filipino people’s freedom “becomes subject to derogation”.
He noted that a form of derogation falls under the criminal clause in Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act.
“The unconscionable conduct by individuals or groups to create, perpetrate, or spread false information on the Covid-19 crisis on social media and other platforms does not constitute a right or freedom, but a crime,” Roque said.
Under RA 11469, people who are peddling false news about Covid-19 pandemic could face a two-month jail sentence or a fine ranging from PHP10,000 to PHP1 million, or both.
Roque, nevertheless, guaranteed that the Philippines has a “working, independent and functioning” justice system.
“The Duterte Administration takes each case, be it a violation of the freedom of the press or of any other human rights, brought before its attention seriously and resolves each one within our domestic processes,” he said.
Thus, rehashed claims of impunity are “unfounded,” Roque said.
Roque also said impunity has no place in the Philippines.
“Law enforcers operate on strict protocols and transgressors of the law are made accountable,” he said. (PNA)