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Philippines

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals reported they could criticize the government publicly or privately or discuss matters of general public interest. Civil society organizations reported, however, that President Duterte’s public attacks on individuals and international bodies who criticized his policies had a chilling effect on free speech and expression.

Press and Media Freedom: The media remained active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, including criticism of the government, despite critical and threatening comments from political leadership, including the president. Some media commentators criticized media outlets for lacking rigorous journalistic standards or for reflecting the political orientations or economic interests of owners or boards of directors. Broadcast media contacts reported pressure from their boards of directors to report positively on the government for fear of economic retaliation on their business interests.

Online news company Rappler was the target of substantial government pressure due to its critical coverage of the government. In January the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s operating license on the grounds that its agreement with the U.S.-based Omidyar Network violated constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of media. In July the Court of Appeals upheld the SEC ruling but asked the SEC to re-evaluate the case while noting that the SEC should have given Rappler “reasonable time” to correct its relationship with Omidyar. Rappler continued to operate as of November. The government also filed tax fraud and other (see below) criminal complaints against Rappler. The Department of Justice indicted Rappler Holdings, its president, Maria Ressa, and Rappler accountant Noel Baladiang for tax evasion in November, allegations Rappler Holdings’ legal counsel denies.

Journalists noted that President Duterte’s tendency to single out reporters who asked tough questions had a chilling effect on their willingness to engage, in large part due to a fear of losing access. In the year to July, four government offices restricted journalist access to events and press briefings.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and threats of violence, including from politicians and government authorities critical of their reporting. Human rights NGOs frequently criticized the government for failing to protect journalists. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) reported that, in July, three journalists and an intern covering a picket line in Central Luzon were attacked, threatened, arrested, and unjustly accused of possessing illegal drugs and firearms by the police, who claimed they recovered drugs and guns from the news correspondents. The journalists and intern were released in August, but police alleged they were spreading alarm and scandal, and constituted an illegal assembly.

The CMFR reported the deaths of seven journalists or media workers through July, but has not yet determined whether the killings were related to their work. As of July murder charges were filed against suspects in one case; the others were under investigation.

Journalists and media personalities reported an increase in online threats, including of violence and harassment, in response to articles and comments critical of the government. The NGO Freedom House reported in late 2017 that the Duterte administration hired workers, a “keyboard army,” to participate in online attacks against critics, especially journalists, whom they viewed as critical of the administration and to support the antidrug campaign.

In April, after Facebook selected Rappler and Vera Files as third-party fact checkers for the country, the Presidential Communications Operations Office publicly criticized the selection, calling the outlets “partisan” for not supporting the president.

In July Senate President Vicente Sotto III requested the online news website Inquirer.net take down three opinion pieces (two from 2014 and one from 2016) alleging his involvement in a 1982 rape case. The news website temporarily removed the articles pending an internal investigation. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called Sotto’s request an affront to press freedom. In August the National Union of Journalists and the CMFR criticized the Presidential Task Force on Media Security and an administration media official for pressuring a community newspaper to take down a story quoting the head of the task force.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: President Duterte repeatedly criticized ABS-CBN, the nation’s most influential network, for the station’s failure to air his political advertisements during the 2016 election campaign. He publicly threatened to block renewal of the network’s franchise, which expires in 2020, but later backtracked and claimed he would not intervene. The law requires broadcast stations to secure a franchise from Congress, the current majority of which is aligned with the president.

During the November ASEAN Summit in Singapore, administration officials barred some foreign media outlets from covering Philippine press briefings; the journalists were later granted access but were not allowed to ask questions.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law contains criminal penalties for libel. Authorities used criminal defamation charges, which carry the possibility of imprisonment and fines, to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against journalists. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed a cyberlibel complaint against Rappler in March, after a prominent businessman had brought to the bureau’s attention a 2012 article linking him to human trafficking and drug smuggling. The NBI initially rejected the case as lacking any legal basis, but subsequently recommended the Department of Justice pursue charges against Rappler. Formal charges were still pending as of November. The CMFR received one additional report of a journalist accused of libel in the year to August.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communication without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 60 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future