From the Philippines, concern about how new laws impact communication rights
GOA, INDIA, 27 February 2006
APC's member in the Philippines, the Foundation for Media Alternatives, has warned that new laws in that country could act as a threat to communication rights, some 20 years after the People's Power revolution removed dictator Marcos from power there. On February 24, 2006, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared a state of emergency in attempt to subdue what she said was a possible military coup. The proclamation was lifted in early March, but the
chilling effect remains. Besides there are orders still in effect which curtail the right to communicate.
In a statement dated February 25, The Foundation for Media Alternatives added its voice to the growing national chorus expressing grave misgivings at the issuance of Proclamation 1017, declaring a national state of emergency in the Philippines.
"Although we grant the State the prerogative to protect itself from unlawful threats, we draw the line when the state itself becomes the threat to democracy and human rights," said the FMA. "We leave it to the lawyers to question the Proclamation’s flimsy legal and factual basis, even as we concur with an initial assessment of the Proclamation being an overreaction of an Administration increasingly eager to quell voices questioning its mandate to govern."
FMA said it would "not discuss for now" the irony that the Proclamation "has already been used as a weapon against the citizens’right to peaceably assemble, and in fact became the basis to arrest peaceful marchers commemorating the 20th anniversary of the EDSA People Power I revolt".
APC's member said it was "most disturbed" as a a civil society organization that promotes communication rights as essential to any democratic society by the fact that the Proclamation 1017 "poses a clear threat to freedom of expression, media freedom, and other civil liberties essential for exercising the right to communicate".
"We note with concern how one of the premises of the Proclamation was how the national media, in its exercise of its duty to report on the issues of the day, had been tagged as a contributing factor to destabilization. We note with skepticism at how the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is already moving beyond its mandate to act as a de facto censor for all anti-government views expressed in media," said the FMA statement.
It also "viewed with alarm" what it termed the explicit threat of outright takeover of private media organizations by the state.
"These implicit and actual threats contained in this Proclamation only serve to proscribe media practitioners’ performance of their duty to report the events of the day through the strict and skewed prism of 'national security'; this creates a chilling effect on all media which may lead to actual censorship of the press. Furthermore, any curtailment of media freedom will only amount to the erosion of the basic right of citizens to freedom of expression," said the non-profit organisation.
It argued that the right to communicate flows from the various rights which give citizens and communities the freedom to use the social communication processes available to them in order to construct a socio-political order which embodies their highest democratic ideals.
"Proclamation 1017 only serves to further deny this, and will only put the country closer to the edge of the dangerous abyss of authoritarianism," added the statement signed by FMA's executive director Alan Alegre.
The Philippines, a country with a unique blend of east and west, was earlier in its history ruled by Sapin and the United States as a colony for most of its last four centuryes. While still mostly agricultural, the Philippines today is an important destination for outsourcing, an exporter of electronics and of labor. Remittances from overseas Filipinos form a significant portion of the country's Gross National Product.