PHILIPPINES PRESS RELEASE

The Philippines added to human rights watchlist due to clampdown on the media as new anti-terrorism bill puts activists at risk

Kuala Lumpur, 29 June 2020

  • Independent media and journalists are being targeted for their reporting
  • COVID 19 emergency powers and new anti-terrorism bill puts human rights at further risk.
  • The state of civic freedoms in the Philippines is rated as OBSTRUCTED by the CIVICUS Monitor

The Philippines has been added to a  watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental democratic freedoms in recent months. Attacks on press freedom and use of the pandemic to crackdown on dissent has contributed to a narrowing of civic space in the country.

The new watchlist is released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government declared a state of emergency on 25th March 2020 and granted President Duterte special powers by passing an emergency law. Among the provisions in the law is one penalising the spreading of "false information" online which could be used to curtail freedom of speech and silence the media. Journalists have since been targeted.

Press freedom has also been under attack in recent months with ABS-CBN, the largest media network forced off the air, depriving citizens of critical information during the pandemic. Further, the conviction of prominent journalist Maria Ressa who was found guilty of ‘cyberlibel’ has created a chilling effect among journalists.

The government is also on the verge of passing a controversial new Anti-Terrorism Act, which would give law enforcement agencies broad surveillance powers and allow the police to arrest people without a warrant. There are concerns that the law has been designed to target critics of the government, not terrorists. Protests against the bill have been met with police force.

In the coming weeks and months, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in the Philippines and engage with the United Nations Human Rights Council, which will hold its 44th Session from 29 June to 17 July in Geneva, Switzerland.

In June 2020, the UN released a report detailing widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity in the Philippines including the phenomenon of “red-tagging” – labelling individuals including human rights defenders as communists or terrorists – which has posed a serious threat to civil society. The report will be debated at the Human Rights Council at the upcoming Session, where CIVICUS will continue to call for an independent investigation into ongoing violations perpetrated by the government.

The Philippines is currently rated OBSTRUCTED by the CIVICUS Monitor. There are a total of 49 countries in the world with this rating (see all). This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights (see full description of ratings).

For more details, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher for Asia-Pacific, CIVICUS
josef.benedict@civicus.org and media@civicus.org