[Statement] More Filipinos are turning to social media to vent their frustrations about the government’s response to stop the spread of COVID-19 -HRonlinePH

The Human Rights Online Philippines share the concern of a public school teacher in General Santos City, as she expressed her frustrations on Facebook over the local government’s measures that many people are going hungry amid a lockdown in said city. https://www.rappler.com/nation/256157-teacher-son-arrested-without-warrant-general-santos-city-facebook-post-coronavirus

Juliet Espinosa, a 55-year-old public school teacher was arrested by police in General Santos City without a warrant at around 8:00pm on March 27, in reprisal for posting on what local officials tagged as a “provoking” Facebook post, and face charges of inciting to sedition and disobedience to authority, and violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. She was arrested along with her son of legal age for trying to stop the police officers from taking his mother.

Based on news reports, Ms. Espinosa was behind a series of Facebook posts under the name of “Yet Rodriguez Enosencio” that criticized the local government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she was concerned with reports of the miserable situation of some residents due to the impact of the quarantine on their livelihood and that the local government had done nothing to address the problem. “Maraming mamamatay sa gutom if hindi tayo magtutulong-tulong na magreport sa Pangulo na inutil ang ating Mayor…. Panawagan sa walang makain, sugurin ‘nyo na nang sabay-sabay ang Lagao Gym. Nakatambak doon ang pagkaing para sa inyo.”

The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as those that result from the imposition of quarantine or isolation limiting freedom of movement.

Human Rights Online Philippines fully understand and support the efforts of the government to develop and implement strategies to protect human health and human life. The fundamental and non-derogable right to life is at stake, and our government is obligated to ensure its protection.*

Under international human rights law, governments have an obligation to protect the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers. Permissible restrictions on freedom of expression for reasons of public health, noted above, may not put in jeopardy the right itself.

The World Health Organization has emphasized that accurate, timely information is essential to fighting COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the government is cracking down on people and implementing sweeping restrictions under the guise of combating misinformation.

While we share the concern that false information about the pandemic could lead to health concerns, panic, and disorder. In this connection, we urge the government to ensure that accurate and up-to-date information about the virus, access to services, service disruptions, and other aspects of the response to the outbreak is readily available and accessible to all.

Human Rights Online Philippines emphasized that any attempts to criminalize information relating to the pandemic undermined trust in government actions, delay access to reliable information and have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Especially at a time of emergency, when freedom of expression and access to information is of critical importance, broad restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information cannot be justified on public order or national security grounds.


*COVID-19: Governments must promote and protect access to and free flow of information during a pandemic, say international media freedom experts, 19 March 2020

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