We, the members of the media, campus journalists, online bloggers, digital activists, and human rights defenders and civil society organizations are gathered here today, for the 3rd Freedom of Expression Conference or the , organized by the Human Rights Online Philippines (HRonlinePH) and the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) to discuss the state of human rights in the Philippines especially the right to freedom of expressions and access to information and to find collaborative efforts to protect freedom of expression and access to information online and offline.
WE RECOGNIZE that freedom of expression and access to information both online and offline are vital in the promotion and protection of other human rights, observance of the rule of law and preserving the democratic spaces;
WE REAFFIRM that freedom of expression including artistic expression and access to information are fundamental human rights as enshrined under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and other international human rights instruments and guaranteed by the 1987 Philippine Constitution and other domestic laws;
WE ARE DEEPLY DISTURBED by the growing prevalence of disinformation in the form of “false” or “fake news” and propaganda machination in social media, which are orchestrated by both the State and private citizens designed and implemented to mislead and to deny the public of the right to know and the right to seek and receive as well as to impart information and ideas in order to hold responsible opinions;
WE ARE GRAVELY ALARMED by the deploring attempt of the government to restrict, curtail or suppress freedom of expression and opinion by instituting repressive measures to discourage the exercise of these rights by imposing severe criminal sanctions such as the cyber libel provisions under the Republic Act No. 10175, or the “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012” and Senate Bill No. 1492 or the “Anti-Fake News Act of 2017”;
WE EXPRESS OUR PROFOUND CONCERN over the systematic or targeted attacks on freedom of expression which are aimed at silencing certain perspectives or voices with the persisting threats, harassment, intimidation, legal persecution and even killings of journalists and human rights defenders in order to stifle dissent and silence critics; while many of these cases of attacks, intimidation and killings are not generally investigated and those responsible were not made into account;
WE ACKNOWLEDGE THE NEED TO FIGHT BACK with the Conference theme, “Igiit. Ipagdiwang. Ipahayag” as we encourage different initiatives and efforts to protect freedom of expression and access to online and offline information by various groups and networks; developing clear safety and protection protocols; supporting each other through advocacy and technical means in addressing the impact of threats, disinformation and assault on freedom of expression and on further narrowing of the democratic spaces for civic participation;
WE THEREFORE PUT FORWARD the following RECOMMENDATIONS:
1. The Philippine government must acknowledge that it has a direct responsibility under international human rights law to respect freedom of expression and has a positive obligation to take effective measures to protect freedom of expression against attacks including by ensuring accountability for any attacks on those exercising their right to freedom of expression and by raising awareness about the importance of freedom of expression;
2. The Philippine government must not impose any legal and administrative restrictions on freedom of expression including filtering of content on the Internet, using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) and the physical takeover of broadcasting stations are measures which can never be justified under international and domestic human rights law;
3. The Philippine government has an obligation to take effective measures to prevent attacks against the media and others exercising their right to freedom of expression and to combat impunity, by investigating them promptly and effectively in order to duly sanction those responsible. This includes Individuals or human rights defenders who expose wrongdoing, corruption and gross violation of human rights. The Philippine Government should signify the passage of HRD Protection Bill at the Philippine Congress as urgent and priority; and
4. The Philippine government must ensure that human rights including freedom of online expression, right to privacy and right to access online and offline information, are properly integrated/mainstreamed in its policies and programs.
Adopted on this 2nd day of December, 2019 at the Cocoon Boutique Hotel, Quezon City Philippines.