Campus editor threatened with libel for criticizing gov’t response on COVID-19

“Now, more than ever, we need to fight and resist all forms of suppression that trample our right to free speech. We will never succumb to any deleterious pronouncement and threat.”

By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
Bulatlat.com

MANILA– Advocates condemned what they call as “harassment” against University of the East (UE) Dawn’s editor-in-chief Joshua Molo.

At around 1:00 p.m. today, April 5, barangay officials of San Fernando Sur, Cabiao, Nueva Ecija escorted Molo and his mother to the barangay hall. Molo’s former teacher Jun Ainne Francisco filed a blotter with the local police after the two had an argument online about Molo’s views on the government’s response on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

According to Redwire, an independent student publication of UE-Manila, the barangay officials threatened to file a libel case against the campus journalist, and have him picked up by police if he refused to apologize.

Molo then uploaded his apology video on his account this afternoon, but the post was immediately taken down early evening.

Joshua B. Molo, editor in chief of UE Dawn, was threated with cyberlibel by barangay officials in San Fernando Sur, Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. (Photo from Molo’s Facebook account)

In a statement, UE Dawn condemned the attack against Molo, pointing out how the harassment by barangay officials goes against Article 3 Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution. “Preventing someone from expressing his or her opinion on matters such as grievances against the government is an act of oppression,” the student publication said.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) also criticized the cyber libel threat against Molo, and urged officials to instead look into much important matters during this turbulent time.

CEGP National President Daryl Angelo Baybado said,”Instead of filing nonsensical criminal charges, the government should work on improving a coordinated and sustained public information campaign and immediately deliver economic assistance and services to everyone.”

“Now, more than ever, we need to fight and resist all forms of suppression that trample our right to free speech. We will never succumb to any deleterious pronouncement and threat,” Baybado said.

The group added that Molo’s case was not the first recorded attack on the campus press during the quarantine.

Last March 25, the official student publication of the university of San Carlos, Today’s Carolinian, was also reprimanded after publishing an article condemning the order of Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia to trace individuals who will criticize the government’s actions against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Repression of free speech during the pandemic

Human rights organization Karapatan said that what happened to Molo was a case of curtailment of the people’s right to press freedom.

The group reminded authorities that the right to free press is protected not only by the Constitution, but by international treaties as well.

“Anyone who wishes to express dismay over the government’s actions should never be threatened and penalized,” Karapatan said.

Earlier, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also denounced the “criminalization of free speech.”

Last April 2, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno disclosed that he has taken a case of a netizen who was being summoned by the National Bureau of Investigation Cybercrime division to ‘explain’ his Facebook post about the ‘misuse of government funds.’

According to the subpoena, the post allegedly violated Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code, or the “unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances.”

Diokno called out how the government would rather destroy critics than worry about the coronavirus, which has taken the lives of so many people.

“We agree with Diokno’s contention. Democracy can only thrive amid the free exchange of and respect for ideas and opinions, including those we may vehemently disagree with,” the group said.

“As we have said time and again, in times of crisis, more, not less, independent journalism is needed. The same goes, if not more so, with free speech and expression.” ()

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