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HROnlinePH Statement on Defending the Freedom of Expression (FoE) in times of public emergency

12 April, 2020

SHOUT OUT and NEVER HOLD BACK

Shutting our mouth can’t prevent us from voicing our opinion.

While drastic times may call for drastic steps, any emergency measures particularly responding to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic must be necessary, proportionate, and should have the minimal possible impact on human rights especially on the right to freedom of expression.

Instead of targeting critics, stifling dissent and imposing restriction to the flow of information and dissemination, the Philippine government should focus primarily on protecting the right to health of all through the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

The freedom of expression which is the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas is considered as the indispensable precondition for the exercise of other rights and freedoms. It is only when the people have access to information that they can be capable of rendering responsible opinion and decision.

Though certain limitations on fundamental freedoms are unavoidable during public health crisis, but restricting freedom of expression without valid reasons is unacceptable. While we share the concern over the proliferation of fake news and disinformation that may lead to confusion, panic and disorder but it may be countered by providing truthful, timely and reliable information through credible platforms and channels. We can't be both free and ignorant.

Censorship as well as criminalizing the sharing of information both online and offline may create a chilling effect and tremendous impact to our democratic life as nation. Now, more than ever, that the public should be kept informed and allowed to scrutinize the government policies and measures in response to public health crisis as everyone’s life is at stake. The government should allow the free flow of information by encouraging the public to engage into dialogues with other stakeholders.

Public health after all does not only depend on the availability and accessibility of health care services, but must correspond to accurate information about the real health situation and the means to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s community.

It is during this challenging time that the freedom of expression is much more imperative, when our government is intruding to our day-to-day lives. As it exercises unbridled authority while seeking more power, there is always a possibility of misuse and abuse.

As citizens and netizens, it is our duty to ensure that checks and balance exist even when government system is not functioning. We can only rely on our sovereign power to seek, to know, to speak, to share and to act in this time of crisis.

IT IS OUR RIGHT. LET’S SHOUT IT OUT.

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