Internet freedom in PH is partially free

TWO studies from Proxyrack and Freedom House discussed internet freedom in the Philippines for 2022. According to Proxyrack, the Philippines is one of the countries with the most internet freedoms in the world, but this was based on the Internet Freedom Score assigned by Freedom House. However, the Freedom on the Net 2022 survey found the Internet Freedom Score in the Philippines to be 65/100, or called partially free.

Aside from sorting out internet freedom data, the Proxyrack team analyzed censorship, number of people online per 100,000 and social media restrictions to reveal the countries with the most and the least internet restrictions. The Philippines ranked in the top 10 least restricted countries with an Internet Restrictions Score of 5.13/10. The overall score (out of 11) for each country takes into account factors such as bans and restrictions on torrents, pornography, political media, social media, VPNs, and messaging and VoIP apps, according to Comparitech. For comparison, China has the most internet restrictions, as the Chinese government has banned its citizens from accessing Western social media sites, giving it one of the lowest scores for this factor. They restricted online political media and gave the highest score for internet censorship. The UK came in first as the country with the most internet freedom, scoring the lowest with 0 out of 10.

While the Philippines’ score looks good on paper, the data needs context. The Freedom on the Net Index measures each country’s level of internet freedom based on a set of methodological questions. The methodology used by Freedom House consisted of 21 questions and almost 100 sub-questions divided into three categories: barriers to access, restrictions on content and violations of user rights. According to Freedom House, “Internet freedom in the Philippines remained under threat during the reporting period.” During the May 2022 general election, disinformation escalated, leading to landslide victories as vice president by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., and Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte. The report added that “red flags – a form of harassment in which targets are accused of having ties to local communist groups – physical attacks and politicized lawsuits against government critics continued, as did technical attacks on news outlets and civil society groups.”

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No systematic government censorship of online content was documented in the Philippines during the reporting period. Internet users could freely access social networking and communication apps, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and international blog hosting services. Many journalists practiced self-censorship due to the high level of violence against them and the increasing number of civil and criminal cases related to online activities. The report added that during the May 2022 election period, “politicians and political parties recruited disinformation firms, mobilized support from micro-influencers and bipartisan outlets, and coordinated harassment campaigns to delegitimize critics and the media.” Some economic and regulatory restrictions have impacted the ability of individuals to publish content online, including cases where licenses from media outlets critical of the government have been revoked. The findings also highlighted how journalists and regular users continued to face criminal and civil penalties for their online activities, mostly under defamation laws, a trend that has intensified since Duterte came to power in 2016. Surveillance is also a growing problem in the Philippines, despite constitutional safeguards to ensure the confidentiality of communications.

Freedom on the Net identified strategies to protect and promote internet freedom. For example, government surveillance programs should conform to the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, a framework agreed by a broad consortium of civil society groups, industry leaders and academics to protect users’ rights. Another strategy for civil society groups is to lobby public pressure on governments and telecom providers not to block online content or restrict network connectivity. Human rights defenders, media groups and non-profit organizations have always been at the forefront. While success requires the involvement of a range of stakeholders, civil society is key to strengthening internet freedom. Protecting online freedom requires action on multiple fronts.

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