The Philippine Center of the International PEN condemns Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the House of Representatives for rejecting without legal basis the application for franchise renewal of broadcast network ABS-CBN. The silencing of ABS-CBN constitutes a lethal blow to freedom of the press and freedom of expression–and to Philippine democracy.

Coming on the heels of the House railroading the passage of the Anti-Terror Law, the rejection is seen by the PEN as another move to shoot down Philippine democracy and suppress people’s rights and freedoms enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

In a similar vein, Cayetano railroaded the denial of the franchise to ABS-CBN by urging a “conscience vote” by members of the House Committee on Legislative Franchise, where he’s an ex-officio member. He forced the vote after 12 hearings in which agency after agency of government, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Labor and Employment, and Bureau of Internal Revenue Service, basically said ABS-CBN had done nothing illegal to be denied its application.

The die cast, the conscience-bereft members of the committee voted to deny the franchise, and Cayetano, losing running mate of President Duterte in the 2016 election, was able to deliver on Duterte’s oft-repeated threat to close down ABS-CBN.

It is mercenary of Speaker Cayetano and the House members that, having been elected into power by the democratic Constitution, they would go through the motions of a democratic vote in order to bully and bludgeon to death a media network and a press institution that has historically embodied, warts and all, the vibrancy of Philippine democracy.

As their hearings on the franchise application showed, congressmen took to task the network for perceived slights and wrongs that were personal, petty, partisan, and ultimately, self-seeking. They found nothing that had been violated by ABS-CBN in its old franchise. They found nothing illegal in ABS-CBN. What they found was the need to settle personal scores with the network, live up to partisan commitments, and generally make a mockery of Philippine democracy.

The Lower House has fallen to the lowest of lows.

The Philippine PEN urges the Filipino people to remember the names of Speaker Cayetano, party-list Rep. Rodante Mendoza, Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla, and the rest of the 70 congressmen who voted to deny ABS-CBN its franchise. All Filipinos should remember the names of the assassins of Philippine democracy. Let us, without letup, continue to defend the cause of freedom and democracy, and our basic rights as citizens of this country as enshrined in our Constitution.


This is how democracy dies.

The Philippine Center of the International PEN expresses its gravest concern over the recent conviction of journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel for a 2012 article, written and published before the cybercrime law even came into being. This is a conviction of an independent and vigilant press that holds our leaders accountable to the Filipino people they have sworn to serve when they took their oath on the Constitution.

During these critical times, it is urgent that a free and critical press is able to speak to power to ensure efficient and inclusive delivery of the badly needed health, economic and social services that all Filipinos deserve.

The verdict further undermines the already diminishing democratic space for free media and civil society. This action cannot be seen as separate from the pattern of threats and intimidation escalating since 2016, against Ms. Ressa, as CEO of Rappler Inc., and other media entities, for reportage that present government leaders have found objectionable.

The Philippine PEN, in solidarity with PEN International, stands by the principles of free expression and unhampered flow of critical information. We ask all citizens to uphold their right to free speech and equal protection under the Law. We ask Filipinos to stand up to all governments to protect these rights at all times.


On May 5, 2020, the National Telecommunications Commission issued a Cease and Desist Order against news and entertainment network ABS-CBN, putting an immediate halt to the broadcast of all its television and radio stations across the nation. The Order cited the expiry of the network’s broadcast franchise, despite efforts continuous efforts exerted toward the renewal of the network’s franchise before Congress over the past several years.

The silencing of ABS-CBN constitutes an unjust and deafening blow to freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and sends a chilling effect across all other news and media platforms, broadcast services, and platforms in the Philippines.

This action is particularly grave and insensitive in light of the current global pandemic that is threatening the lives of millions of Filipinos, a crucial time when all media channels play a crucial role in delivering critical news and guidance to the public. The closure also immediately ends the livelihood of more than 11,000 Filipino workers and their families, at this time of great economic uncertainty.

The Philippine Center of PEN International denounces this action against free expression and democracy. We call on the Philippine government to withdraw this Order and exercise its duty to serve Filipinos who are in dire need of information, assistance, and hope in these dark times.

Writers’ assembly flags threats to freedom of expression

By Lito B. Zulueta – Arts and Books Editor / Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — The 85th congress of the PEN International writers group expressed concern over continuing threats to free speech and creative expression in the Philippines and around the world.

“Around the world, spaces for free expression are shrinking,” said Carles Torner, the group’s executive director. “Dissenting voices — be they journalists, academics, writers or students — face intimidation, harassment, online abuse, violence.”

“It is also the case in the Philippines — and it is the mission of PEN International to join hands with Filipino writers to expand literary expression and its freedom,” he said.

‘Systematic violations’

PEN, which counts top poets, playwrights, fiction writers and journalists, including Nobel laureates, among its members, condemned the “suppression of free speech” by China in Hong Kong and Tibet, and “human rights violations” in North Korea and Vietnam.

Right after the shooting of an 18-year-old protester in Hong Kong on Tuesday, the conference issued a statement denouncing the violence and warning against its escalation.

In a resolution on the “threats to freedom of expression and peace in South and East Asia,” PEN condemned the “systematic human rights violations” in North Korea and Vietnam.

It said it was “deeply concerned” by the “violent persecution of minority groups,” such as the Rohingya of Myanmar and the Uyghur of China by “both state and nonstate actors,” and was alarmed by “blasphemy laws” in some countries.

The “empty chair,” a tradition of PEN to symbolically protest writers who have been persecuted, imprisoned or even killed, was reserved for Jamal Khashoggi of Saudi Arabia, Stella Nyanzi of Uganda, and Uygur writer Ilham Tohti of China.

The PEN meeting, held from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, commemorated the first death anniversary of Khashoggi, who was murdered on Oct. 2 last year inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey.

American-Mexican novelist Jennifer Clement, president of PEN International, and other members of the organization visited the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Manila to hand over a letter expressing PEN’s concern over the killing, signed by all the delegates.

It was the first time that the world congress of writers was held in Southeast Asia. Some 200 delegates from 67 PEN centers around the world took part in the 85th congress held in various sites in Manila, such as De la Salle University, Cultural Center of the Philippines, National Museum of Fine Arts, and the University of Santo Tomas.

Country report

PEN International issued a report on the continuing threats to press freedom and literary expression in the Philippines.

The report was titled “A Carnival of Mirrors: The State of Freedom of Expression in the Philippines,” and among its contributors were Sheila S. Coronel, Inday Espina-Varona, Manuel Mogato, Criselda Yabes, H. Francisco Peñones and Joel Pablo Salud, its editor.

“Philippine writers and journalists have continued to wage the long battle, pointing out injustice, inequality and abuses that the Filipino people have suffered,” wrote Salil Tripathi, head of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee.

“As we from the PEN community meet in Manila, we salute these heroes for their commitment and courage [to] stand in solidarity with them.”

Torner wrote: “We gather here in solidarity with defenders of free expression in the Philippines, those who are pursuing truth in the face of intolerance.”

Minority rights, languages

Minority rights took center stage in the 85th congress, whose theme was “Speaking in Tongues: Literary Freedom and Indigenous Languages.”

The focus on indigenous languages, some of which PEN said were in danger of extinction due to globalization, was also in line with the United Nations’ declaration of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
The assembly passed the PEN Philippines-proposed “Resolution on the promotion of language justice and the protection of the cultural integrity of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.”

The document expressed concern over the government’s closure of 85 schools for the “lumad,” as the indigenous cultural communities in Mindanao are called. The administration of President Duterte has accused these schools of teaching communism and subversion.

PEN writers also took note of the planned establishment of the “New Clark City” in Central Luzon, which may displace the indigenous Aeta people.

They urged the Philippine government “to respect and protect the rights of the Aeta, lumad, and all other cultural communities, and ensure that public and private development efforts, however well-meaning, do not deprive marginalized communities of their rights to their ancestral domain, social justice and cultural integrity.

The conference said the government must continue cultural programs to promote and conserve indigenous languages and cultural practices, such as the Bahay Wika (Language House) of the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino and the School of Living Traditions of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

‘Hatred and division’

Upholding creativity and freedom of expression amid political and international upheaval, the PEN congress approved the “Democracy of the Imagination Manifesto.”

“We know attempts to control the imagination lead to xenophobia, hatred and division,” said Clement, who read the document.

Philippine national artist for literature F. Sionil Jose, who founded PEN Philippines, was elected vice president of PEN International, along with Elena Poniatowska of Mexico and Luisa Valenzuela of Argentina, and Nobel laureates Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus and Orhan Pamuk of Turkey.

Previous vice presidents included the late Nobel laureates Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer.


The 84th PEN International Congress closes in India with a focus on free expression and women writers

The 84th PEN International Congress closed on 29th October 2018 in Pune, India with a focus on the critical situation for freedom of expression in India, the representation and voices of women in literature and the life and legacy of Mohandas Gandhi and his wife Kasturba. More than 400 writers from over 80 countries gathered in Pune for the annual PEN Congress, for a week of debates, literary events and workshops.

PEN to Senate: Spare tax exemption of books from repeal by ‘Trabaho’ bill

“In terms of educating the masses through reading, in terms of developing the reading culture of the nation, the taxes government plans to levy and collect will be nothing but destructive. We will be a nation that subscribes to underdevelopment in every sense of the word.”

WE, THE Philippine PEN Center, as member of the PEN International, the world association of writers, editors and translators in all branches and classes of literature, journalism, history, biography, science, and philosophy, are bound by the PEN Charter to carry out the following: 1) Promote and maintain friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers and readers in all countries in the interests of literature, freedom of expression, and international goodwill; and 2) Enable the unhampered transmission of thought and knowledge within and among nations.

We are writers and readers molded by centuries of books that have come our way. We are writers and readers of books that make genuine education possible in and out of classrooms. We are writers and readers of books, the common currency by which we trade ideas and stories, engage truth, and push the limits of our imagination. Books preserve and enrich culture; books move science forward. Books invigorate our life of the mind and heart, and raise the level of our humanity.

That is why the Florence Agreement, ratified in 1950 by 100 countries, including the Philippines, ensures the free flow of educational, scientific and cultural books and other publications between and among countries. This means they are not levied customs duties as they move from country to country.

That is also why at the heart of the Philippines’ own Republic Act 8047 of 1995, which established the National Book Development Board, is Section 12, Incentives for Book Development. The provision recognizes the significant role of the book publishing industry in national development, that books are “instrumental in the citizenry’s intellectual, technical, and cultural development – the basic social foundation for the economic and social growth of the country.”

Books, despite technological developments, are still the most effective and economical tools in growing education, disseminating information, and preserving and enriching the nation’s cultural heritage.

Precisely enshrined in Republic Act 8047 is the commitment to promote and support the book publishing industry so that it can make available all of the time enough affordable, quality-produced books for both the domestic and export markets.

The same Section 12 of RA 8047 “exempts books, magazines, periodicals, newspapers, including book publishing and printing, as well as its distribution and circulation” from the coverage of the expanded value added tax law.

It is this critical proviso that the proposed “Trabaho” tax reform seeks to repeal. Known as the Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-quality Opportunities (Trabaho), Senate Bill No. 1906 filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III seeks to make up for the loss of government revenues resulting from the reduction of corporate taxes by repealing 123 special laws and investment tax incentives, including Section 12 of RA 8047.

The inclusion of expanded-VAT-exempt books and publications in the proposed “Trabaho” law violates the Florence Agreement of 1950. It is also counter-productive since books and education are fundamental to the economic growth of the nation, which the tax bill purportedly seeks to foster. As RA 8047 declares, books are “instrumental in the citizenry’s intellectual, technical, and cultural development – the basic social foundation for the economic and social growth of the country.”

We therefore appeal to the Senate to reconsider repealing Section 12 of RA 8047 and reaffirm the Philippines’ ratification of and commitment to the Florence Agreement, as the Philippines did 68 years ago.

Let us not come to a situation where when we buy a book, including school books, we are paying to the government not only the added VAT, but the customs duty imposed on the book, imported paper for printing those books, ink that is also imported, and the latest machinery purchased from abroad by a printer.

In terms of educating the masses through reading, in terms of developing the reading culture of the nation, the taxes government plans to levy and collect will be nothing but destructive. We will be a nation that subscribes to underdevelopment in every sense of the word. Our students who are the largest users of books will be the poorer, and will not be, and cannot be, our writers and readers of the future.

To the Senate and its honorable members, please spare Section 12 of RA 8047 from repeal.

From The Philippine Center of International PEN (Poets & Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists)

Free the Word! Manila

Free the Word! Manila

Forum on free expression, poetry and musical performances
4 July 2018, Wednesday, 5:00-7:00PM
Main Gallery, 3rd Floor, Cultural Center of the Philippines
Open to the public. Free admission.

Forum on Free Expression

Moderator: Karina Bolasco
Romana Cacchioli (PEN International) • Danson Kahyana (PEN Uganda) • Tammy Lai Ming Ho (PEN Hong Kong) • Apoorvanand Jha (PEN Delhi) • Sangamesh Menasinakai (PEN South India)

Poetry and Musical Performances
John Iremil Teodoro • Gary Granada • Vijae Alquisola • Carlos Piocos • Genevieve Asenjo • Tammy Lai Ming Ho • Louise Lopez • Yorn Young • Aldrin Pentero and Roy Cagalingan (LIRA) • Mitra Bandhu Poudel • Myat Thu Soe • Sangamesh Menasinakai • Michael Coroza

Free the Word! is PEN International’s roaming event series of contemporary literature from around the world. Its aims are:

Bring writers together across cultures to share experiences and explore ideas;
Open conversations about how literature can transform, influence and excite;
Contribute to the flow of literature around the world through translation and the promotion of writing;
Introduce readers to both established and emerging voices; and
Provide space for debate and dialogue between readers and writers.