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.


The Philippine Center of the International PEN condemns the enactment of the Anti-terrorism Act of 2020 and urges Filipinos to be vigilant in guarding their rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution which the new law seeks to erode and undermine.
The new law has a very vague definition of terrorism while also allowing itself a very encompassing reach that could be weaponized against the people it claims to protect.

It gives a shadowy Anti-Terrorism Council the authority to arrest without warrant people and groups which it designates as “terrorists” and detain them without charge for up to 24 days. It also has the power to access private information through wiretapping calls, intercepting emails and text-messages and intruding into private communication. A person could be incarcerated for 12 years for “inciting” to terrorism. Clearly the new law could be abused by despots intolerant of democratic dissent and free speech.

The Philippine PEN likewise condemns the General Guidelines of Joint Administrative Order No. 2020-001 of the Film Development Council (FDCP), Department of Labor, and Department of Health, which compels creative productions whether for film, TV, web, and other audiovisual content to be reported to the FDCP.

The FDCP head, actor Lisa Dino, has recently issued Advisory 6 in which she declares FDCP’s intention to exercise regulation over forms of media outside the scope of its mandate under Republic Act 9167, the law that created the FDCP.

The new order and advisory threaten to impinge on freedom of speech and creative rights enshrined in the Constitution. The creative industries are already struggling to survive from the dire economic impact of the Duterte government’s “enhanced community quarantine,” and the FDCP, which was created by law to foster ferment in the creative industries by technical and financial assistance, is not helping at all by assuming regulatory powers it does not legally have. If the FDCP cannot be part of the solution, it should not be part of the problem: it should, like all good actors, make a graceful exit.

The Philippine PEN views the Anti-Terror law and the FDCP order and advisory as instruments of state terrorism. Against such nefarious instruments, the Philippine PEN upholds the Charter of the PEN International, which “stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations.” We therefore “pledge (ourselves) to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression.” PEN also “declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in times of peace.” We urge freedom-loving Filipinos to be vigilant and oppose any attempt to return the nation to the dark days of despotism.


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.


Ombudsman to writers: Expose truth in works to combat lies

OMBUDSMAN Conchita Carpio-Morales has urged creative writers to “reaffirm their commitment to truth and freedom” by penning works critical of wrongdoing in society and fighting the falsehoods being spread on social media and elsewhere.

“With pens as swords, it is high time that writers reaffirm their commitment to truth and freedom by putting pen to paper in order for the story to see the light of print and combat the falsities that surround us,” Morales said in her keynote speech—formally called the José Rizal Lecture—during the two-day 60th Philippine PEN (Poets and Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) National Conference at the Buenaventura Garcia Parades, OP Building at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) on Wednesday. (A/D)