Unfreedom Monitor Report: Philippines

Image courtesy Ameya Nagarajan

Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism. This extract is of the executive summary of the report on the Philippines, from the series of reports to come out of the research under the Unfreedom Monitor. Read the full report here.

After the ouster of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, democratic institutions were restored in the Philippines. This did not mean, however, that the Filipino people have been able to exercise basic rights and freedoms since then.

In May 2022, Marcos’s son and namesake won the presidential elections (clouded by allegations of electoral fraud) through massive disinformation campaigns, vote buying and electoral fraud. Like his father, Marcos Jr. resorts to authoritarianism, albeit digital and more insidious as it is coupled with a well-funded and well-oiled disinformation drive.

Over the past six years, the civic space in the Philippines has been shrinking as the Duterte and Marcos Jr. administrations enacted laws that threaten hard-won freedoms. Among these are the Anti-Terror Act, which contains provisions on digital surveillance, and punishes “inciting to terrorism,” and the SIM Registration Act, which requires all mobile phone users to register their personal information.

Removing the need for martial law, these two laws create a chilling effect among the populace, and stifle all forms of dissent. The libel laws in the Philippines are weaponised against critical and independent media practitioners. Attacks on journalists and media organisations have been documented under the new Marcos Jr. administration, in a continuation of the situation under previous president, Rodrigo Duterte. Between June 30, 2022, the day that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. assumed the presidency, and December 31, 2022, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has recorded 38 incidents of press freedom violations.

Other forms of digital authoritarianism include persistent hate speech in the form of redtagging (the practice of labelling individuals and groups as allied with the communists), of the government’s perceived enemies, and cyber attacks such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) and website blocking.

These tactics are used alongside a systematic and well-oiled disinformation campaign. The country has been considered as the “patient zero” of digital disinformation, according to a 2018 study by academics Jonathan Ong and Jason Vincent Cabañes. The study revealed that politicians spend millions of pesos to hire trolls for their propaganda.

During his campaign for the presidency, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. heavily relied on social media platforms, particularly Tiktok, YouTube and Facebook, to distort facts about his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and his family’s ill-gotten wealth. His trolls, on the other hand, attacked his opponents, and anyone who dared set the record straight on his father’s dictatorial rule from 1972 until the family was ousted from power in 1986. This well-funded disinformation drive proved to be one of the factors why Marcos Jr. won the presidency, according to analysts.

Now in power, Marcos Jr. practises digital authoritarianism to suppress dissent. Human rights defenders are pushing back against these threats and attacks.

Read the full report here.

The Unfreedom Monitor

Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism.

Download a PDF of the Philippines report.

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