Netizen points out DOT’s possible violations for blocking citizens on social media

A Twitter user took to social media to post about his experience of being blocked by the official Twitter page of the Department of Tourism and brought up possible laws that were violated by the agency for what they did.

“When you’re blocked from viewing a government account for this, that’s a violation of ARTA and RA6713,” tweeted user @MarcoSardillo, tagging @OmbudsmanPh and @DICTgovph.
Based on his tweet, Sardillo was blocked after he tweeted and retweeted about the DOT’s “fudged statistics” in their graphs showing what they deemed to be the agency’s achievements after Duterte’s first year in office.

Netizens were quick to point out the misleading graphs for the 2017 tourism report.

Aside from Sardillo, another Twitter user, @Simply_Clinton, also tweeted about being blocked by the DOT.

“For pointing out their idiocy, I was blocked by a government agency  too! Bahahahaha,” he tweeted.

Even the parody page Superficial Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines had the same experience with DOT after they pointed out the unimpressive Math skills of the Duterte administration, including Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo.
“We posted about the present administration’s greatness in Mathematics earlier, specifically exemplified by #PresidentDuterte, FOREIGN Sec. Cayetano, and Tourism Sec. Wanda Corazon-Teo,” SGRP posted on Facebook. “And now, we have been blocked by the Department of Tourism – Philippines on Twitter! Yehey!”

“Is it going to become common practice for official government pages to block all critics and dissidents, too? #SuperficialGazette #AchievementUnlocked,” the page added.

In the comments section, SGRP asked: “Honest question: Does the blocking of citizens by official government avenues have any Constitutional implications on the right to free speech? Paging Professor Tony La Viña, Atty. Jesus Falcis / Jesus Falcis, and other lawyers.”

Lawyer Falcis responded, “I would say yes, blocking a Filipino citizen by a government FB page would constitute illegal prior restraint or censorship of speech as a general rule (there may be exceptions for blocking users who consistently and frequently comments unprotected speech such as obscenity and libel).”


Back to Sardillo’s tweet, after getting blocked, he warned DOT that he would file a formal complaint against them unless they unblock him.

“@TourismPHL Fair warning, restore my access to this government/public account ASAP or I will file a formal complaint against you,” he said.

Sardillo pointed out the Anti-Red Tape Act (ARTA), specifically the provision about the denial of request for access to government service. It states, “Any denial of request for access to government service shall be fully explained in writing, stating the name of the person making the denial and the grounds upon which such denial is based. Any denial of request is deemed to have been made with the permission or clearance from the highest authority having jurisdiction over the government office or agency concerned.”

He also noted Republic Act 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees), particularly Section 4’s provision as to the norms of conduct of public officials and employees. Sardillo posted a screenshot of what “responsiveness to the public” entails, as per the law. It states, “Public officials and employees shall extend prompt, courteous, and adequate service to the public. Unless otherwise provided by law or when required by the public interest, public officials and employees shall provide information of their policies and procedures in clear and understandable language, ensure openness of information, public consultations and hearings whenever appropriate, encourage suggestions, simplify and systematize policy, rules and procedures, avoid red tape and develop an understanding and appreciation of the socio-economic conditions prevailing in the country, especially in the depressed rural and urban areas.”

In the US, American President Donald Trump was sued by a free-speech group for blocking Twitter users. The lawsuit filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in New York sued Trump for blocking the accounts of some Twitter users due to “an unconstitutional effort to suppress dissent.”

Recently, a federal court in Virginia ruled in favor of a plaintiff who sued a local county politician for violating the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights after blocking him from her Facebook page.

“Brian Davison sued the chairwoman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, who temporarily banned him from her Facebook page after he posted criticism of local officials last year,” as per The Wall Street Journal report.

Judge James Cacheris found the chairwoman, Phyllis Randall, guilty of violating Davison’s First Amendment rights by blocking him from posting or commenting on her page because as per judgment, Randall was using her social media page in a public capacity. It was her personal page, but she used it to solicit feedback from her constituents.

However, the judge also noted that his ruling should not stop public officials from moderating their comments section to prevent harassment.

Sardillo later tweeted that the DOT has unblocked him. Asked if there was any explanation from the part of the government agency, he said that he would simply assume that “it was just a mistake.”

Sardillo is lawyer Marco Antonio Luisito V. Sardillo III who graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University Law, worked for a private firm, and flew to Singapore for his master’s degree in public policy on a scholarship. He was then invited to work for the PCGG and became the youngest Intramuros Administrator at 33 during former President Benigno Aquino III’s administration.

Sources: ( , , , )

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