Philippine human rights group Karapatan called for “immediate action” from authorities to ensure “accountability and non-repetition” of what the group described as “underhanded attacks by State forces to undermine press freedom” in the country.
A unit under the country’s Department of Information and Communications Technology has confirmed that the cyber-attacks on the websites of alternative media outfits Bulatlat and Altermidya-People’s Alternative Media Network were linked to the military.
The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-PH) reported that the attacks originated from the internet protocol (IP) address assigned to the Philippine Army.
“We call on the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police, and Department of Justice … to do their work,” read a statement released by Karapatan on September 28.
“Anything less, or any delay in discharge of their functions, in relation to these cases may be seen as tantamount to tolerating and abetting these violations,” added the group.
Karapatan also called on Congress “to scrutinize public funds used in these cyberattacks” especially during the deliberations for the national budget in 2022.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is already caught red-handed on its claims that its personnel were merely ‘surfing’ on these sites,” said Karapatan.
Military spokesman Ramon Zagala earlier denied the allegations of cyber-attack, saying this was merely a “surfing activity.”
“The Philippine Army denies the cyber-attack allegations. The activity of an account detected with IP address assigned to the Philippine Army was not a form of any cyber-attack but rather a surfing activity, which any internet user can legally do,” he said in a statement.
The group said data gathered by Sweden-based Qurium Media Foundation indicate that online activities are “vastly different from normal surfing or browsing activity.”
“Any proposed funding for such sinister activities should not be provided to the [Philippine military] or to any government agency or body to ensure that these cyberattacks using public funds will not happen again,” said the human rights group.
Karapatan said that aside from being direct attacks on press freedom, the cyberattacks “violate the people’s right to information and our expressions of lived realities, critical thought and analysis – rights that should be increasingly safeguarded as the national and local elections for 2022 near.”
It said that alternative media outfits like Bulatlat and Altermidya provide “invaluable contributions toward the exercise of these rights through their stories that provide space for expressions of poor Filipinos’ plight, aspirations and struggles.”
“We cannot sit idly by while authorities continue to undermine whatever democratic space is left in the Philippines,” said the group.