Campus journalist ‘forced’ to apologise for criticising Duterte over virus online

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Joshua Molo, editor-in-chief of Dawn ... criticised the "inaction" of the Duterte administration over the coronavirus pandemic. Image: Rappler

By Samantha Bagayas in Manila

A campus journalist from the University of the East (UE) in the Philippines was allegedly forced to issue a public apology yesterday after he wrote a Facebook post criticising the government’s efforts in handling the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

Joshua Molo, editor-in-chief of Dawn, drew the ire of three of his former teachers from Cabiao National High School in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija.

The post in question has since been taken down, but Molo said he raised the “inaction” of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

READ MORE: Man shot dead in Philippines for flouting coronavirus lockdown rules

His teachers engaged in a discussion with Molo, commenting on his post. They expressed support for President Duterte.

Molo posted a screenshot of their comments on his Instagram stories, where he expressed his disapproval and dismay.

A screenshot of one of Molo’s Instagram items, as provided by the campus journalist.

According to human rights group Karapatan, this reportedly prompted the teachers to file a complaint against their former student at the barangay [local community] level, for allegedly posting libelous remarks online.

At around 12 pm on Sunday, Molo was summoned by officials of Barangay San Fernando Sur in Cabiao for mediation following the filing of the complaint.

Mediation meeting
During the mediation meeting, according to Molo, one of the teachers threatened to pursue the cyber libel case against him unless he would issue a public apology.

Molo also told Karapatan that he was given an option to voluntarily sign a waiver that he would not post sentiments critical of the government again. He was supposedly told to issue a public apology as well, or face arrest and detention.

Knowing he would not be able to afford a legal battle, Molo opted to apologise in public and waive his right to free speech.

At 1.50 pm on Sunday, Molo posted a video to apologise for “misusing” his social media accounts. He addressed his apology to the teachers, as well as the advisers and members of Kabyawan, the student publication of Cabiao National High School.

In the video, Molo can be seen reading a message from his phone.

“Bilang estudyante at mamamayan, naniniwala ako na ang pag-unlad ay matatamo sa maraming paraan. Maaaring ang paniniwala ng isa ay naiiba ngunit ‘di ibig sabihin nito ay mali. Inaamin ko po na ako ay nagkamali, at hindi na muling mauulit ang pangyayari,” he said in the video.

(As a student and citizen, I believe that development can be achieved in many ways. It’s possible that one’s belief can be different, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I admit that I made a mistake, and it won’t happen again.)

Rights, student groups denounce incident
However, the video was later deleted early Sunday evening.

“Before removing the video, the campus journalist posted a comment saying a former teacher had asked him to take it down,” said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

According to Karapatan, Molo said barangay officials told him he would be arrested by police if he continued posting views that were unfavourable to the Duterte administration.

Several student organisations and human rights groups have denounced the incident, with the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) calling it a “blatant suppression [of] people’s democratic rights.”

The National Union of Students of the Philippines-Metro Manila, meanwhile, said Molo’s case is an offence to “everyone’s constitutional right to criticise the systems being run in this country.”

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