In the Philippines, hate speech, incitement to violence and discrimination remain very serious concerns given the strong prejudice among the Christian Filipino majority against the Bangsamoro people; and the deep-seated animosity between Indigenous Peoples and Muslim communities, on the one hand, and Christians, on the other.
While hate speech against the Bangsamoro people is not new, the rise of online and social media use added a new dimension to the perpetuation of prejudices against them, as seen in the large volume of anti-Muslim messages circulated during and after the Mamasapano incident in January 2015 and the Marawi siege in May 2017. Notably, the messages online during these events mirror the antiMuslim prejudice portraying them as “traitors”, “violent savages”, “pirates”, “assassins”, “enslavers”, “cruel”, and “uncivilized” introduced during the Spanish and American colonisation and continued by the post-colonial Philippine state.
Hate speech witnessed during the Mamasapano incident and the Marawi siege cannot be divorced from a broader analysis of the historical and structural discrimination and injustices experienced by the Bangsamoro people. Hate speech during these two events has in turn undermined the overall formal and informal peace processes that sought to address the root of incitement to violence and discrimination.
An insufficient penal approach
The Philippine government has not enacted a law against hate speech, incitement to violence and discrimination. There are no legal provisions against such kinds of speech as jurisprudence on freedom of expression cases mainly focus on libel, defined as the public and malicious imputation of an act that tends to discredit or dishonour another person and which currently exists under the Revised Penal Code. This penal law on libel was expanded by the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10175) to apply to acts “committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future”.
In the context of state actors themselves being central to hate speech and discrimination and of the real threat of the use of laws to perpetuate marginalisation and to suppress dissent, a penal approach, such as criminalisation of libellous speech, offline and online, and its impact on freedom of speech remain a serious concern. Indeed, the United Nations Human Rights Council held that the Philippines’s criminalisation of libel does not conform with the freedom of expression clause of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Beyond penalization, a transformative approach
Considering hate speech and discriminations within the broader and historical context, civil society efforts emphasise a positive and transformative approach which is restorative and retributive rather than penal. These efforts have been pursued parallel to and at times jointly or in coordination with government agencies.
Government efforts, both at the national and the regional level, are also focused on transitional justice and reconciliation efforts, particularly in the creation of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) in 2014, “mandated to undertake a study and to make recommendations with a view to promote healing and reconciliation of the different communities that have been affected by the conflict.”
Many recommendations from the report of the TJRC, however, have not yet been acted upon.
Following the passage and ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2019 and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, there is a huge burden on the national government in taking immediate, concrete, and visible steps to deliver the dividends of peace to the Bangsamoro people and the rest of the country. Efforts must also be made to sustain the momentum of the peace process, including in building trust and understanding among different religious and ethnic groups in Mindanao and the Philippines.
This article is a summary of the chapter on the Philippines in the report Preventing Hate Speech, Incitement, And Discrimination – Lessons On Promoting Tolerance And Respect For Diversity In The Asia Pacific.