MANILA – The Philippines’ presidential Malacanang Palace rejected on Wednesday a United States intelligence report branding President Rodrigo Duterte a threat to human rights and democracy.
A report issued on Feb. 13 by the US Director of National Intelligence, entitled Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, pointed to Duterte’s suggestions that he “could suspend the constitution, declare a revolutionary government and impose nationwide martial law” as a sign of the fragility of democracy and human rights in the Southeast Asian archipelago nation.
The report also cited the Philippines, alongside Turkey and Venezuela, among others, as examples of countries where governments had used propaganda and misinformation through social media in order “to spread government views, to drive agendas, and to counter criticism of the government online” as a means to “influence foreign and domestic audiences.”
“President Rodrigo Duterte is no autocrat or has autocratic tendencies. He adheres to the rule of law and remains loyal to the Constitution,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement on Wednesday.
Roque also dismissed the accusation of using social media as a propaganda tool, saying it would be “foolhardy” of Filipino authorities not to use it as it had “become an important part of the daily lives of Filipinos.”
The Malacanang Palace’s response to the US intelligence report comes as the Duterte administration faced renewed criticism over its relationship with the media after a journalist was blocked on Tuesday from covering palace activities.
That incident – which the reporter Pia Ranada captured on her mobile phone and shared over social media – has sparked an uproar in the Philippines and abroad.
In a report on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch characterized the ban as an “assault on the media” in the country, the latest development in a series of actions by Duterte which “threaten media freedoms,” the NGO said.
The president has repeatedly attacked media outlets that have been critical of him or his administration, including the online daily Rappler, which Ranada represents.
In mid-January, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the license of the news website, alleging that it had violated constitutional norms that restrict foreign people or entities from owning media outlets.
Press organizations and international NGOs such as HRW and Amnesty International have criticized the measure as the government’s indirect revenge on Rappler for covering cases of alleged corruption by the government.
The website has challenged the SEC order and, pending a verdict, is entitled to continue covering Malacanang activities.
The official Philippine National Press Club confirmed on Wednesday that Ranada was still allowed to cover palace affairs pending Rappler’s appeal against the SEC’s decision to shut the publication down, and downplayed Tuesday’s incident as a “simple case of misunderstanding.”