By Melvin G. Calimag
Despite various issues such as slow broadband speed, the Philippines is still the only country in the Southeast Asia region that enjoys Internet freedom.
This is according to the latest report of Freedom House, a non-profit organization based in Washington DC, which released its latest findings on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
The report noted, however, that Internet freedom in the Philippines has been gradually declining since the country was first evaluated in 2012.
Although the Philippine is still categorized as ?free,? the study said that ?little progress has been observed in terms of improving access to the Internet, limited by high subscription costs and service that barely reaches the population outside major cities.?
The report said telecom access was also undermined when authorities restricted network coverage during the papal visit in early 2015.
It also took note that in October 2014, Senate president Franklin Drilon filed criminal libel charges against an Iloilo-based journalist in relation to allegations of corruption published on a personal blog.
While the report cited an incident wherein the Office of the President ordered an uploader to take down a viral video of the Mamasapano massacre, it found that ?no systematic government censorship of online content has been documented in the Philippines.?
?[I]nternet users enjoyed unrestricted access to both domestic and international sources of information during the coverage period of this report,? the report said.
Globally, the study reported that Internet freedom around the world declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2015 as more governments censored information of public interest while also expanding surveillance and cracking down on privacy tools.
?Governments are increasingly pressuring individuals and the private sector to take down or delete offending content, as opposed to relying on blocking and filtering,? said Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net.
?They know that average users have become more technologically savvy and are often able to circumvent state-imposed blocks.?
At the same time, encryption and anonymity tools crucial to securing freedom of expression were subject to restrictions worldwide.
?Undermining online encryption and anonymity weakens the internet for everyone, but especially for human rights activists and independent journalists,? Kelly said. ?Privacy tools can help protect internet users from the kinds of abuse we document.?
The study found that over 61 percent of all Internet users live in countries where criticism of the government, military or ruling family has been subject to censorship online, and over 58 percent live in countries where bloggers or ICT users were jailed for sharing content on political, social, and religious issues.
Since June 2014, 32 of the 65 countries assessed in ?Freedom on the Net? saw Internet freedom deteriorate. Notable declines were documented in Libya, France, and ?f or the second year running ? Ukraine, amid its territorial conflict and propaganda war with Russia.
Internet freedom saw its biggest gains in Sri Lanka and Zambia, which both experienced a recent change in government.
Internet access became more affordable in Cuba after diplomatic relations were restored with the United States, but it remains out of reach for the majority.