Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FREE SPEECH ISN’T UNLIMITED… BUT IT SHOULD BE


Leafing through today’s (March 23, 2011) Inquirer, we find a full-page ad stating that “Freedom of expression and of speech is not unlimited,” written by a certain Atty. Redemberto R. Villanueva, which alarmed me. The lawyer cites jurisprudence that does put limitations to what a supposedly free person could say or write.

It is quite fitting that it turns out that this Villanueva is counsel of, of all people, the Ampatuan family, who are mere ‘suspects’ in the murder of four dozen people in November 23, 2009. The full-page ad is an attempt at getting the public off his clients’ backs.

It was a touch of genius on Villanueva’s part, to relate the Ampatuan case to that of Lauro Vizconde, who not long ago was admonished by the Supreme Court for suggesting that some of its justices were ‘influenced’ by the Webb family to set convicted Vizconde ‘massacrer’ Hubert Webb free. By making this connection, Villanueva is able to get on the good side of the Supreme Court justices, so as to avoid any overturning of anti-free speech jurisprudence. And in the event that the Ampatuan murder case reaches the Supreme Court… well, every bit of good will helps.

Actually, Villanueva simply wants to extend the concept of sub judice ― which bars counsel, plaintiffs and respondents from commenting on a case to the media ― to encompass the media, nay, the public at large. There might be some rationale for requesting discretion from those involved in a case, but to stop all other parties is just plain unjust.

I’m glad to have seen this ad, as it shows everyone just what types of people want to see freedom of speech curtailed: those in positions of political power who fear losing it; those who see no other means of salvaging their reputation than by the coercive hand of government (which is what the charges of libel and slander amount to).



We could now see the value of the ‘right of reply’ bill that senators Nene Pimentel and Miriam Santiago, among others, sought to pass a couple years back. Such affronts against freedom are revealed to be no more ‘just’ than having someone hold you by the throat and making you tell them what they want to hear. This and other similar laws are legislated barbarity.

I leave it to my 2009 self to give a couple of reasons why libel and slander are unjust:
- People should be free to write or say anything about someone or some group, at the risk of others doubting their credibility and of thinking them distasteful.
- Just because one esteems the public as stupid and gullible does not mean limitations should be imposed on what another could say or claim.
In addition, libel and slander are ultimately not about defense of reputations, but control of the channels by which the statements are aired. If one is to be guaranteed a right to their property (which is essential to civilization, as I often say), libel and slander would be unenforceable.

Hopefully, further discussion on the matter will bring about an overturning of the present oppressive jurisprudence, not to mention a repeal of present libel and slander laws. But I’m not too optimistic about it.