freedom of expression

Harry Roque’s way

“There comes a point where making a point is pointless. And reckless.” – Philip Gilmore 

UP banned the screening of the “Innocence of Muslims” to ensure the safety and security of everyone on its campus. But Harry Roque, human rights lawyer and constitutional law lecturer at the UP, would have none of it. He defied the ban and screened the movie for his class, as a teaching tool on the freedom of expression.

Damn the torpedoes! Or as he put it, “As an academic, as a lawyer, I cannot allow rights to be infringed upon. I am in perfect discharge of my duties as a law professor and I’m willing to take whatever consequence.” Eh damn the torpedoes nga!

Alright, so he wanted to make a point. About the freedom of self-expression. But there’s a point where making a point is pointless. And reckless.

Roque already knew Muslims in over 20 countries reacted violently to that movie why did he have to risk riling local Muslims who have displayed admirable restraint so far? Was he testing the limits of their tolerance? 

So what if he had no intention of adding to the Muslims’ rage, that he was only standing up for the freedom of expression. The purity of his intentions do not matter because there is an equally important issue that cannot be ignored. There is an offended party involved and he is very angry. He cannot be put aside, expected to hold his anger in check, while a professor uses a movie that slanders his religion to make a point about freedom of expression.

The thing is Roque won’t even concede that the movie is offensive to Muslims. The first sentence of his Inquirer column last Friday – Free Expression and mob rule – was, “An allegedly anti-Islam trailer has reopened the debate on where the limits to freedom of expression should be.”  Allegedly anti-Islam? In the next sentence he said the movie depicts Mohammad as “a fraud, a womanizer, and a pedophile”. What further proof does he need to say unequivocally that the movie is anti-Islam?

Roque then warned that banning ‘expression that prods members of a religious group to violent reaction is a “slippery slope” as far as freedom of expression is concerned.’ He went on to prescribe, “the remedy in a democratic society is not to ban such a film, but for Muslims to prove in both word and deed that the affront is apparent and real. Certainly, the resort to mob rule is not the means to prevail in the free marketplace of ideas.” 

Wait a minute. Let’s analyze his prescription.

The Muslims have to prove in both word and deed that the affront is apparent and real? They torched an embassy and killed an ambassador, is that proof enough that the affront was apparent and real to them? Or was Roque saying the Muslims must first prove that Muhammad was not a fraud, a womanizer, and a pedophile before they can rampage? Or was he in fact saying if I call your mother a whore the proper response is to prove I’m wrong and not to kick my teeth in?

Certainly, the resort to mob rule is not the means to prevail in the free marketplace of ideas. At least for those who believe that a free marketplace of ideas exists. But certainly as well there are people who believe that mob rule is the only way they can liberate themselves from the free marketplace of ideas dominated by what some American conservatives proudly refer to as “the Judeo-Christian moral code”. 

They have their moral codes, we have ours. What many fail to understand is that the world became interconnected faster than people’s capacity for mutual adjustment. So the first instinct is to impose one’s self on the other in order to maintain one’s comfort zone. It takes a while to learn that the only way to have peace is to co-exist and not to impose peace. 

We are still in the culture clash stage. And so when one does something that offends the other, intentionally or not, one cannot presume the other will respond in a like manner, as if only a reversal of roles were involved.

More importantly, you cannot, like Harry Roque thinks you can, dictate to the other how he should respond. He will respond in the way he responds. That’s it. And you better be prepared to live with it because that will be it until such time as we all get to know each other well enough to agree on a code of conduct.

For example, among Muslims freedom of expression does not extend to criticizing their faith. You cannot blaspheme or commit heresy and expect to get away with a slap on the wrist. That’s the way it is with them. It was also that way for Catholics and christians, for many centuries. So if it was okay for us then why is it not okay for them now? There is no right or wrong involved here, we have secularized, they have not. Who has the moral authority to say we are right and they are wrong?

The secularized go to war over politics, the religious go to war over faith. Asking who between the two is better is like saying that the cannibal who eats with a knife and fork is better than the cannibal who eats with his hands.

Roque could have screened the movie in a rented auditorium or at home and it would have been only him and his invited guests to face “whatever consequences” they were willing to face. They would still be defending a right but they would be doing it without involving those who really don’t give a rat’s ass about defending a bigot’s right to lie about another religion. 

There are people who believe that freedom of speech is better served by condemning bigotry and lies than by standing up for the right of bigots and liars to mouth off. They will defend the right to free speech in their own way just as Roque will in his own way. Unfortunately, Roque’s way put everyone in the UP campus at risk. Nang dadamay pa and that is a no-no in our culture.

The thing is until we can all agree on what democracy is and the extent and limits on freedom of expression, we must settle our differences in places where there is minimal risk of collateral damage. That’s what Roque failed to grasp, believing as he did that his idea of freedom of expression is the one size that fits all, with no need for personalized fittings. He took his fight to the UP campus, a “civilian” zone, instead of a battlefield where only combatants would face-off.

Anyway, after the screening, Harry Roque proclaimed, “Now that we have seen it, we can confidently say it is trash.”

Christ Almighty or Alahu Akbar, does one have to taste-test every foul-smelling mound on the sidewalk before he can confidently say “It is dog shit!”? 

Journalism as barbarism

Image of World of Warcraft orc by Flickr user Snowball1210. Used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
Image of World of Warcraft orc by Flickr user Snowball1210. Used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
The furor that continues to rage around the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) exhibition “Kulô”, and specifically Mideo Cruz’s installation Poleteismo, one of the works featured in said exhibition, has taken the form of a battle between blasphemy and censorship—an unfortunate development, in my view, as both positions seem predicated on a clear-cut, straightforward duality between how the public has responded to the work and how it ought to respond to the work. Whether the situation will shape-shift into something more capable of accommodating a greater, more complex range of possibilities remains to be seen, but that it has been reduced to such crude terms can be attributed in part to the manner that the mass media thoroughly maltreated the relevant issues.

It is highly likely that this ruckus would not have swelled to its current proportions—might never have happened in the first place—had Pinky Webb, host of the ABS-CBN current affairs show “XXX”, refrained from framing Poleteismo, diminished to its details, as a commentary on the contentious RH Bill. (The sense of the verb “frame” as pertaining to false incrimination is useful here.) As someone who has seen Poleteismo for himself, I find that interpretation completely untenable: the only element of the work that could be said to have a connection to the bill would be the condoms, and I saw no compelling reason to draw that connection—not least because the proposed measure is concerned with more than just prophylactics.

But the burden of the blame for the frenzied character of the dispute is not only for Webb, “XXX”, or ABS-CBN to bear. Understanding, no doubt, that anything related to the controversial piece of legislation would serve as a reliable magnet for rapid, even rabid, reactions, which would then translate into increased ratings, several prominent members of the fourth estate wasted no time jumping into the fray in order to whip the public into a state of hysteria.

Granted that these journalists might have been offended by the installation themselves, and were thus less motivated by profit than by piousness, their personal feelings do not excuse or exempt them from their responsibilities as gatekeepers of information. What could have been a teachable moment—that art can be unbeautiful and demanding; that any work has to be experienced in its entirety before being judged; that approval of a thing is not a necessary prerequisite for engaging or understanding it; that the production of transgressive images has a long (art) history; that the CCP has mounted similarly challenging exhibitions before; that the male genitalia in cultures past and present are emblematic of the divine; or that “Kulô” had 31 other, perhaps richer, offerings—was instead exploited for its explosive potential.

Surely there is a world of difference between calling public attention to alleged offense and sensationalizing said alleged offense to the point of extremism. Yet instead of sounding a call to careful contemplation and sober reflection, broadcasters and columnists, with monstrous insouciance and bestial impunity, presumed to think, speak, and act on behalf of their readers, listeners, and viewers. In the process, they did not only betray—as well as encourage in their audience—a false sense of entitlement to spew opinions, no matter how baseless, but also they fueled and inflamed various fears that served as barriers to dialogue, including, among others, iconophobia, homophobia, and phallophobia. (The last could be an especially interesting area of investigation for sociologists and anthropologists, considering that at least half of the outraged commentators are male and presumably have penises of their own.)

Two particularly appalling examples of the foregoing come to mind. The first is “‘Artist’ daw, binaboy si Kristo” a piece in Abante where entertainment reporter Marc Logan passive-aggressively suggests the different ways that a lynch mob of ostensibly devout Catholics could deal with Cruz—by beating him up, stabbing him, hanging him, throwing him into a creek, forcing him to drink muriatic acid, or shooting him—and warns the artist against seeking assistance from the media. The second is “Art as terrorism” a Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial that, though exponentially more intelligent than Logan’s article, contains a tacit apologia for the vandalism undertaken against Poleteismo—not to mention a nearby, unrelated painting, Love to Move by Lindslee—and, by virtue of its title, performs the callous and insensitive rhetorical maneuver of trivializing the indescribable shock and trauma with which any experience of terrorism is bound up, while at the same time implying that Cruz’s installation requires a radical riposte.

Given that both articles clearly intend to stage a defense of the Catholic faith and faithful, is the appropriate, ethical response to Cruz’s supposed symbolic violence the incitement of further violence? Will Abante, Philippine Daily Inquirer, or any other media outfit hold itself accountable should any of the threats that have been made against the CCP, its officers, and Cruz—threats apparently grave enough to warrant the closure of “Kulô”—be carried out?

The media community should take its cue from the arts and culture sector: this is as good a time as any for its denizens to begin the task of taking stock, of questioning themselves and their practices, and of upholding the emancipatory values on which such practices are founded. “The practice of journalism,” as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) declares, “involves the use of power: the power to influence the way people look at themselves, their societies, and the world; the power to help shape the attitudes and values of others; and the power to help liberate men and women from the shackles of ignorance so they may exercise their sovereign human right to decide their destinies.” This power should not be used to perpetrate and perpetuate barbarism.

*This article was slightly modified on 15 August 2011, 4:50 AM (GMT +8).

Mulling over “Kulô”

Art, all art, as the British writer Jeanette Winterson would remind us, is a foreign city, which is to say that it is fluent in tongues and steeped in traditions that inevitably require no small degree of adaptation and acclimatization on the part of those who seek a meaningful encounter with it. To behave as though art bore the onus of conforming to and confirming beliefs and expectations long held and cherished is to act like the boorish tourist who assumes, nay, demands that the locals speak his or her language, indicating a fatal combination of arrogance and ignorance that ought to be despaired at and deplored. And yet it is that very combination with which the past several days have been marked when one examines the clangorous—I hesitate to use the word “popular”—discourse that has erupted around the now-closed Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) exhibition “Kulô”, which, in addition to 31 other works of art intended to play off the convergence of the sesquicentennial of national hero Jose Rizal and the quadricentennial of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, features Poleteismo, an installation by Mideo Cruz that is both fulcrum and field for what been not so much a debate than a protracted shouting match, with terms yanked out of context for maximum incendiary effect: “blasphemy” and “terrorism” on the one hand, and “moralist hysteria” and “religious myopia” on the other.

[Read the rest in Interlineal.]

iBlog Mini: Blogging about cases, sub judice, and Freedom of Expression

Janette Toral of Digital Filipino published on Facebook:

There are a lot of cases catching the attention of bloggers today meriting discussion. However, bloggers are also warned of “sub judice” resulting to confusion on what can be blogged about and not.

In this regard, on December 14, there will be an iBlog Mini forum where the theme “Blogging About Cases, Sub Judice, and Freedom of Expression” shall be tackled.

Here is the agenda:

Welcome Remarks – Atty. JJ Disini
Blogging about Cases – Ellen Tordesillas
Introduction to Sub Judice – Atty. Emerson Banez
Open forum – (Janette Toral – moderator)
Action or steps to be taken (if any)

Resource persons for the above shall be updated shortly. Should you be interested in sharing your insight in this forum, kindly contact Janette Toral at [email protected]

Kindly confirm your participation by clicking on “I’m Attending”.

Thank you and we hope you can be part of the discussion.

P.S. This event is free. Snacks will be served. Kindly help us spread the word about this event.

If you are interested, kindly checkout this Facebook page.

Ladlad gets nod from Supreme Court

Ladlad gets nod from Supreme Court
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Saying what is immoral may not necessarily be illegal, the Supreme Court (SC) overturned yesterday a Commission on Elections (Comelec) decision barring a gay rights group from contesting national elections in May and recognized it as a legitimate political party for the first time.

In a decision handed down during the SC’s summer session in Baguio City, the magistrates voted 13-2 to grant the petition of Ang Ladlad and nullify resolution of the Comelec disqualifying the group on the basis of “immorality.”

“We hold that moral disapproval… is not a sufficient governmental interest to justify exclusion of homosexuals from participation in the party-list system,” declared the ruling penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo.

“The denial of Ang Ladlad’s registration on purely moral grounds amounts more to a statement of dislike and disapproval of homosexuals rather than a tool to further any substantial public interest,” the SC stressed.

Ang Ladlad, an organization of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT), was earlier disqualified by Comelec because “although the group presented the proper documents and evidence, they cannot be accredited because their definition of LGBT makes it crystal clear that the petitioner tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs.”

But the SC ruled that Comelec erred since it failed to explain “what societal ills are sought to be prevented, or why special protection is required for the youth” to justify the denial of accreditation of Ang Ladlad.

Citing Article III Section 5 of the Constitution, which provides that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the SC said Comelec violated this clause when it used the Bible and Koran to justify the exclusion of the group.

It stressed that Ang Ladlad has satisfied all legal requirements to qualify as a party-list organization under Republic Act 7941 (Party-list System Act), including “proofs of past subordination or discrimination suffered by the group, immutable or distinguishing characteristic, attribute or experience that define them as a discrete group, and present political or economic powerlessness.”

Upholding equal protection, the court said that LGBTs have the same interest in participating in the party-list system as other marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

Issue emotionally charged

The SC also found a violation in Ang Ladlad’s right of freedom of expression since the group was precluded from publicly expressing its views as a political party and participating on an equal basis in the political process with other party-list candidates.

“We cannot help but observe that the social issues presented by this case are emotionally charged, societal attitudes are in flux, even the psychiatric and religious communities are divided in opinion. This Court’s role is not to impose its own view of acceptable behavior.”

“Rather, it is to apply the Constitution and laws as best as it can, uninfluenced by public opinion, and confident in the knowledge that our democracy is resilient enough to withstand vigorous debate,” the court said.

“I felt vindicated,” said the group’s leader Danton Remoto, an English professor at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University.

He said Ang Ladlad had struggled for recognition and accreditation for the past seven years.

Other magistrates who concurred in the ruling were Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, and Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Perez, and Jose Mendoza.

In his separate concurring opinion, Puno said “Ang Ladlad’s right of political participation was unduly infringed when the Comelec, swayed by the private biases and personal prejudices of its constituent members, arrogated unto itself the role of a religious court or worse, a morality police.”

Two magistrates – Senior Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justice Arturo Brion – dissented in the ruling.

In his separate opinion, Corona said “even assuming (Ang Ladlad) was able to show that the community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals is underrepresented, it cannot be properly considered as marginalized under the party-list system.”

The court earlier granted temporary relief to Ang Ladlad by ordering Comelec to include the group in the ballots for the polls pending resolution of the petition.

Unsupported records

In its 26-page petition last Jan. 26, the group asked the high court to reverse the decision of Comelec denying their accreditation as a sectoral party because of “immorality.”

Petitioner argued that Comelec “made conclusions unsupported by records” when it ruled that Ang Ladlad “goes against teachings of certain religions” and that it “advocates sexual immorality.”

The group lamented how Comelec invoked Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), dealing with the glorification of criminals, violence in shows, obscene publications, lustful or pornographic exhibitions, to support its determination that Ang Ladlad espouses doctrines contrary to public morals.

“It may not be amiss to say that the principle of ejusdem generis (of the same kind) suffices to declare that homosexuality per se does not fall within the ambit of the penal law. That one’s affections towards people of the same sex easily translate to lust and immorality is obviously a non sequitur (it does not follow),” they stressed.

They also told the court that being gay or lesbian is “neither a sin nor a sickness,” and therefore should be respected under Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 44, a treaty to which the Philippines is a signatory.

“Each State party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,” the group said.

“Among these rights that must be respected and ensured, ‘without distinction of any kind’ are the right ‘to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives’ and the right ‘to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections,’ both of which are guaranteed under Article 25 of the ICCPR,” the group said.

Comelec committed discriminatory act

With this, Ang Ladlad claimed that Comelec committed a discriminatory act under ICCPR in disqualifying them from the party-list race.

It assailed the Comelec resolution of the second division composed of Commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer, Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph.

In its ruling, the second division said Ang Ladlad advocates same-sex relationship that offends religious beliefs.

Upon appeal of Ang Ladlad in December, the first division of the poll body, composed of Commissioners Gregorio Larrazabal, Rene Sarmiento, and Armando Velasco, voted to grant Ang Ladlad’s appeal to get accredited.

Ang Ladlad, in its motion for reconsideration, cited the 2003 SC ruling on Estrada vs Escritor case. The court explained that the terms “immorality” or “morals” referred to in the law, including those in the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code, are not of religious nature, but of public and secular sort.

But Chairman Jose Melo sided with the second division to junk Ang Ladlad’s appeal.

Melo countered the group’s argument that the Nov. 12 ruling of the poll body applied religious beliefs instead of using public or secular morals in deciding the gay group’s application for accreditation.

Melo said what the second division members used were “moral parameters and precepts that are generally accepted.”

Though the morals applied are religion-based, Melo said the hundred years of influence of Muslim and Christian beliefs had become an accepted norm in society.

He also stressed that the community of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders is not a “special class,” and is therefore not marginalized or underrepresented.

“Thus, even if society’s understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of LGBT is elevated, there can be no denying that Ang Ladlad constituencies are still males and females, and they will be protected by the same Bill of Rights that applies to all citizens alike who are amply represented also by the males and females who compromise our legislature,” he said.

The poll chief said homosexuality is not a protected right under the law.

Since gays enjoy the same rights as other citizens, Melo said that their officials could also seek other elective posts, as long as they meet the requisites for the position.

The group has received support from Leila de Lima, head of the independent Commission on Human Rights, who denounced the Comelec’s November ruling as “retrogressive” and smacking of “discrimination and prejudice.”

Ang Ladlad is one of over 100 parties seeking to win 50 of the 286 seats in House of Representatives allocated for marginalized sectors. – With AP

Gordon, Villanueva: Why pick on us?

Gordon, Villanueva: Why pick on us?
By Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Tina Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Bring it on.

Sen. Richard Gordon is not taking down his huge billboards on EDSA and on South Luzon Expressway despite an order from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for him to remove them.

“I will not dismantle it. I don’t own it. It does not belong to me,” Gordon, a presidential candidate of the Bagumbayan Party, said Wednesday when asked about the Comelec order.

Gordon, his running mate Bayani Fernando and presidential candidate Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas have billboards that exceed the mandated size, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said Wednesday.

The Fair Election Act specifies that the maximum size of posters should be 2 ft by 3 ft. For streamers announcing a public meeting, it’s 3 ft by 8 ft, which can be placed five days before the event and should be removed within 24 hours after the event.

Without his knowledge

Gordon said the two huge billboards that the Comelec referred to as oversized were donated by supporters and were put up without his knowledge.

The supporters have not called him to seek any advice on what to do with the two billboards that also include an image of Fernando.

“I have not talked to them. I have not even thanked them,” Gordon said.

One of the two billboards was put up by the best friend of his daughter Marnie. “That is their property,” he said.

Gordon said the putting up of the billboards on private property was part of freedom of expression. “That’s a constitutional right if I want to express support to any candidate,” he added.

Unfair application

Bangon Pilipinas campaign manager Lyndon Cana said the Comelec rules were not being applied fairly among all national candidates.

He said that along EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Avenue) and other major thoroughfares, which are not designated common poster areas, posters of other candidates were prominently displayed with no one from the Comelec complaining.

“A supporter of genuine change has volunteered to put up a poster of Bro. Eddie Villanueva. Now this poster is being used to threaten Bro. Eddie with disqualification. Why zero in on this poster?” Cana said in a statement.

Bangon Pilipinas secretary general Ted Pascua said the party had already taken down Villanueva’s big billboard in Quiapo, Manila, the first time the Comelec warned against billboards that go beyond the allowable size.

He said a huge billboard in Balintawak, Quezon City, was still up because it was put up in one of Bangon Pilipinas’ headquarters. “Hence we have a huge billboard there,” Pascua said.

“Bangon Pilipinas will comply with whatever legal rules and requirements Comelec is validly mandated to enforce,” he added.

Cory, Ninoy banners

In Manila, Mayor Alfredo Lim assailed the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for removing banners of the late President Corazon “Cory” Aquino and her husband, martyred Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in the city.

Lim said MMDA men removed the banners along Roxas Boulevard and around Anda Circle without the consent of the local government.

The streamers’ removal was done even before the Comelec announced that it would ask the city government to put the materials down, according to the mayor.

Lim said it was the second time that the MMDA illegally put down the streamers the city had placed along Roxas Boulevard.

Lim said he received a call from Chief Supt. Rodolfo Magtibay, Manila Police District director, informing him that MMDA men were dismantling the streamers at around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

P50 per streamer

Lim claimed that the workers, whom authorities invited for questioning, were paid P50 for every streamer they took down.

The Comelec earlier said that it would ask the Manila government to put down all the posters of Cory and Ninoy to emphasize that one could not post campaign materials anywhere except in common poster areas.

It added that while the streamers were placed for the celebration of the 25th EDSA People Power Revolution, the image of Cory was also being used for the campaign of her son, Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, the Liberal Party standard-bearer


In Daet, Camarines Norte, Noynoy Aquino said the authorities were “stretching” the meaning of the Omnibus Election Code in claiming that the banners violated election rules.

“If we follow the line of argument, perhaps they should remove the Ninoy Aquino in NAIA (the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila) … Perhaps they should change (the name) of the municipality of Ninoy Aquino,” he said.

“Their position is somewhat absurd,” the LP standard-bearer added.

In the first district of Batangas, campaign posters of deposed President Joseph Estrada and his running mate, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, have been removed, their camp said.

“What’s puzzling is that only Erap (Estrada) and Binay posters are singled out while those from administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro and that of Ermita’s son Edwin, who is running for vice governor, are untouched,” said Binay’s spokesperson, Lito Anzures.

Estrada and Binay went on a motorcade and held a rally in the first district of Batangas on Tuesday. With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Philip C. Tubeza and Norman Bordadora