A COMPLETE MOCKERY OF DEMOCRACY
It was an artist –- film director Lino Brocka –- who, as one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, formulated the provision for one of the cornerstones of the democracy we are supposed to be: specifically Art. III, Sec. 4 which states that: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
If democracy is government by the people, as the word’s etymology tell us, there can be no democracy without freedom of speech and expression –- and press freedom is the freedom of speech and expression as exercised by media practitioners, in the same way that academic freedom is the exercise of the freedom of speech and expression by members of the academe. A truly empowered people are free to say how the government should be run.
The freedom of speech and expression is particularly sacred to us artists since it is essential to our work that we have the liberty to say how we perceive the world and the human condition at a given time. If liberty is “the soul’s right to breathe,” as the lead character in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting so eloquently says, the freedom of speech and expression is the artist’s right to be.
It is this cornerstone of the democracy we are supposed to be, this right held especially sacred by artists, that is being undermined by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Consultative Commission on Charter Change.
Art. III, Sec. 4 of the draft constitution submitted by the Consultative Commission reads thus: “No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
The insertion of the phrase “responsible exercise of” is very much worth noting. It is not just an exercise in semantics, it is an insertion that though brief speaks volumes.
What is meant by a “responsible” exercise of the freedom of speech and expression? Nowhere in the draft constitution can we find the answer.
But the answer lies in the statements President Arroyo has been issuing from time to time.
“Let us cast aside the ‘bad boy’ image that the press has acquired,” President Arroyo said in her speech before the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) in Baguio City last November. “Let us restore its glory as the ‘responsible son’ of a democratic nation.”
She uttered these words at a time when she was under fire from the press because of questions on the credibility of her victory in the 2004 election, because of her government’s imposition of policies making life harder and harder for Filipinos –- who mostly live below the poverty line if we go by the very statistics of the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC) –- and because of rampant corruption and human rights violations under her watch.
We can see that as far as President Arroyo is concerned, we “responsibly” exercise the freedom of speech and expression when we refrain from criticizing the government. For her, the “responsible” exercise of the freedom of speech and expression is to “change the topic,” to talk about The True, The Good, The Beautiful while the country drowns in a sea of wretchedness.
This is a complete mockery not only of the freedom of speech and expression, but of the very tenets of democracy.
The signs show that a crackdown on freedom of speech and expression is at hand. History tells us that it is when freedom of speech and expression is curtailed that the days of darkness descend on the people.
We survived martial law and we must not allow it to rear its head again. Let us exhaust all available means to defend the basic democratic rights for which so many of the country’s finest sons and daughters have given their lives.
Artists for the Removal of Gloria (ARREST Gloria)
January 10, 2006
Southern Tagalog Exposure + KASIBULAN Women Visual Artists’ Collective + KUMASA (Kulturang Ugnayan ng Manggagawa at Uring Anakpawis sa Timog Katagalugan) + ARTIST, Inc. (Arts Research and Training Institute in Southern Tagalog) + Kilometer 64 Poetry Group + Tambisan sa Sining + APLAYA (Artistang Pangkultura ng Mamamalakaya sa Timog Katagalugan) + UPLB Umalohokan
Paolo Martinez + Andrea Muñoz + Gian Paolo Mayuga + Jeffrey Ferrer + Onin Tagaro + Bobby Balingit + Winnie Balingit + Lourd de Veyra + Dong Abay + Ninj Abay + Con Cabrera + Roselle Pineda + Heidi Takama + Boom Dizon