Freedom after speech

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

The 1987 Constitution dictates in Article III, Section 4 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.” Straightforwardly, perhaps one can easily assume that it is a birthright to freely speak and express one’s opinion. While to a certain extent it is true, on the other hand, one must also understand that freedom of expression has its limitations and, more so, its repercussions.

Our legal system for one underlined the restrictions on freedom of speech when it conflicts with other rights and protections, such as in the cases of libel, slander, pornography, obscenity, fighting words, threats and intellectual property. It is a given that the right to free speech is a constitutional protection that enables individuals and communities alike to present their ideas without fear of being censored by the government.

An exchange of ideas among people keeps a democracy healthy, and presenting our views to the public allows us to come up with solutions to problems and participate in society. Quite obviously therefore, the end goal is solutions based and the process entails for us to provide a better way of doing things. That being said, a solution-oriented mind is the proper way of addressing a problem when it comes to our freedom of expression. On the other hand, our right to express ourselves also comes with accountability, as the disadvantages of it subject us all to wrongly encourage violence against other members of society through the spread of misinformation.

Freedom of speech is a broad right that encompasses almost every aspect of communication and when it comes to the press, it too shares the responsibility to disseminate truthful information. Defamation, for one, is not a protected form of speech as it is meant to hurt a person’s reputation. As we know, Filipinos spend so much time on social media, a battlefield that makes many Filipinos susceptible to disinformation and, in the case of cyber libel, an act is considered defamatory if the words used in the statement malign or induce suspicion, thus giving rise to erroneous charges that destroy an individual’s reputation.

At this point in time, we have found ourselves so enthralled by the internet, especially the youth, who have had no choice but to pursue their education online during the pandemic. It has been difficult for both parents and teachers to monitor information learners have come across over the internet but nevertheless, I consider it a stride for many of us in terms of our awareness as we continue to point out fake news.

Having said this, it has become our clear responsibility to further protect young minds through digital literacy as we teach them about “speech” that crosses the line. There is a need for all of us to evaluate and communicate our ideas not only clearly but also carefully. That is what freedom comes with — a responsibility. It should in itself carry discipline as even the fundamental rights of our Constitution come with a collection of limitations. All freedoms and rights are constrained the moment they bump up against the rights of others and, for our own protection, we must abide by the rules.

An act of intimidation as expressed by some on the curtailment of freedom of expression can only be a statement made by someone who has failed to understand the Constitution and, at the very least, unable to live, learn and communicate within the set boundaries as provided by law.


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