Free expression not for the irresponsible

TO THE QUICK - Jerry S. Tundag - The Freeman

At some other time in her world of make-believe, it would have been perfectly all right for Cebu artist Bambi Beltran to post what she did on Facebook --that a sitio in Cebu City had more than 9,000 positive cases of the coronavirus, thereby making the city the epicenter of the disease it causes in the whole solar system.

But this is not just some other time. The whole world is on virtual lockdown on account of the coronavirus pandemic affecting more than 200 countries on earth. Hundreds of thousands across all borders are sick, tens of thousands are dead or dying. Businesses are closed, schools are shut, people are jobless, quarantined scared, and hungry in their homes.

Clearly it is not the time to post anything fake on Facebook, especially if you are simply trying to be sarcastic, as Beltran claimed. To do so and then invoke freedom of expression when you get into trouble is such a shameless, meaningless invocation of a cherished freedom whose true purpose is to protect those who use it with dignity and responsibility.

The vast majority of those who truly understand what freedom of expression means use it responsibly and for purposes that are noble and for the greater good. Hence the occasions are few and far between that they get into trouble and have to invoke freedom of expression in their defense. It is only those who do not understand the concept who are quick to invoke it when they are held to account for their recklessness.

For Beltran to say there are more than 9,000 positive coronavirus cases in one village in Cebu City is not only reckless and irresponsible, it is outright untruthful and lying. As of this time, the entire number of positive cases in the whole Philippines has yet to breach 7,000. Cebu City is not the epicenter of the disease, the United States is. To say that it is isn’t funny, helpful, or forgivable, even if Beltran is only trying to be sarcastic.

In this time of great fear and uncertainty, where everybody is suffering in a variety of ways, a post like Beltran's can prove painful and injurious to many. It can cause mental anguish and emotional harm. To poke fun and inject sarcasm into a situation where medical frontliners are risking and even giving up their lives to fight a vicious and unseen enemy is in fact criminal, notwithstanding a million limp invocations of freedom of expression.

The right to free expression should be protected from those who cheapen it, who use it only for convenience and selfish motives. Many journalists, the truly deserving ones of freedom of expression's protective mantle, have died for their profession without so much as having uttered a word to invoke it. Those who deserve it feel it in the fire in their hearts. No need to beat their breasts in public spectacle. Only freedom's fake heirs do so.

So Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella had Beltran arrested and charged? Good! Great! It is only fair. People inspired by nothing more than sarcasm cannot be allowed to go scot free with fakery by simply invoking freedom of expression while real credentialed journalists have to take great care in exercising responsibility in their craft lest they bring dishonor to themselves, their profession, and to freedom of expression itself. Good job, mayor!

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