A freeman's freedom to express dissent

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - November 8, 2020 - 12:00am

I am a freeman, imbued by God with a will to decide for myself. I have the freedom to think and to believe, to speak and to act, according to my best light. No one else, no matter how powerful, by race or by possessions, can control my thoughts and my actions. I will not surrender this freedom for it is the Creator's greatest gift to me.

In the midst of the many inhumanities of man against man, I will not be silent. When I see injustice or wrong, I shall speak up. For I truly believe that to remain silent is to give strength to the oppressor. The sages told me that there are only two weaknesses of man; to be silent when it is time to speak, and to speak when it is time to be silent. To me, the first is worse than the second. As Leonardo da Vinci said: "Nothing strengthens oppression so much as the silence of the oppressed.” Expression of dissent is man's best expression of freedom. To express opinions that may disagree with the powerful is to express the power of right over the power of might.

To paraphrase Desmond Tutu: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Thus, if I see the foot of the elephant trampling on the tail of the mouse, I will stand up to liberate the mouse, even if it will displease the elephant. A writer should never be afraid of powers, otherwise his writings will be nothing but the dictations of the mighty, at the expense of the voiceless, poor, and weak. If opinion writers are afraid of persecutions and of the bullying tactics of the wealthy, the strong, and the powerful, then they do not deserve to be in the fourth estate for they shall have betrayed the mission entrusted to them.

I do believe that it is not treason or libel to tell the truth on something which is palpably wrong. I remember the words of US president Theodore Roosevelt: "Patriotism means to stand by your country, not to stand by your president.” Presidents come and go but the country remains. It is patriotic to support him when he serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him when he is not on the right track. Thus, in our country, we need to support the president because he really serves the people. We also reserve the right to say our piece on matters that we do not consider right or fair. President Duterte tolerates dissent and does not brandish his authority to muzzle the freedom of expression.

But if there are other presidents of any other country, we are free to express our opinion, here in our own country, especially if there are Filipinos who are affected by his policies and his pronouncements. They have also freely lambasted our president, not once, not twice, but oftentimes, and even unfairly. But it is their freedom to say whatever they want to say. James Baldwin once wrote: "I love America more than any other country in the world. And, exactly for this reason, I insist on my right to criticize its leaders whenever I see something wrong." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. even went to the extent of saying: "One has a moral responsibility to oppose an unjust law, and an unjust leader.”

It matters not if dissent brings disruptions to one's life. Freedom is more valuable than comfort or serenity. If I value pleasure and peace more than I value freedom, then why am I a writer at all? If I choose serenity in favor of the truth and justice, then why, in the first place, did I live? If I surrender my pen for fear of the power of the sword, then what is the value of my dignity and honor? If the oppressor can detain my body, can he ever detain my spirit? No, not all, except if I surrender my soul. And that, I will not allow.

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