EDSA is 28 years old and where have we been? Not much.
Yes, our political institutions were restored during Aquino I. Monopolies have been dismantled and privatization and liberalization pursued during Ramos and have reconsolidated since then. Our economy has been better despite man-made, Asian Crisis and natural calamities. We have put to jail a sitting president for plunder and have pardoned him. We are now pursuing another president for plunder and electoral sabotage. The political pinball on PDAF is so dizzying that if you lose focus, you’ll never know what hit one from the other. Then also, we have removed a sitting Chief Justice for the most innocuous reason, non-declaration of his dollar account. And go full circles we must? We elected the son of the icon as president. We should be in cloud nine, right? But tell me, are we?
28 years ago, are we better off?
The old oligarchs are back at the helm of economic power. “In 2011 the 40 richest families on the Forbes wealth list accounted for 76 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth.” Some of the elite families have dominated this country since the Spanish colonial era that ended in the late 1800s.
According to former NEDA head Cielito Habito, “this was the highest in Asia, compared with Thailand where the top 40 accounted for 33.7 percent of wealth growth, 5.6 percent for Malaysia, and just 2.8 percent for Japan. Based on Forbes 2012 annual rich list, the two wealthiest people in the Philippines, ethnic Chinese magnates Henry Sy and Lucio Tan, were worth a combined $13.6 billion. This equated to six percent of the entire Philippine economy. In contrast, about 25 million people, or one quarter of the population, lived on $1 a day or less in 2009, which was little changed from a decade earlier, according to the government’s most recent data.
We had a more or less honorable Congress, our elected representatives and senators, but look at it now. Both institutions are in limbo, not knowing how to extricate themselves from the very mess they themselves created and seem to be willing partners in their own degradation.
And the Executive, ahh the Executive Branch of the olden days is gone and in it is a bunch of individuals who are unable to run government like a corporation but more like a student council in the assessment of a former Executive Secretary. The Executive is back to the olden days of money politics and lack of transparency and accountability. It is also back to the days when the levers of government are used to pursue its end goal. The ironies of it all, we have the son of the icon who supports online libel and appoints a police general to the martial law compensation board. The son of the icon is also against the passage of an election promise he made, the Freedom of Information law.
And we have a Supreme Court that appears to have been the last defender of the people in issues such as PDAF, the Meralco price hikes and the possible collusion of energy players but after being the darling of the public, made a somersault on such basic right as our freedom of expression courtesy of the Cybercrime Law. But three justices stood out in their concurring and dissenting opinions: Chief Justice Meilou Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Tony Carpio and Justice Marvin Leonen, the only justice who explained and offered examples of social media in his decision.
According to Sereno, “but when this seemingly neutral technology is made a qualifying aggravating circumstance to a point that a guaranteed imprisonment would ensue, it is clear that the in terrrorem effect of libel is further magnified, reaching the level of an invidious chilling effect. The public may be forced to forego their prized constitutional right to free speech and expression in the face of as much as eight years of imprisonment, like the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.”
Carpio pointed out, “libel law now is used not so much to prosecute but to deter speech. What is charged as criminal libel may contain precious protected speech. There is very little to support the view of the majority that the law will not continue to have this effect on speech.” He further stated, “The Constitution protects expression. It affirms dissent. The Constitution valorizes messages and memes at the margins of our society. The Constitution also insists that we will cease to become a democratic society when we diminish our tolerance for the raw and dramatically delivered idea, the uncouth defamatory remark, and the occasional lascivious representations of ourselves. What may seem odd to the majority may perhaps be the very kernel that unlocks our collective creativity.”
Leonen’s erudition on social media is most welcome. He appears to be the only one among the 15 justices who truly understands social media. “The ponencia claims that ‘libel is not a constitutionally protected speech,’ and ‘that government has an obligation to protect private individuals from defamation.’ I strongly dissent from the first statement. Libel is a label that is often used to stifle protected speech. I agree with the second statement but only to the extent that defamation can be protected with civil rather than criminal liabilities.” Leonen further stated, “given the statutory text, the history of the concept of criminal libel, and our court’s experience with libel, I am of the view that its continued criminalization especially in platforms using the internet unqualifiedly produces a chilling effect that stifles our fundamental guarantees of free expression. Criminalizing libel contradicts our notions of a genuinely democratic society.” Leonen then made a visual example of a meme. “The problem becomes compounded with messages that are reposted with or without comment. The following tweets are examples, which will provide the heuristic to understand the problem:
“Form A: ‘@marvicleonen: RT @somebody: Juan is a liar, a thief and an idiot’ ?#thetruth
“Form B: ‘@marvicleonen: This! RT @somebody: Juan is a liar, a thief and an idiot” #thetruth”
“Both are posts from a user with the handle @marvicleonen. RT means that the following message was only reposted (retweeted). And the hashtag #thetruth is simply a way of categorizing one’s messages. The hashtag itself may also contain speech elements.”
EDSA@28? When we have DAP, we are back to base 1 on a strong Executive setting aside the Constitution for convenience of governance and getting what he wants at the risk of transgressing the law. We are back to square 1 when we have a Congress that allows itself to be subjugated by the Executive. We are back to square 1 when we do not have an opposition and political parties just morph into partners of coalitions because there is a “popular” symbol. We may be back to square 1 if the Supreme Court so decides to save the hide of the symbol and rule DAP is constitutional. If and when it happens, EDSA@28 would just be a distant past, of what can be, of what united us and divided us after.
EDSA@28? Where have you been? And where are you going?