THE Quezon City Council, in its desire to protect its city, official city seal and city mayor from scorn, unwittingly did something that is even more in need of protection from being called out as simply being misplaced and ill-advised. The council passed a resolution declaring comedian Ai-Ai de las Alas and satirical director-writer Darryl Yap persona non grata in Quezon City.

This was triggered by that satirical campaign material which Yap produced and where de las Alas performed the fictional character of Mayor Ligaya Delmonte endorsing the candidacy of Rep. Michael Defensor for mayor of the city.

Actually, and to be more specific, the resolution was to show displeasure not with the content of the satire, but with the alleged defacement of the official seal of the city. Prominently shown in the background behind de las Alas' Mayor Delmonte character was what looked like a triangular seal similar to that of the official symbol of Quezon City, except that there was a "BBM" and "Sara" appearing in the upper left and upper right edges, respectively. Also shown inside the triangle were images of a tiger and an eagle, the emblems which were used to represent President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President-elect Sara Duterte. While it can be defended as being a totally different image, it did not stop the Quezon City Council from assuming that such was an act of defacing an official symbol of their city.

I am not about to exempt satire from political retribution, noting what happened in 2015 in France to Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical magazine when armed members of a terrorist group entered its office and murdered 12 of its employees and injured another 11. The horrific assault was in retaliation for the magazine's use of satirical cartoons to represent the prophet Muhammad which greatly offended the group. However, it would be extreme to liken this act by the Quezon City Council to what happened to Charlie Hebdo, considering that declaring de las Alas and Yap persona non grata is more symbolic and would not amount to them being physically harmed, or prevented from setting foot in the city.

One can even say that declaring de las Alas and Yap persona non grata was actually a joke if the intention was to punish them. The idea of declaring someone persona non grata originated in international diplomacy, where diplomats who are otherwise granted immunity are declared undesirable by their host countries and barred entry. In reality, there is sense in declaring foreign nationals, and not just diplomats, persona non grata because the Philippine government reserves the right to cancel visas it issues to foreigners, or to deny the issuance of such visas to them. There is no sense, except to simply express a collective sense of disapproval, when local government units declare some personality as persona non grata for the simple reason that visas are not required to enter their territories, and that they are not sovereign entities.

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It is not even certain if local government units can use a resolution declaring someone persona non grata as a basis to deny anyone access to privileges, considering that resolutions do not carry penal provisions in contrast to ordinances, and are therefore not binding. Some people raised the idea that perhaps the resolution can be used to ban de las Alas or Yap from performing inside Quezon City, or engage in any economic activity within its boundaries. I can easily anticipate that any such attempt can be legally challenged for being patently discriminatory because it is not based on any law, more so if de las Alas, who is a Quezon City resident, and Yap possess the necessary requirements to enjoy such privileges.

But what is really the main issue here, which unfortunately renders this entire episode laughable, if not for the fact that it has been entered in the records as an official act of a city council, is that it is a reaction to a satirical representation. It can very well be argued that the image shown is a mere likeness of, or what is shaped like, the Quezon City official seal, but is not the seal itself. After all, that is what makes satire. One just needs to look at the satirical editions of campus newspapers where student journalists take the liberty of actually defacing official symbols and even official titles of their schools. And these are all forms of protected speech.

What is even more odd is that de las Alas is being declared persona non grata for playing a fictional satirical character. She is living out her profession as a comedian performing roles to entertain. Quezon City is home to many comedy bars along Timog Avenue, where similar satirical performances are staged, and where comedians turn their public commentaries even of political figures into parody. And in case the Quezon City Council forgot, their city has probably earned some tax revenues from these comedy bars and other venues for similar forms of entertainment.

Freedom to speak cannot be lightly assaulted by onion-skinned public servants, and can only be curtailed if the exercise of free speech rights already compromises the exercise of other rights. Fortunately, declaring de las Alas and Yap persona non grata does not carry enough weight to deny them other rights, and in fact has even further amplified their media presence. The offending video, which is supposed to be put to bed because its usefulness as campaign material has already ceased, has enjoyed renewed circulation.

And in the end, it is the members of the Quezon City Council who end up having eggs on their collective faces for committing the act of taking a satirical expression seriously. Their desire was to express a collective sense of disapproval, and perhaps to publicly shame de las Alas and Yap for turning their city into a target of an offensive joke, only to realize that they became the joke.