Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sedition in the time of Glory

In the Philippines, where people's rights are "perceived" to be protected by the constitution, there still exists certain archaic provisions of the law which hinders its effective exercise. The crime of sedition is one such offense. It is inconsistent with generally accepted principles of the right to freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is protected under Article III, section 3 of our 1987 Constitution which provides as follows, “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 to petition the government for redress of grievances.”

On the other hand, sedition is a crime “committed by persons who rise publicly and tumultuously in order to attain by force, intimidation, or by other means outside of legal methods, any of the following objects: (1) To prevent the promulgation or execution of any law or the holding of any popular election; (2) To prevent the National Government, or any provincial or municipal government or any public officer thereof from freely exercising its or his functions, or prevent the execution of any administrative order; (3) To inflict any act of hate or revenge upon the person or property of any public officer or employee; (4) To commit, for any political or social end, any act of hate or revenge against private persons or any social class; and (5) To despoil, for any political or social end, any person, municipality or province, or the National Government, of all its property or any part thereof.” (Article 139, Revised Penal Code).

The crime of sedition is an offense of the mind. It occurs in the mind of a repressive Government and as is usually the case, it is being used as a weapon to deny, rather than to protect the people’s rights, particularly on freedom of expression. It is also being employed to justify the use of massive state resources against an individual or group who are at odds with the government’s position.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a position paper said:

The right to express one's thoughts and to communicate freely with others affirms the dignity and worth of each and every member of society, and allows each individual to of realize his or her full human potential. Thus, freedom of expression is an end in itself -- and as such, deserves society's greatest protection.

It's vital to the attainment and advancement of knowledge, and the search for the truth. The eminent 19th-century writer and civil libertarian, John Stuart Mill, contended that enlightened judgment is possible only if one considers all facts and ideas, from whatever source, and tests one's own conclusions against opposing views. Therefore, all points of view -- even those that are "bad" or socially harmful -- should be represented in society's "marketplace of ideas."

If the people are to be the masters of their fate and of their elected government, they must be well- informed and have access to all information, ideas and points of view. Mass ignorance is a breeding ground for oppression and tyranny.

The crime of sedition is no longer existing and has fallen into dissuse in many countries, such as Canada, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the United States.

Based on a memorandum on the Malaysian Seditoon Act, prepared by Article 19 for their Global Campaign on the Freedom of Expression dated July 2003:

" International bodies and courts have made it very clear that freedom of expression and information is one of the most important human rights. In its very first session in 1946 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 59(I), which states:

Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and ... the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.

As this resolution notes, freedom of expression is both fundamentally important in its own right and also key to the fulfilment of all other rights. It is only in societies where the free flow of information and ideas is permitted that democracy can flourish. In addition, freedom of expression is essential if violations of human rights are to be exposed and challenged.

The importance of freedom of expression in a democracy has been stressed by a number of international courts. For example, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has held:

Freedom of expression is a basic human right, vital to an individual’s personal development, his political consciousness, and participation in the conduct of public affairs in his country.

Similarly, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated:

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion. ... [I]t can be said that a society that is not well informed is not a society that is truly free.

This has repeatedly been affirmed by both the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights.

The fact that the right to freedom of expression exists to protect controversial expression as well as conventional statements is well established. For example, in a recent case the European Court of Human Rights stated:

According to the Court’s well-established case-law, freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfilment. Subject to paragraph 2 of Article 10, it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no “democratic society”.

These statements emphasise that freedom of expression is both a fundamental human right and also key to democracy, which can flourish only in societies where information and ideas flow freely. "

In the Philippines, the crime of sedition has been used against eminent nationalist leaders such as Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Aurelio Tolentino, Macario Sakay, Isabelo Delos Reyes, Amado Hernandez, and Benigno Aquino, Jr.

The time has come has to repeal this archaic provision of the law.

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