Wednesday’s Senate Public Information Committee hearing on fake news was a revelation: Our senators do not have adequate understanding of what is freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
These rights are enshrined in Section 4, Article III (Bill of Rights) of our Constitution. Section 4 declares: “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 petition the government for redress of grievances.”
Of all the professions in the world, including the oldest ones (prostitution and spying), only one profession is protected by the Constitution to guarantee its practice—journalism. The basic law of the land is very clear—“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press.”
Now, blogging is part of the freedom expression and of the press. To pass a law abridging it, as the senators are inclined to do, violates the Constitution.
Fake news (basically lying) is a very old phenomenon. It was in the Revised Penal Code 80 years ago. The common name for fake news is propaganda. The best antidote to propaganda is truth. Truth is said to be a defense against libel. Sadly, however, truth does not always make you free. Jesus Christ said He is God. True. Nobody believed Him. So He was executed. As a fugitive, rebel and subversive.
President Duterte is right. You cannot pass a law against fake news. “That you must draft a law to set a standard? Ah patay, that’s censorship,” he claimed. “Hindi lulusot ‘yan [It won’t pass].”
Interestingly, lying is part of freedom speech and freedom of the press.
Lying is also part of the arsenal of government to protect itself. That is why it lies and lies often. Politicians lie habitually. They lie more often than journalists do. President Trump lies. President Duterte lies. All politicians lie.
Even economists lie. When an economist says the economy is strong, has strong fundamentals and is growing robustly, and yet you cannot find a job, you cannot buy food, you have to no access to basic education, basic health care, and basic government services —he is lying.
Any politician who says he/she is for the poor automatically lies. There is no such animal as a pro-poor politician.
So when bloggers lie, there is no shame when they do so. It is part of the internet of things, part of the fun of things. Lying is a form of humor. Humor is an escape valve in the face of a corrupt and incompetent government. Unless an enraged citizen has an outlet, the alternative is worse—he becomes violent.
Speaking of humor, why do critics score Duterte for employing Mocha Uson as a subcabinet official? He has all the right in the world to do so. At least, he does not behave like Roman Emperor Caligula who appointed a horse as his consul and wanted it to be a senator. A horse for senator? That would be the day. One thing going for a horse. You can train it. Senators? They are what you call inveterate.
Being a victim of lying is better than being the victim of another weapon of government—killing. That is why the government keeps the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Combined, the PNP and AFP have easily more than 400,000 armed men.
In the current priorities of the government, killing enjoys a higher scale. The PNP and the AFP, separately and jointly, have a higher budget than the Department of Agriculture.
The Department of Defense (which is the AFP) has a P145-billion budget; while the Department of Interior and Local Government (which is PNP) has P172.3 billion. The DA? It has a paltry P54.2 billion next year.
Now, Agriculture means food. Food is 55 percent of the consumer food basket for the poor. On rice alone, which is 15 percent of the consumer basket, the country is short by 1.5 million to two million tons annually. That is why we keep importing—and smuggling—rice.
I do not recall that a gun is part of the consumer price index (CPI). The only link you can make between food and guns is that of another verity—a hungry stomach knows no law. Which gives a man an excuse to use violence to feed himself. That is why you have robbery, thievery, revolutions, and drugs. The government’s answer to robbery, thievery, revolutions and drugs—guns.
So what to do then with bloggers? There must be a way to register them or to trace them. Bloggers have a source code or HTML address. They are hosted by their web host or ISP. Google and Facebook host bloggers. They are in a better position to regulate their bloggers.
Press freedom belongs to their owners. Google and Facebook own websites. They are run as businesses. When going after a business, governments can always stick to the old rule—follow the money.
Finally, there is no such thing as a right of reply. The right not to publish the other side is part of press freedom. Media has a right to refuse to air the other or opposing side. As I said, press freedom belongs to their owners. If you want your views read or heard, get, or buy your own media. Or run your own blog.