Are the freedom of speech and democracy threatened under President Duterte?

The SWS survey shows that freedom of speech and other democratic rights of Filipinos remain strong under President Duterte. Therefore, accusations that freedom of speech and democracy are being threatened under President Duterte are a lie.

Freedom of Speech and Expression. It is one of the universally accepted fundamental rights of individuals. It is also one of the most used and most abused rights.

Both supporters and critics of President Duterte invoked their right for freedom of speech in airing their views and opinions on various platforms.

However, members of the opposition and critics, especially those from mainstream media, accuse the President of acting like a dictator by impinging their freedom and threatening democracy, saying that he is acting like a dictator and wants to limit people's right to air and express their opinions.

More recently, the likes of Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, one of the most vocal critics of the President Duterte who is identified with the "Yellow camp," called for a "Twitter rally" to condemn the so-called "silencing of social media" and "tapping of 'draconian laws' such as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 to cyberlibel cases against critics" by the Duterte administration.

Despite their accusations, they remain relentless in their attacks against the President, even up to a point that they come up with statements or reports that are bordering the ridiculous and the slanderous but call him a "dictator who harass his critics, especially those who voice their opposition over the Internet" and keep on saying that he is "a threat to the freedom of speech and other democratic freedoms." Some of them can even openly hold rallies in places such as Mendiola and the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

This raises the question: Are the freedom of speech and democracy threatened under President Duterte?

Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights both guarantee a person's freedom of speech, emphasizing that opinions can be held without interference and that no law shall be passed to abridge it:

"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."
- Art. 3, Sec. 4, 1987 Constitution

However, both of them allow the government to formulate and implement policies on how to regulate such freedom:

"3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals."
- Section 3, Article 19, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

In the Philippines, the freedom of speech is being regulated by some laws.

Title 13 of the Revised Penal Code was dedicated entirely to Crimes Against Honor, more specifically libel.

The Revised Penal Code defines libel as:

"A public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead."

The crime of libel can be committed through printed media such as newspapers and magazines; broadcast media such as television stations and radio stations; modern communications facilities such as the Internet and mobile phones; and literary outlets such as books, stage plays, illustrations and sculptures.

Another law that regulates freedom of speech is Republic Act No. 8491, better known as the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines, which prohibits Filipinos to play around with the Philippine flag, the Philippine National Anthem and other well-regarded symbols of the country, for doing so will result to penalties that were prescribed by the law.

The Commission of Human Rights, one of President Duterte's staunchest critics, in 2016 recognized the limitations of the freedom of speech when it criticized the then President-elect after his remarks during one of his campaign sorties.

“Under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a state-party, the freedom of expression carries restrictions, such as respect for the rights or reputations of others, national security, public order, public health and public morals."
- Commission on Human Rights, May 27, 2016

Even the President's critics do recognize the fact that there is a need to regulate freedom of speech. However, do Filipinos feel that their freedom of speech under President Duterte is being threatened by what the opposition calls a "dictator?" 

Not so, according to the results of a survey done by the Social Welfare Stations (SWS) that was conducted from September 15 to 23, 2018. According to the survey, 84 percent of adult Filipinos were satisfied with the way democracy works in the country. It also found that 59 percent of adults said that "democracy is always preferable to any other kind of government," compared to 20% saying "under some circumstances, an authoritarian government can be preferable to a democratic one" and 19% saying "for people like me, it does not matter whether we have a democratic or a non-democratic regime."

The result of this survey by the SWS only shows that freedom of speech and other democratic rights of Filipinos remain strong under President Duterte and are freely exercised by the people, including his own critics.

Therefore, accusations that freedom of speech and democracy are being threatened under President Duterte are a lie and are hereby busted.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TheLOBBYiST.
About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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