Castro says proposal to amend Consti guarantee of free press, speech came from Palace; Pimentel says no need to amend

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /18 January) — The proposal to amend the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of freedom of speech, expression, press and right to peaceably assemble did not come from his committee but from Malacanang, House Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro told ANC’s Early Edition on Thursday.

“It came from an extrinsic source,” Castro said, adding it came from the Presidential Committee on Human Rights Secretariat.  The office is actually named Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, concurrent Presidential Adviser on Human Rights, said the proposal did not come from his office.

“I cannot confirm that, because… certainly it did not come from my office. But that is a proposal and that was acted upon by the House of Representatives acting as constituent assembly. So, that’s a proposal from the House,” Roque told a press briefing in Albay.

ANC later quoted Roque as saying the PHRCS “can’t bind the President.”

Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. told MindaNews it does not matter where the proposal came from. “Wherever it came from, I don’t think there is a need to amend the present Constitutional guarantee of the freedom of speech and of the press.”

He said the proposed addition of the qualifier, ‘responsible’ to the existing right “provides government authorities wider leeway to challenge the exercise of that basic Liberty by our people.”

“Existing laws on libel and oral defamation already provide deterrents to the abuse of such a right. Hence, no further need to expand the horizons of the curtailment of that basic liberty of our people, which may be open to abuse by unscrupulous individuals,” Pimentel added.

Article III, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution, states: “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.”

The proposal, presented at the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Tuesday, is to amend the provision to read: “No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

Media and other groups are opposing the move to abridge the freedoms the provision guarantees.

In a statement dated January 16, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) described the proposed amendment as “dangerous as it is, to put it as plainly as possible, stupid.”

Vergel Santos, chair of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility told ANC’s Early Edition on Wednesday that inserting the word “responsible” in that provision is an abridgment of free speech.

“That word constitutes an abridgment of that freedom. By simply inserting that word, it constitutes an abridgment of a supposedly unabridgeable freedom,” he said

The NUJP said the proposal would “in effect, enshrine prior restraint as part of the basic law of the land and spell the end of the INALIENABLE rights and freedoms this particular provision seeks to protect.”

“If those supposed to protect and promote our most basic liberties can deign to snatch these away through such devious means, it is not farfetched to suspect that they intend to turn the Constitution into an abomination to enslave, not free, much less protect us,” the NUJP said, as it called on all independent Filipino journalists and media groups, and on all our fellow citizens who cherish freedom to come together and discuss how we can prevent this brazen attempt to hijack democracy.

“Let us resolve to take common action lest we again lose everything,” it added.

Pimentel, founder of the PDP-Laban — the political party that boasts of a “super majority” in the House of Representatives on Wednesday urged the public “never to allow any super majority to trample on our rights to speak out” as he reiterated his opposition to a no-election scenario in 2019.

“We must never allow any super majority to trample on our rights to speak out,” the 84-year old Pimentel said at the hearing of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments.

“How can it (House) set aside something guaranteed by the Constitution?” Pimentel asked as he criticized the lower house’s plan to “adopt federal system pero no election muna?”

“The end does not justify the means. Hindi pupuwede na sabihin mo yun just to achieve a supposedly good purpose. Good intention will be submerged into a mesh of nonsense being advocated today,” Pimentel said, drawing cheers and applause  as he added, “while we are still free, speak out! Kelan ka magsalita? Kung hindi na pwede?” (When will you speak out? If it’s no longer possible?)

READ: Nene Pimentel: “We must never allow any super majority to trample on our rights to speak out” 

The proposal to amend the free speech provision was presented at the House Committee hearing on Tuesday, barely 24 hours after news broke out on the revocation of the Articles of Incorporation of online news site Rappler by the Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged violation of the constitutional and foreign equity restrictions in mass media.

Rappler executive director Maria Ressa in a press conference on Monday said the SEC ruling did not go through due process. She said the issue is not only a corporate issue but a press freedom issue as well.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has repeatedly criticized Rappler, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN, denied he had a hand in the closure of Rappler, maintaining that the SEC is composed mostly of appointees of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

Rappler has a staff of about a hundred, said Ressa, who vowed to bring their case all the way to the Supreme Court.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)