Roque says Duterte won’t have Bill of Rights amended

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /21 January) — President Rodrigo Duterte will not have the Bill of Rights amended, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Saturday.

Roque said the proposal from the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat (PHRCS) to the House of Representatives to amend the Bill of Rights, particularly Article III, Section 4 on the guarantee on freedom of speech, expression and press, is “not the position of the President.”

“The Bill of Rights has remained unchanged from the 1935 Constitution, to the ’73 Constitution, to ’87 Constitution as far as free speech is concerned, the President sees no need to amend it. I repeat, that’s not the position of the President,” Roque told a press briefing in Kalibo, Aklan.

He said the PHRCS “is not or does not have the rank of a cabinet member. This means that when they spoke, they did not speak as alter-ego of the President. So that is a recommendation of the Secretariat. It is not in any way the position of the President.”

“Unless it comes from a member of the Cabinet who is an alter-ego of the President, their recommendations cannot bind the President,” said Roque, who is concurrent Presidential Adviser on Human Rights.

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.”

But House Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro told ANC’s Early Edition on Thursday the proposal did not come from his sub-commitee but “from an extrinsic source,” the PHRCS.

Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said 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.

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) 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.”

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. (Carolyn O. Arguillas /MindaNews)