In Defense of Freedoms

By now, too, it should be public knowledge that because I have seen the trailer, I was able to form a judgment that the controversial film is nothing but garbage. But unless I viewed it, I would not know what is in it. Hence, I would not be able to opine, as I do now, that it is trash.

This is the foundation of freedom of expression. It is only in the market place of ideas that we can discern what the truth is. It is only here that we are able to form opinions which, taken collectively, becomes the ever powerful public opinion.

The ground invoked by the UP administration in seeking to cancel the showing of the trailer was the safety of the students. There were text messages circulating that a group of rallyist consisting of no less than a thousand people were on their way to the UP campus in Diliman to protest the showing. The text also said that the UP police force does not have the required manpower to maintain peace and order in case the demonstration should push through.

Of course anyone can resort to peaceful rallies to make their beliefs known. As held by our Court in Primicias vs. Fugoso, our streets have since time immemorial been held in trust for use of the people, among others, to make public their grievances. But should this be a basis to limit two important democratic freedoms, to wit, the freedom of expression and academic freedom? My decision to proceed with film showing was my personal conviction on the matter: Certainly not!

 I concede that freedom of expression is not absolute. It is limited primarily where there is a clear and present danger that the state has a right to prevent. The concern was that the same kind of hysteria that was shown against the film in Libya and Egypt may erupt in the Philippines were I to show the film in class. But as was borne by our experience after the film was shown, there was absolutely no untoward incident that happened.

 In the first place, the showing was in a classroom in a class on the Bill of Rights. What better way to teach the nuances of freedom of expression but allow the students to judge for themselves whether to accept the ideas expressed by a controversial film? Moreover, the fact that the UP administration sought to stop the showing of the film was a pedagogical tool on the true nature of rights: They are not given in a silver platter.

 I concede that a further exception to protected speech is hate speech. In Chaplin ski v. New Hampshire, the US Supreme Court ruled that there are “certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include x x x insulting or ‘fighting’ words, those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” The test according to the Court, is “what men of common intelligence would understand would be words likely to cause an average addressee to fight . . .”

 The problem with hate speech as a limitation to freedom of speech is that you need hate speech legislation to begin with. In the absence of such, them maxim “nullum crimen, nulla puena, sine legue” apply. There can be no crime where there is no law making conduct criminal. In the absence of Philippine legislation on hate speech, freedom of expression cannot be infringed on this basis.

Unless there be any misunderstanding, I do not endorse the message of film as in fact, I consider it to be garbage. It is however the right to see it so that I can make my own judgment that is protected by the Constitution.

 And to those who say I did it in support of election, let me be very clear: I am not standing for any elective position. Full stop.

I did it because like Justice Homes, I believe in freedom of expression: “When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market…”

7 comments on “In Defense of Freedoms

  1. Joey says:

    . . . I did not even bother to consider watching even the trailer as I believed it to be trashy as yo confirmed Harry . . . just like many really, really, really trashy movies . . .

  2. Manny Canto says:

    You said it right Atty. Roque I wish I had the opportunity and a privilege to be your student.

    • harryroque says:

      Thanks, Manny. The comments have not all been nice

      • burndg says:

        Walang problema na ipaglaban ang freedom of speech. Wag lang mapapahamak ang OFWs dito sa Middle East. Oo nga, hindi naman sa public pinalabas, pero inanunsyo sa buong mundo, sa mga online newspapers. Timbangin sana kung makakasama o hindi ang mga binibitawang salita sa publico.

  3. aaron a. legaspi says:

    Well it would seem that the current UP admin lacks the balls to even tolerate your fight for freedom of expression/speech. Tsismis na merong rally pa lang eh natakot na. Atty Harry for UP President. Well, anyway after the saber rattling of the muslims I stlll want to see the controversial film for my personal assessment kasi wala sa market ng pirated dahil puro muslim ang nagtitinda ng pirated items..

  4. In the Philippines, several groups of outraged Muslims demanded that YouTube take down the anti-Islam film and that the national government limit free speech in favor of their religion. Only if they knew the truth behind this controversial film.

    Who actually created the film? Was it created by a christian extremist with Jewish connections? Or: was it funded, produced and uploaded by Muslim terrorists?

  5. Sian says:

    Hi Prof,

    My name is Sian Gard I work for the Australian Broadcasting Corporations, Radio Australia. I am hoping to track you down for an interview on our Asia Pacific Afternoons program tomorrow (the 4th October) about the internet law changes in the Philippines . Can you please email me as soon as possible.

    Kind Regards,


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