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(Privilege Speech delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman on August 15, 2022)

In the hierarchy of civil liberties, the freedom of expression, which includes free speech and free press, is accorded premium protection.

Consequently, as held by the Supreme Court in Chavez vs. Gonzalez, “any attempt to restrict it must be met with an examination so critical that only a danger that is clear and present would be allowed to curtail it.”

Chavez vs. Gonzalez involved the directives of then- Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez and the National Telecommunications Commission to all media outlets not to publish, under the pain of violating the Anti-Wiretapping Act, the tape of the conversation of certain personalities on the alleged manipulation of the 2004 election results.

The Supreme Court nullified the official directives of the respondents warning the media on airing the alleged wiretapped conversation for “constituting unconstitutional prior restraint on the exercise of freedom of speech and of the press” or the freedom of expression.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the ponente of Chavez vs. Gonzalez stressed that “… The right belongs as well – if not more – to those who question, who do not conform, who differ … To be truly meaningful, freedom of speech and of the press should allow and even encourage the articulation of the unorthodox view, though it be hostile to or derided by others; or though such view ‘induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.’ 

According to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese writer, literary critic, human rights activist, and Nobel Peace Prize awardee, “Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth.”

Thus, the Bill of Rights under Article III of the Constitution unequivocally provides: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press”.

It is in the foregoing context that Memorandum No. 2022-0663 dated August 9, 2022 of the Komsiyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) banning from libraries and schools five (5) books in Filipino for being “subversive” and “anti-government”, is a patently unconstitutional edict, an obtrusive weapon of thought control, an unmitigated censorship and a wanton assault on academic freedom.

The subject Memorandum is condemnable and unwarranted for the following reasons:

  1. It defiles the constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression, and academic freedom which shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning [Sec. 5(2) of Article XIV].
  1. The KWF has no power and is not authorized under R.A. No. 7104, its enabling statute, to ban and censor writings in Filipino. Its principal mandate is “to ensure and promote the evolution and development and further enrichment of Filipino as the national language of the Philippines, on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.” It has the power to enhance and develop Filipino as the national language, but not to destroy and proscribe writings in Filipino.
  1. The controversial Memorandum was signed only by the two fulltime Commissioners namely, Commissioners Carmelita Abdurahman and Benjamin Mendillo, out of 11 Commissioners including Chairman Arthur Casanova. 

In other words, the Memorandum does not have the conformity of the requisite majority of the Commissioners. It does not even have the imprimatur of the Chairman.

  1. No less than the Commission itself has published three of the five books, namely: “Teatro Pulitikal Dos” by Malou Jacob; “Kalatas: Mga Kuwentong Bayan at Kuwentong Buhay” by Rommel Rodriguez; and “May Hadlang ang Umaga” by Don Pagusara.
  1. The Commission is not an adjunct of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which is the dominant red-tagging agency of the government.
  1. Neither is it an extension of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), which is tasked to enforce the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 or R.A. No. 11479.
  1. The action of the KWF of banning the subject books for purportedly violating Section 9 of R.A. No. 11479 on “inciting to commit terrorism” is an unwarranted sanction by an unauthorized agency without trial and due process.

The following are the suggested remedies against the improvident Memorandum:

  1. The majority of the Commission can motu propio withdraw the Memorandum;
  1. The Office of the President, to which the KFW is under by provision of law, can order the nullification and withdrawal of the Memorandum; and
  1. Judicial recourse can be availed of by an interested party by filing a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court with a prayer for a temporary restraining order. 

Without prejudice to the foregoing remedies, as I speak this afternoon, a Resolution is being filed for a joint investigation in aid of legislation by the Committees on Human Rights, Basic Education and Culture, and Higher and Technical Education, on the issuance of this unlawful Memorandum.

This censurable memorandum has horrific precedents:

  1. The first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who united China after blood inundated the vast Chinese terrain, ordered in 213 B.C.E. the burning of books to “avoid scholars’ comparison of his reign with the past.” He also had some 160 scholars buried alive for possessing the forbidden books. 

The grave of the infamous Emperor is guarded by the famed terra cotta warriors whose more than life-size statues depict the faces of the despot’s generals.

  1. The Roman Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum published in 1559 banned the proscribed books “to prevent the contamination of the faith or the corruption of morals through the reading of theologically erroneous or immoral books.” The index was used up to 1966 or for over four centuries.

The index also banned “works ranging from love stories to philosophical treatises to political theory”.

The censored authors included, among others, David Hume, Emile Zola, Jean Paul Sartre, John Milton, Emmanuel Kant, Voltaire, Francis Bacon, Daniel Defoe, and Nikos Katzantsakis – all stars in the literary constellation.

  1. The Nazi regime burned books considered as “un-German” starting on May 10, 1933 where over 25,000 volumes were put ablaze in one day. Books of Jewish authors like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud were burned together with American authors Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller, among others. 

A hundred years before the ascendancy of Hitler, the German-Jewish poet Heinrich Hein predicted: “Whenever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.” And it did happen.

  1. During martial law, security guards would frisk persons and inspected bags of citizens for subversive materials as if they were trained to discern what is subversive or not. The capture then and up to now, of alleged dissidents invariably include the reported seizure of “subversive materials”.

While during martial law, books were not burned, publishers like Chino Roces were incarcerated, and newspapers, radio stations, and TV outlets were padlocked.

Before I end, Mr. Speaker and Distinguished colleagues, let me share with you relevant quotations to ponder on: 

  1. English novelist, journalist and critic George Orwell said: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”;

  2. American literary critic, professor, and historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. declared: “Censorship is to art, as lynching is to justice.”; 

  3. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy asserted: “We must defend freedom of expression, and if I had to choose, I would prefer the excess of caricature over the excess of censure”; and

  4. Salman Rushdie, the multi-awarded novelist and author of “The Satanic Verses” who was savagely and repeatedly stabbed in New York last Saturday, August 13, 2022, and is currently recovering, emphasized: “Two things form the bedrock of any society – freedom of expression and rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a free country.”

Thank you, Mr. Speaker and distinguished colleagues.