With all due respect

by Jego Ragragio as originally posted at Blog Watch, Philippine Online Chronicles.

I had been struggling on a piece for the past week or so, unable to really close the thought of the article out, when suddenly, Atty. Oscar Tan graciously gives me a shout-out in his recent commentary over the Mijares incident. Which, of course, gives me a much-needed respite from my current draft, and an opportunity to elaborate on my last article.


Saved by contrary opinion. Ironic, but nevertheless appreciated.

I must stress from the outset that to this day, the information filed against Mijares hasn’t been made public, either by the Naga PNP or by Mijares himself. So as far as stating that “Mijares was punished for X” goes, we are all still on the level of speculation.

Not that that has ever stopped anyone before. Myself included.

In the interest of clarification, I’ll just put it out here that I agree with Atty. Tan when he says that the charges against Mijares are “overkill.” Going merely by what I have read and cross-referenced in the news, I believe Mijares should have instead been charged for “alarms and scandals” under Art. 155 of our Revised Penal Code, slapped with a P200 fine, and sent on his way. My caveat here is that again, this is merely speculation, and does not take into account the second charge of direct assault against one of the arresting officers.

With all due respect to Atty. Tan, I must make several observations on, and reactions to, his piece. The first of them being that Atty. Tan makes a contradictory statement when he first asserts that the President summons “all his omnipotence to smite a 19-year-old student armed with a piece of cloth,” and then a few paragraphs later points out that Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte clarified that it was the local police who charged Mijares. If indeed there was a conscious decision to summon Presidential omnipotence against Mijares, then shouldn’t it have been the Presidential Security Group, and not local police, to file the charges against Mijares? Going further, wouldn’t the simpler explanation as to why Mijares was charged by the Naga police, as compared to the militants who interrupted PNoy’s First 100 Days speech, or even to the recent heckling in Iloilo City, is that Naga police were embarrassed that Mijares and his group were able to bypass otherwise tight security in an event attended by top PNP brass?

I’ll leave that up to the Internet to debate. As for myself, I would apply Occam’s Razor here.

Next, Atty. Tan cites my prior article and then transposes it with the issues surrounding the charging and conviction of Carlos Celdran for “offending religious feelings” by holding up a “Damaso” sign during an ecumenical ceremony. First and foremost, I agree with Atty. Tan that the provision of law used to indict Celdran is archaic and anachronistic, and ought to be struck down as unconstitutional. However, our reasoning diverges somewhat. I am of the view that Art. 133 is unconstitutional because the definition of what “offends” religious feelings is left entirely to the offended party or parties. A penal law must provide a clear set of acts that may be punishable, and not leave the determination of what is punishable solely to the discretion of the accuser.

Worse, the Court’s decision itself identifies Celdran’s “Damaso” sign – a political statement, and ergo a form of protected speech – as precisely the “offensive” aspect of Celdran’s act, relying on nothing more than testimonial evidence of certain members of the Church having hurt feelings. This is the key distinction between Mijares and Celdran. With Celdran, it is clear that it is his speech, particularly the content of his speech, that is the reason behind the charges. THAT is a restriction on free speech. THAT should be criticized and fought against. But in Mijares’ case, I do not think it is as clear-cut. Again, we can only speculate as to the exact grounds for the charges, but let’s not forget that we can, and should, separate the act of disruption from the speech made during said disruption. Otherwise, we come to a logical absurdity of creating a blanket protection for all forms of prohibited conduct as long as it is done while exercising the right to free speech.

It is also worth noting that both offenses charged against Mijares and Celdran, respectively, punish acts, and not speech. It is by coincidence that Celdran’s case involves free speech because his speech was determined to be the “offensive act.” In Mijares’ case, however, even if we take away the speech aspects of the incident, a case may still be made that Mijares and his group nevertheless disrupted a public event, and that that act of disruption may be punishable on its own.

Atty. Tan goes on to claim that had Mijares shouted “I love Kris Aquino!” then he would not have been arrested. I am inclined to agree, given the context and the questions I raised above about the reasons behind the deviant treatment towards Mijares compared to other hecklers. But I must point out that the whole point of the act of heckling is to disturb and disrupt, regardless of what is said.

As to whether or not people should be arrested for shouting “I love Kris Aquino!” I leave that up to you, dear reader.

At the end of the day, how do we want people to conduct themselves? I could have very well taken up the cause for heckling and used this article to heckle Atty. Tan. But I chose not to do so, because I respect him, both as a contemporary from our college days, and now as a law student addressing a practicing lawyer and an esteemed member of both the practice and the academe. I choose, in this case, to stick to the facts and issues, because it is the proper thing, the courteous thing to do. I reject the idea that heckling per se is protected speech and so ought not to be punished, because I believe, speech aspects aside, that is not the kind of behavior I want our society to promote, much less encourage, through inaction and tolerance.

Because I believe it is valuable to treat each other with all due respect.