Free Speech, A License To Bash?


Our bias to the american brand of free speech is setting social web in fire. A supposed intellectual discourse can be marred by personal insults. An example of this is the ruckus generated by a post of a well known and respected actress.



Because of Agot’s choice of words, her post got traction and started a debate. Those who opposed the President, commended her for her bravery. But of course, those in the opposite side disagreed and called her out. While there are plenty of opposing posts, I will cite a Manila Times article, where they quoted one of its columnists.



screengrab from ManilaTimes.Net








screengrab from Antonio Contreras Facebook account














Because of the bashing she received, Agot shared a quote about bullying in her wall.



And this is where the discussion becomes interesting- A school of thought emerged where democracy is about leaving a person alone, out of respect for her opinion, even though you disagree. And to challenge that can be misconstrued as bullying.



But there is another school of thought, and that is democracy is about allowing your critics to oppose you, bashing included. My friend said it well in his status update-

parang basketball lang yan, kung ikaw tumitira sa kalaban, eh dapat HANDA ka ring tumangap”

(it’s like a basketball game, if you’re hitting your guard, be ready to receive as well)



There seem to be a gray area, at least in my observation as to the extent or limit of our free speech. I thought, can we include “bashing” in the realm of free speech?


Bashing is defined as:

1.     the act of beating, whipping, or thrashing: a series of unsolved bashings and robberies.
2.    a decisive defeat: We gave the visiting team a good bashing.
3.a  unprovoked physical assaults against members of a specified group: gay-bashing.
3.b  verbal abuse, as of a group or a nation: feminist-bashing; China-bashing.



1.   to strike violently :  hit; also  :  to injure or damage by striking :  smash —often used with in
2.  to attack physically or verbally <media bashing> <celebrity bashing>


I’m a believer of free speech, but I’m also an advocate of responsible and proactive use of social media. In my ideal world, personality and character based attacks to destroy a message is red flag.


I believe in a mature democracy, we can agree to disagree, and even hate all we want. But we can maintain civility and respect in public discourses.


We can observe both the right to free speech, of ours and others (art. 19 of the universal declaration of human rights)  and the right to privacy (art. 12 of the universal declaration of human rights)- nobody should try to harm our good name, to come into our home, open our letters or bother us or our family without a good reason, at the same time


Besides, we are expected to protect the rights and freedom of our fellow men (art. 29 of the universal declaration of human rights).


Is my ideal world a wishful thinking? In a separate conversation with an online activist, he said

the solution to the abuse of free speech is not less speech, but more speech. until the truth comes out… the community should be the one to set the standards on what behaviour is acceptable or not, not the government.


Being careful w/ our choice of words, I think, is not less speech. During speaking engagements whether my audience are professionals or students, I often share this principle I learned from a mentor. He said

“make your words sweet, because one day, you will eat them”David Sumrall


The words we use  determine the words we’ll also receive. The law of cause and effect in action.


In closing, let me go back to the title of this blog post-  freedom of speech, is it a license to bash? Let me qualify my answer, as a non-lawyer.


Maybe, if you just retaliated from an unprovoked attack. AND, if you opted to give the attacker a dose of his/her own medicine (as opposed to getting relief from the law).


No, if you initiated the attack unprovoked. If social norms accept such behavior, you will be lucky to escape the filing of an online libel (if it qualifies) case. But do expect a barrage of counter attacks as a result of your action.


But would it be better, if we’ll articulate our message w/o resorting to personal attacks? What do you think?


This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)