At the core of the brouhaha surrounding the recently-enacted Republic Act 10175, a.k.a. the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, is the Filipino’s love-hate relationship with “freedom of expression” of which “free speech” is a subset. On one hand, Filipinos love their “freedom of speech” and venerate the notion practically alongside their Santo NiÃ±os. On the other hand, Filipinos are renowned for being onion-skinned crybabies, consistently unable to handle obvious truths staring them in the face and, as such, quick to take violent offense over perceived slights against their fragile self-esteem…
There seems to be something wrong with a psyche that makes us so vulnerable to getting upset or offended so easily. Most Filipinos get offended so easily from a perceived indiscretion and are often unable to move on to something bigger or higher than such trivial pursuits. We tend to be consumed with words that should mean nothing to us if they were untrue. This demonstrates a real sign of having an unhealthy ego and insecurity. As someone aptly put it, Filipinos can be onion skinned cry-babies.
In this sense, perhaps there is a disconnect between the way Filipinos regard true freedom of expression in the way Western societies originally intended the concept to be applied. Freedom of speech seems to be a square peg being hammered into the round slot carved for it in Philippine society by so-called Filipino “thought leaders”. The outcome of this is the vacuous “debate” we are seeing surrounding the concept today exacerbated by the hasty and underhanded enactment of RA 10175 by officers of the law who Filipinos had voted to be their representatives.
Filipinos, in reality, are not intellectually equipped to handle the complex of privilege and responsibility that underlies “freedom of speech”. Facing one way, Filipinos discretely gossip, slander, and backstab one another with malicious gusto then, facing the other way, banter with one another while exhibiting a chillingly congenial demeanour marked by our renowned caninesque smiles. When one begs to differ to the popular tagline, one is branded walang pakisama (unwilling to to go with the flow) and considered to be full of “negativity”. Despite the abundance and accessibility of information and having one of the most global populations on the planet (owing to our OFW “heroes”), Filipinos continue to be insular in the perspective they take to facing their most pressing issues and challenges.
Freedom of (and, presumably, access to) information, many say, will bring Filipinos into the 21st Century. But does that necessarily follow? Consider that most basic class of information upon which much of modern human civilisation runs — time. Practically every Filipino has access to the time — whether it be via a timepiece strapped to their wrists or via clocks that are all but omnipresent: hanging on walls and displayed on mobile phones and car dashboards among others places convenient for quick checks. Yet Filipinos continue to epically fail at being on time. “Filipino time” (synonymous with having no concept of time) continues to be the bane of efforts to make Filipinos more collectively productive and behave like modern human beings. In short, Filipinos fail to make productive use of essential information on the time of the day available at the twist of a wrist.
It begs the obvious question:
Is the assumption that Filipinos will benefit from more information a valid one?
This is an important point to consider as it raises disturbing questions about entire historical and philosophical movements that Filipinos have come to hold dear — ideas around access to choice, the sense of entitlement we feel to democratic governance, and our veneration of various “freedoms” we would like to think we enjoy.
The 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr was where the heroic aura surrounding self-appointed champions of “free speech” in the Philippines first gained a foothold in the hearts and minds of the majority of otherwise politically-oblivious Filipinos. The tumultuous lead up from 1983 to the 1986 Edsa “revolution” saw a proliferation of what under the regime of then President Ferdinand Marcos were regarded as subversive and seditious material — information including opinion pieces, news reports, slogans, and symbols that delivered messages critical of the Marcos government. Back then, to the average 1980s Filipino mind, all the hush-hush reading and distribution of what were then material that could land you in jail if found in your posssession made us feel a sense of privilege to be “involved” in a greater “fight”. Then it all became normal — since 1986, every Pinoy and his askal could voice an “opinion” on anything.
It’s all been good. But did it all actually do good?
That is where it all becomes debatable — and where the whole point seems to have been lost in all the hysterics surrounding how RA 10175 supposedly heralds the advent of “cyber martial law” in the Philippines. It’s all become quaintly amusing at best.
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