Over the weekend, Filipino Netizens have been abuzz over the plight of Ateneo de Naga student Pio Emmanuel “Em” Mijares who had ‘heroically’ heckled Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III as he delivered his ‘Independence’ Day Speech in Naga City last week. Mijares was arrested by the police on the spot and charged with offenses relating to Article 153 of Chapter 5 (Public Disorders) of the Revised Penal Code, which states…
A ‘tumultous’ disturbance is defined by the law as one “caused by more than three persons who are armed or provided with means of violence”. Whether Mijares and his group were armed and capable of violence is unclear. The only reliable account of what happened is an ABS-CBN News report dated the 12th June 2014…
Tumultuous disturbance or interruption liable to cause disturbance. — The penalty of arresto mayor in its medium period to prision correccional in its minimum period and a fine not exceeding 1,000 pesos shall be imposed upon any person who shall cause any serious disturbance in a public place, office, or establishment, or shall interrupt or disturb public performances, functions or gatherings, or peaceful meetings…
Members of [militant leftist group] Anakbayan shouted “walang pagbabago” while Aquino was delivering his speech at the Plaza Quince Martires.
They criticized Aquino for allegedly failing to implement real reforms in the country.
Aquino reportedly stopped his speech for a moment due to the incident.
Among those who heckled the President was Em Mijares, a 19-year-old 4th year psychology student from the Ateneo de Naga University.
Mijares, who also waved a red flag with the words “Edukasyon para sa Lahat,” was apprehended by the Presidential Security Group.
According to a Bicol Standard report cited in a GMA News article, “Mijares, a member of Youth ACT Now! and Kabataan party-list, was around 40 meters away from Aquino when he shouted.”
Was the arrest and detention of Mijares and the continued pressing of charges against him justified? This is the crux of the popular “debate”. The Law is pretty clear on the matter. So Mijares’s legal defense should be about proving that Mijares’s behaviour (1) cannot be regarded as “tumultuous” in nature and (2) did not cause a serious disturbance to the occasion in which President BS Aquino delivered his speech. But for such a much-discussed case, the facts remain sketchy and are all based on hearsay at the moment.
Activists and ‘civil society’ groups that have come to Mijares’s defense rally primarily around the “irony of ironies” angle — that President BS Aquino would come down hard on Mijares whilst pork barrel thieves run free. It’s a simple position that lends itself well to popular appeal, specially when reliable facts are sparse. There is also the “free speech” angle, specifically that Mijares was simply exercising his right to free expression.
Thus, the key aspects of the activists’ and civil society personalities’ call are (among others);
(1) that the government should instead focus on jailing the “real” big-time crooks; and,
(2) that Mijares’s charges be dropped because, well, the “irony” in his plight presents a self-evident case for such.
To be fair to President BS Aquino, there are a few things that leave much to be desired around these sorts of thinking. To the first item, it can be argued that going after Mijares does not necessarily present a hindrance to efforts to progress the bigger pork barrel cases. To the second item, one can argue that the “irony” of a charge does not present a legal hurdle to its being progressed.
In short, Mijares just needs a good lawyer. The burden of proof is on his accusers, and by the looks of it, President BS Aquino’s henchmen will struggle to prove “tumult” anyway.
A cornerstone of the prosecution’s case to bolster the “tumult” angle could revolve around the ‘fact’ (as articulated in the ABS-CBN News report) that President BS Aquino “stopped his speech for a moment due to the incident” and, thus, had his speech disrupted by Mijares’s actions. Filipinos, being avid basketball players, should be quite familiar with this “victim” tactic when feigning an on-court collision to draw a “charging” foul call from the referee. Slight digression there for our sports fans, but there it is.
“Activists”, for their part, just need to be careful and not, themselves, be blind to the ironies in their approach to this. During the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renator Corona in 2012 the prosecution’s case against Corona did not have legal legs to stand on. So the prosecution team mounted that all-too-familiar Pinoy-style approach to resolving things — politicisation of the case with an accompanying trial-by-media.
In Mijares’s case a similar strategy seems to be the preferred approach of ‘activists’ and ‘civil society’ groups. When an appeal to the “irony” angle was directed at the President, the case became politicised. An effort to rally popular sentiment around overly-simplified taglines and soundbytes, turned it into borderline demagoguery. And when the arguments drew upon sentiment rather than facts, the case became as muddled as the Pork Barrel Scam circus became when the issue was infested by a whole raft of Napoles Lists (again thanks to the failed activism surrounding it).
It is also worth noting Mijares’s leftist leanings. A Facebook profile bearing his name (and indicating his being part of the Ateneo de Naga network within the FB community) sports the following cover image (captured as of 1221H 16 Jun 2014 AEST):
Just another one of those small factoids to consider.
My highly-paid legal advisers suggested that there is an underlying apotheotic common denominator in the way Filipinos are so quick to latch on to personalities around which to rally a cause. Perhaps Mijares is seen to be the most recent of personalities that people hope would unify and galvanise a movement that has for many months now struggled to gain traction.
As always, abangan ang susunod na kabanata.[Photo of Em Mijares courtesy Bulatlat.]
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