SEDITIOUS LITERATURE

March 26, 2010

Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines is another law that concerns writers. The statute provides that one of the three ways or acts of committing Inciting to Sedition is by writing, publishing, or circulating scurrilous libels against the Philippine Government or any of the duly constituted authorities thereof, which to end to disturb the public peace (Part 3 of 3, see the entire proviso). It is important to note that in this form of Inciting to Sedition, the purpose of the offender need not be to accomplish any of the objects of Sedition under Article 139. What is required is that the scurrilous or vulgar libel tends to: 1. Disturb or obstruct any lawful officer in executing the functions of his office; or 2. Instigate others to cabal and meet together for unlawful purposes; or 3. Suggest or incite rebellious conspiracies or riots; or 4. Stir up the people against the lawful authorities or to disturb the peace of the community, the safety and order of the Government.

Premier Filipino playwright Aurelio Tolentino was found guilty of this crime when the Supreme Court held that his play “Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas,” exhibited at Teatro Libertad, tended to instigate others to cabal and meet together for unlawful purposes and to stir up the people against the lawful authorities and to disturb the peace of the community and the safety and order of the government (US v. Tolentino, 5 Phil. 682).

Tolentino was considered caught in flagrante delicto and was arrested right during the staging of the play on May 14, 1903. Virgilio S. Almario writes of the play: “Bukod sa isang pailalim na paglalarawan ito ng malungkot na karanasan ng Pilipinas sa kamay ng iba’t ibang mananakop, may isang bahagi sa dula na kailangang hablutin at dapurakin ng tauhang Taga-ilog ang bandilang Amerikano. Ayon sa ulat, ang aktor na na gumaganap na Taga-ilog ay pinanghinaan ng loob nang makita ang mga Amerikano sa lipon ng mga manood kaya’t si Tolentino mismo ang pumasok sa tanghalan para isagawa ang naturang tagpo. Dahil sa napanood, nagsiklab ang mga naroong Amerikano at lumikha ng kaguluhan sa loob ng teatro. Inaresto si Tolentino at ang ibang kasali sa pagtatanghal. Inihabla si Tolentino sa salang sedisyon at pinarusahan ng dalawang taong pagkabilanggo at bayad-pinsalang $7,000.” (Balagtasismo Versus Modernismo, p. 41)

As said earlier, the work of literature need not result to actual disturbance or disorder. It is enough that there be a “Clear and Present Danger.” For instance, there is already a manifest and widespread discontent of government by the citizens, and anytime there could be an uprising. But here you are, an author of great influence, staging a play or publishing literature that adds fuel to the fire. You could very well be liable for Inciting to Sedition.

Prior to the adoption of the “Clear and Present Danger Rule” we had the “Dangerous Tendency Rule.” Under this doctrine, there need not be an actual and manifest outrage against the government. You could be liable for Inciting to Sedition just by publishing materials that tend to create a danger of public uprising. The rule is rather astringent, hence very much frowned upon by libertarians. This was the dictum applied by the Americans in the Tolentino Case.

Rest assured my dear writer-friends that the 1987 Philippine Constitution guarantees Freedom of Expression. It provides that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances.” (Art. 3 Sec. 4) Corollary to this right is our freedom from prior restraint or censorship and from subsequent punishment (Chavez v. Gonzales, Feb. 18, 2008). The above discussion on Inciting to Sedition is simply a reminder that Freedom of Expression, even if inherent upon the individual (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 19-20), is not plenary.

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