I was prowling the online law library of Chan Robles researching Customs law. According to standing Customs law, which are ancient statutes put into effect by Presidential Decree under President Marcos, inspectors are supposed to be on the lookout for seditious materials. As decreed, the following are banned:
(b) Written or printed articles in any form containing any matter advocating or inciting treason, or rebellion, or insurrection, sedition or subversion against the Government of the Philippines, or forcible resistance to any law of the Philippines, or containing any threat to take the life of, or inflict bodily harm upon any person in the Philippines.
That is an excerpt from Chan Robles' highly excellent internet law library. Search of the library turned up a series of laws on subversion. They were introduced to stop the spread of communism. All were overturned in 1992 by Republic Act No 7276.
I enjoyed reading the original law, Republic Act No. 1700, approved in 1957. Well, maybe "enjoyed" is not the right word. I was intrigued? Scared? Given the heebie jeebies? The Act was amended and broadened by Presidential Decree 885 under President Marcos in 1976. This is the pertinent section under Decree 885:
Sec. 2. Subversive Associations and Organizations. — Any association, organization, political party, or group of persons organized for the purpose of overthrowing the Government of the Republic of the Philippines with the open or covert assistance and support of a foreign power by force, violence, deceit or other illegal means shall be considered and is hereby declared an illegal organization.
The following acts shall constitute prima facie evidence of membership in any subversive association:
(1) Allowing himself to be listed as a member in any book or any of the lists, records, correspondence, or any other document of the organization;
(2) Subjecting himself to the discipline of such association or organization in any form whatsoever;
(3) Giving financial contribution to such association or organization in dues, assessments, loans, or in any other forms;
(4) Executive order, plans or directives of any kind of such association or organization;
(5) Acting as an agent, courier, messenger, correspondent, organizer, or in any other capacity, on behalf of such association or organization;
(6) Conferring with officers or other members of such association or organization in furtherance of any plan or enterprise thereof;
(7) Transmitting orders, directives, or plans of such association or organization orally or in writing or any other means of communication such as by signal, semaphore, sign or code;
(8) Preparing documents, pamphlets, leaflets, books, or any other type of publication to promote the objectives and purposes of such association or organization;
(9) Mailing, shipping, circulating, distributing, or delivering to other persons any material or propaganda of any kind on behalf of such association or organization;
(10) Advising, counselling, or in other way giving instruction, information, suggestions, or recommendations to officers or members or to any other person to further the objectives of such association or organization;
(11) Participating in any way in the activities, planning action, objectives, or purposes of such association or organization.
I'm glad that law was prima facie repealed. It is a prima facie catch-bucket that is simply too big and too open to prima facie subjective interpretation.
The important thing to note is that sedition laws come and go. Values change with time and circumstance.
During WW II, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, American racial angers and mistrust ran amok and the U.S. put Japanese American citizens into camps as threats to the nation. Japanese were declared seditious for having the wrong face. Innocence had nothing to do with it.
In fact, let's go way back in time to 1901, just after the Philippine American War, when the U.S. was trying to establish firm control over the Philippines. I don't know if you caught the link to the photograph that ran under a recent blog here. The blog was entitled "Ellentordesillas: treasonous or hysterical?
The photograph was pulled from a project done in 2009 by students at the University of California, Irvine, as posted on temblr: The link is: http://philippines1900.tumblr.com/post/263328179/drama-and-sedition. I trust the students got a top grade for this fine project work.
Here's a large version of the photo. The scene is acerbically amusing, as political cartoons are inclined to be, mocking the bully America:
The 1901 Sedition Act No. 292, Section 10, which the cartoonist condemns, said the following:
- “Until it has been officially proclaimed that a state of war or insurrection against the authority or sovereignty of the United States no longer exists in the Philippine Islands it shall be unlawful for any person to advocate orally, or by writing or printing or like methods, the independence of the Philippine Islands or their separation from the United States, whether by peaceable or forcible means, or to print, publish, or circulate any handbill, newspaper, or other publication advocating such independence or separation.”
The Act resulted in the jailing of many Filipino playwrights, actors and journalists. Sedition laws are the opposite of free speech laws. Hysteria, eh?
Echoes and mirrors . . . echoes and mirrors . . .
Here again are the recent troublesome words of blogger Ellen Tordesillas that suggest some Filipinos want to turn the tables and declare associations with the United States as seditious, undermining Philippine sovereignty:
- The dispute with China over Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys islands is not only a territorial issue but also of sovereignty. Aquino’s solution of asking the United States to do the monitoring through their spy planes over those disputed islands is tantamount to ceding sovereignty over to the United States. That’s treason.
According to her, relying on the superior technology resources of the United States is treasonous. Next she will want to jail playwrights, actors and journalists who advocate for closer ties to the United States.
Is that wild, or what?
Sedition charges, and treason charges, give me the heebie jeebies. They are like censorship taken one notch too far, generally by the insecure or angry. It is like having the Ampatuans in charge of determining what speech is allowed. And according to Ellen, President Aquino is NOT FREE to publicly speculate on what options are available to him in dealing with China, the bullyboy of Asia.
Somehow sedition charges, treason charges, and coups are extreme behaviors all too easily associated with Filipino emotionalism. It is this emotionalism that drives the sensationalist press and the fanatical bias of Filipinos toward Filipino boxers and entertainers (thinking about the angst in the Philippines over Jessica Sanchez finishing second on American Idol; or go back to the near lunatic ravings about Nicole a few years ago). Objectivity and calm are set aside for making an emotional point.
Two Important Take-aways
These are Joe Am's main deductions from his review of Philippine sedition laws. They are not scientific facts. You are free to dismiss them, or reflect on them.
- Easy accusations of sedition or treason are founded on emotions of fear and anger. Filipinos are an emotional people, and, beyond that, they are COMFORTABLE in that emotionalism. There are no private or public efforts underway to change it or temper it. The risk exists that such emotionalism will work AGAINST the Philippines by making it a place of everlasting rancor, bickering, unfounded accusations, and hostile acts.
- Sedition is a variable keyed to time and circumstance. Charges of sedition generally arise during war or threat of rebellion when fears and angers run high and deep. Sedition is not a fixed "truth". Accusations and convictions are based, not on the facts of the acts, but on the BELIEF that the acts are dangerous. Robbery? The gold is gone. Murder? The body is dead. Sedition? "I don't like what you said." Thus, in court cases on sedition, the person really being tried is not the accused, but the judge and jury.