Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Economic versus libertarian provisions of the Constitution

I don't read the Daily Tribune. It's a yawning abyss of poison news and views. However it's being published in a country which constitutionally protects freedom of speech. So short of direct incitement to violence, this poison is untouchable. If you hate it, just don't buy it.

In this earlier post I linked to Proclamation 1017 and the Philippine Constitution. The latter clearly vests the right for the government to take over a private business during a period of emergency - precisely the principle invoked in the Proclamation.

What the framers (and the people who voted for it) didn't anticipate is that this power could be used to contravene the free speech provision. And it has been so used, in the case of the Tribune. So now the case is under petition with the Supreme Court.

Thanks to President GMA, the latent contradiction is now exposed.

However legal it may be, suppressing the Tribune was a mistake. In cases of conflicting provisions, the government should have erred on the side of civil liberties. In any case it possesess the vast powers of the police - and the military - to suppress armed revolt. Applying it to the dissemination of ideas and opinions is wrong; it also sends the wrong signal about the fragility of democratic and private property institutions.

After all, it is not only military adventurists and insurgents (whether communist or secessionist) which threaten these institutions; the threat can also come from within.

The Constitutional provision authorizing takeover of private business during periods of emergency is problematic and prone to abuse. It should be stricken off. Let some future legislation - which is easier to discuss, debate, and change - take care of potential emergencies.

What should be non-negotiable is the fact that the Strong Republic must be a Republic of free speech.

Keep the marketplace for ideas free and competitive.

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