On this Front Row’s initial column, the first order of the day should be words of thanks- to Palawan News, notably its publisher Ms. Joy Tabuada for inviting me to join their wildly-read newspaper as a columnist. A lot of people have, now and then, surprised me by their observation that Palawan News, though of local circulation, enjoys popular readership even outside the province. I told Ms. Joy that for a retiree like me, this is big honor apart from being a convenient outlet for my ideas now that I am in the mid-sunset of my life. Reading and writing have both been a passion for me and I welcome this opportunity to be writing once again. In 1989, when I was in Congress, my wife Eva launched the Palawan Times and I recall being actively involved in the publication therein of public interest articles. I recall too, being involved in a judicial contempt action by a Palawan judge before the Supreme Court in defense of Palawan Times’ right to publish. The SC decision in that Palawan Times contempt suit (which PT won by the way) later became a leading jurisprudence on freedom of the press… Thanks, indeed, to you, Ms. Joy and Palawan News.
What to Discuss
The next item is to decide what to discuss. This is not to say that the scope or field of discussion in a regular newspaper column is limited; it is only because under contemporary settings, a columnist has to cautiously navigate through the maze of literary, grammatical, and even legal standards. Still, even a newspaper column must aspire to stand and be known for moral and ethical values… My daughter Pam, says that I can draw from my wealth of experience and write anything under the sun, save only on the detestable subject of politics. I agree that politics nowadays is hardly the comfortable subject it was in the past to write about. Yet, I believe that even now, one can still find the kinder and gentler face of politics if one earnestly endeavors to find it. I’ve always believed that a minimum of politics can result in a maximum of public good. What is detestable really is the kind of “politicking” that we see in some Senate committee public hearings where the chairman does his kind of “monologuing ” or that occurring in the lower house where in his desire for total partisan subservience, the top honcho threatens “zero budget” for legislative districts whose representatives do not toe the line, forgetting that these are public, not private funds and that the constituents of districts with “zero budget” have themselves raised portions of the revenues that go into the General Appropriations Act… Much more desirable would be to focus on benign fields such as history, farming, arts, and the law. At the moment, I am told that for many, the online favorite is on the old Puerto Princesa. Having resided in City since I was 2 years old to the present (65 years to be exact; intermittently suspended when I stayed in Manila during my congressional tenure), I am, modesty aside, well-positioned to write about many things on the Puerto Princesa of old. You may look forward to this.
“Sovereignty of the People through Suffrage” exclusively?and “Responsible” Press and Speech Freedom in the Bill of Rights?
Much intrigued was how I felt coming across 2 proposed amendments to the Constitution. The first is by inserting the phrase “through suffrage” in the fundamental law’s declaration that “sovereignty resides in the people”. If adopted, this would effectively remove our inalienable right to people power by prescribing that, henceforth, we as the people can only exercise our rights through suffrage, excluding our spontaneous, collective and peaceful ‘uprising’ against our unfit top leadership as we did twice before, in February 1986 and in January 2001… The second is by inserting the adjective “responsible” to the Bill of Rights section on freedom of speech and press. Generally, freedom of speech and press in the country are responsibly exercised and the “irresponsible” ones are penalized accordingly by the courts after trial. What intrigues me is the aspect of when the determination of “responsible” speech and press is to be made and who should make such determination. If the determination is to be made before the publication, necessarily requiring prior review of the speech or article, this is downright prior censorship, abhorred in all democratic settings. If the determination is by a competent court where a case on “responsibleness” of a speech or an article is pending, there would be no problem, if at all. But if the determination is to be made by an executive office it is like opening the floodgates to prior censorship through the exercise of irresponsible review authority. I smell ulterior motivation for this proposal which should have no place in our fundamental law.