Saturday, August 13, 2011


Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Not that the two topics are inextricably linked. Nor are they the topics being discussed by the same group of people. But they are both worth our attention.
The CCP Woes. I begin with the woes bought upon the administrators of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. As is well known, the CCP was created through Executive Order No. 30 for the purpose of promoting and preserving Filipino arts and culture. As its website says, it has sought “to truly embody its logo of katotohanan (truth), kagandahan (beauty) and kabutihan (goodness).”
Art, or what different people call art, is or can be a form of expression. Like any expression it is protected by the freedom of speech clause of the Constitution. There are only two forms of expression that are not protected by the Constitution: libel and obscenity. Sacrilegious expression which is not libelous nor obscene is protected.
The question I would ask is whether the CCP may be compelled to show whatever artists feel should be shown? Put differently, is the CCP free to choose what it wants to show without violating freedom of expression?
What is expressly guaranteed by the Constitution is the freedom of speech or expression. It includes the freedom to choose what to speak or express. But it does not exclude the freedom not to speak. The freedom not to speak is pure common sense that it is perhaps for this reason that constitutional provision specifically guaranteeing it.
From where I sit, I see the problem confronting the CCP as analogous to the problem of local governments in deciding whether to allow a monument in a public park. The government has the right to choose what permanent monuments it may sponsor in government parks. Although a public park is a traditional public forum, the display of a permanent monument in a public park is a form of “government speech.” As one decision puts it: “Governments have long used monuments to speak to the public. Since ancient times, kings, emperors, and other rulers have erected statues of themselves to remind their subjects of their authority and power. Triumphal arches, columns, and other monuments have been built to commemorate military victories and sacrifices and other events of civic importance. A monument, by definition, is a structure that is designed as a means of expression. When a government entity arranges for the construction of a monument, it does so because it wishes to convey some thought or instill some feeling in those who see the structure.”
Accordingly, cities take some care in accepting donated monuments. They may not be compelled to accept everything offered. The monuments that are accepted have the effect of conveying a government message, and thus constitute government speech.
I look at exhibits in the CCP in an analogous way. The CCP is a government institution missioned to display what it considers to be katotohanan (truth), kagandahan (beauty) and kabutihan (goodness) and not what others consider to be such. Artists whose the CCP does not accept are free to exhibit their work elsewhere. The issue is not freedom of speech but freedom not to speak.
The Sub-state Dream. Once again the nation takes up what is commonly referred to as the Mindanao Problem. The government is approaching it with benefit of hindsight.
Almost three years ago the Supreme Court, in what I consider an advisory opinion, came out with counsel on what to avoid in any peace agreement about Mindanao. Although the vote against the agreement was 8 to 7, it actually contained more unanimity than what the vote indicated. Aside from the ninety-page main opinion, there are eleven other pieces some concurring and others dissenting. Going through them one will find that there really is more unanimity than what the 8-7 count might indicate. A clear majority agreed that there were provisions in the MOA-AD which, if carried out without constitutional amendment, would depart from the present Constitution. The most notable of these were the powers envisioned for the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). The powers envisioned went beyond those possessed by local governments and even by the Autonomous Region. The MOA-AD spoke of the relationship between the BJE and the Philippine government as “associative” thus implying an international relationship and therefore suggesting an autonomous state. Clearly these went beyond what the present Constitution has set up. Like other peace negotiators, the MOA-AD authors were willing to try untested approaches and to operate “out of the box.”
Thus it was that eight justices of the Court felt impelled to send a stern directive to an executive department which they could not trust. The Court, however, did not say that the President should not think “out of the box.” After all, the President’s oath binds the President not just to “preserve and defend” the Constitution but also to “do justice to every man.”
What the President did when he met with Chairman Murad in Tokyo was to start a new process of doing justice to every man and, if necessary, to “think out of the box.”
It is now becoming clear, however, that what is envisioned by Chairman Murad is something which will not fit into the structure of the present Constitution. It will need constitutional amendment. What will the Palace agree to since constitutional amendment is not one of its priorities?
15 August 2011

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