Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Misquoting Spiderman's Uncle Redux

It wasn't that long ago when the issue that occupied bloggers who counted themselves as part of the Oppostion was the threat of government repression. Around the time of PP1017, CPR, EO464 and all that, it was Mike Defensor who was admonishing us that freedom comes with great responsibility to which journalist Carlos Conde penned a magnificent rebuttal. I am reposting his essay since i feel the time is right to revisit its message:

With great power…*

By Carlos H. Conde

I find it extremely ironic that this administration, which exploited the sins of the press to justify a campaign of harassment and intimidation against its members, itself committed what would amount to a journalistic infraction: it misquoted the uncle of Spider-Man.

We hear them much too often these days, all the president’s men pontificating on television, on the radio and in print about how we, Filipinos, particularly journalists, should exercise more responsibility given the tremendous freedom we have.

Freedom of the press is not absolute, says the always smug secretary of justice. It comes with it a great amount of responsibility, chimes in Arroyo’s chief of staff, he who is so young and so…

But Uncle Ben never said, “With great freedom comes great responsibility.” What he told Spider-Man was: “With great POWER comes great responsibility.”

Please ponder for a moment this difference in the quotes. And while you do that, let me tell you a thing or two about my opinion of freedom.

I think there is no such thing as a partial freedom. Either you have it or you don’t. In an ideal world, people should be free to do whatever they want. It goes without saying that they know the consequences of that freedom.

In the context of the press, journalists expect unbridled freedom. If they abuse this freedom, freedom itself – in this case, the freedom by consumers to switch channels or subscribe to another paper — will check them. Freedom has a way, you see, of punishing those who abuse it.

I am willing to concede, however, that the State may be justified in its desire to sometimes attempt to curtail our freedoms. We see that in countries in which contending forces, if not checked, could end up destroying themselves, their people and their nation.

But for this regime to invoke the importance of responsibility vis-à-vis freedom in order to supposedly keep the peace is an arrogant and self-righteous notion. Self-serving, too, because, as we all know, this regime’s motives in declaring a state of national emergency was not the protection of the State. It was for the protection of its president.

This brings us to Uncle Ben’s quote about responsibility being a corollary of great power. Guess who acted irresponsibly in using its great power?

Guess who, according to various testimonies and allegations, used great power to subvert the results of the 2004 elections?

Guess who used great power to compromise the armed forces, which today is more politicized than ever before?

Guess who used great power to promote the same military officials implicated in the 2004 election cheating, thus assuring that nothing would come out of whatever investigation that was going to happen?
Guess who used great power to sow discontent within the military?

Guess who used great power to quash the ideals and dreams of these young men and women in the service?

Guess who used great power to arrest constitutionally elected members of the House of Representatives?

Guess who used great power to murder dozens of activists and journalists, constrict the democratic space and stifle dissent?

Guess who used great power to send troops storming the office of a puny but noisy newspaper?

Guess who used great power to intimidate and harass the press, threatening media companies of actual takeovers if they don’t toe the regime’s line?

This regime has had great, great power, and never had any compunction to use it – irresponsibly, if needed — in order to survive.

*Posted March 14, 2006 in Davao Today
Today, the calls for freedom with responsibility in support of the issue of the day comes from fellow Oppositionist Bloggers.

It's been said before that the measure of free speech is the degree to which our society can accommodate opposing (and even offensive) views. Asking someone to shut up is a sign that we fear not being able to win the argument fair and square. More importantly, what is being lost is the all important element of consistency. We can be sure that the government and other interested parties are just waiting for the right moment to turn our arguments (which used to be their arguments) against us. Compelling a person's (or a group's) silence will only come at the expense of the common space of freedom that we all share and need.


Jego said...

Having realized their power, and having wielded that power successfully, the blogging OFW community and those who supported them in the Fernandez affair (myself included) are in what we could call victory euphoria. Some of them (awbholdings for instance) are not content with expunging Fernandez's scribblings from media and are out for blood. I visited sassy lawyer's blog post on the subject (and she was being herself in that post--both sassy and lawyery) and one who claimed to be an OFW didnt like it and threatened to email her article to the OFW community. Threatened, because that's exactly how he worded it--as a threat.

The difficulty in this free speech issue is that although all of us agree that in expressing something a line has to be drawn that shouldnt be crossed, but nobody knows where that line is and we couldnt (and shouldnt) trust any authority to show us where that line is, therefore what we should do is allow everything to come out in the open where the community itself can judge, critique, and comment upon the contents on its merits using words and reason (and the occasional ad hominem), and not violence nor the threat thereof. The freedom of expression must include the license to offend. Speech shouldnt be curtailed just because our feelings could get hurt because there will come a time when our feelings should be hurt.

cvj said...

Jego, well said. However, Arbet did say that he recognizes that it was a 'phyrric' victory, so i don't think he's out for more blood. His question on how to enforce accountability and responsibility in the area of free speech is a reflective (and a thorny) one.

I agree with you that some of the comments have gone too far in terms of zealotry. One particular comment from an Alfonso Collado over at Manolo's even told mlq3 - "probably you are like her… well off and have enough money to keep you happy…".

Over at Nick's, he tried to allay our fears by saying "But, they [the journalists] shouldn’t be scared, because as this issue shows, it is only the weakest and most damning of articles that will be scrutinized and lambasted for its discrimination." That is no longer the language of truth, but that of power. I don't think he is in a position to say that restraint will be exercised since as the comment by that OFW that you've read over at Sassy's and what i linked to above, shows that once started, this dynamic can go farther than any one person can control.

Anonymous said...

To clarify, I don't see any victory at all, nor do I claim there is one. I called it phyrric for the simple reason that we went nowhere. I am not out for blood, and if I were, I would have been more categorical (like her head on a silver platter with an apple in her mouth, perhaps?), as categorical when I had called for Gloria Arroyo's resignation.

I believe in accountability and responsibility because, if left unbridled, freedom leads to chaos. Now, how and when to enforce that is the problem.

I agree that freedom of speech should not be curtailed. Yet, this needs to be balanced with the common good.

cvj said...

Arbet, i also agree that we have to make her responsible and accountable, but we have to decide for what?. In the comments section of mlq3's latest entry (as of today), Manuelbuencamino makes a good point about the folly of punishing Malu for her political incorrectness (i.e. speaking out about things that should not be spoken of). I think, if anything, she should be punished or at least penalized (by Society) for her elitism. If you hide that by silencing her, then she and others like her can go about their merry ways as if nothing has happened.

pian said...

I know this to be out of place. Please bear with me. I just want to create awareness by choosing the busy forum or the latest.
Do consider Dr. Martin Bautista for the next elections obviously (a senatorial candidate of ‘Ang Kapatiran’ together with Adrian Sison and Zosimo Paredes). He’s a 44-year-old gastroenterologist in the US who came home after 17 years. You can see from his background that he truly means service. For those who find him to be a hypocrite for working abroad, do understand he’s a family man who needs to sustain his family, that he will be able to keep his independence by not relying on public funds to support his family. He helps his countrymen in his capacity but it’s just not enough for there are millions of Filipinos. It’s a good start in Philippine Politics to have him and his party around.
I urge you to forward/text/inform all your contacts about them. I believe they only lack exposure that’s why I’m doing this. But I can’t do it alone so I’m appealing to everyone’s help. If all will inform their contacts about them and urge them as well to forward, we might hit a million.
We cannot afford to be indifferent now if we want meaningful change. Otherwise we only have ourselves to blame. BUT TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

Anton said...

My problem with this whole argument is the fact that the opinions are all clouded by the prism of whether one loves or hates the present regime. So at the end of the day, is that freedom of the press being exercised fairly then?

cvj said...

Hi Antonio, which argument are you referring to?