Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Thin-Skinned Brillantes

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes, Jr.
“The interest of society and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public affairs . . . a public officer must not be too thin-skinned with reference to comment upon his official acts,” so goes Justice Malcolm in the landmark case of US v. Bustos, in his disquisition on freedom of speech.

But Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, Jr., a former San Beda College of Law professor and practicing lawyer,  must have already forgotten this mandatory case law reading in law school when he threatened to sue critics of the just concluded midterm elections in the Philippines.  Reacting to allegations of massive glitches in the implementation of the 2013 computerized elections and criticisms that it was worse than the 2010 elections, Brillantes said “[t]hose people who keep on blabbering but know nothing, they are the ones I’m going to charge.  All of them.”     

While it is completely understandable that planning and handling the elections in 1,630 municipalities and cities around the country is a daunting task and must be draining, physically and mentally, Brillantes should not lose sight of the fact that he took the job of election chief voluntarily and as a public office, it is open to public criticisms, whether justified or not.

Threatening to sue critics – aside from being stupid, because criticism of official conduct, unless proven to be malicious, is not libelous – has a chilling effect on free speech, for it deters others from commenting on what they perceive to be inefficiencies in the government and calling on public officials for any wrongdoing.  In a democratic society like the Philippines, freedom to comment on the workings of the government and conduct of public officials is one of the strongest checks against the excesses, abuses, and other misconduct of officialdom. 



No comments:

Post a Comment