Saturday, November 05, 2005

Blogging, bewteen the ancient and the primitive

Blogging may be defined as an ancient liberty in a time warp.

But first, it may be well to know that there are two ancient liberties that are equated with democracy: 1) the liberty to rule and be ruled in turn, and 2) the liberty to live as one chooses. The first is also the liberty of an individual to share with others the right to run the government (political equality) and the second is the liberty to be free from the interference by such government and others (negative liberty or, sometimes, the “freedom from interference”).

In Athens during Aristotle’s times, there was no distinction between public and private sphere or between state and society where each citizen found ultimate fulfillment in public debate and politics. Direct and active participation in self-government (both legislative and judicial) was the end goal of citizenship.

Athenian democracy, now known as direct democracy, was where most Athenians served as a public official at least once during their life time; hence, to conceive of a form of representative government as practiced today was problematic for them. However, there was one essential condition for direct democracy to function well: the citizens must have enough free time to engage in public talk and participate in public administration. The convenience of slave economy (and the exclusion of women) freed up time for ancient citizens to carry those duties.

In the absence of a constitutional framework, demagoguery in Athens unfortunately allowed the occurrence of democratic tyranny (tyranny of the majority) which, for one, endangered negative liberty (the liberty to live as one chooses). Plato, the quintessential elitist, thought that strict political equality - accorded to those who were neither experienced nor knowledgeable about public affairs - sidelined the wise. The philosopher also believed that both notions of liberty (political equality and negative liberty) were inconsistent with the maintenance of order and stability. Plato’s worries were apparently resolved by the latter-day constitutional and representative democracy.

Moving fast-forward, blogging may essentially be classified into public and private electronic discourses (also exercised now by hybrid-citizens with increasing frequency). The public discourse is more closely related to political equality exercised in the realm of deliberative democracy and the private talk to negative liberty plied in the marketplace of ideas.

In a deliberative democracy, participants dialogue, reason out and then, transcending the initial conflict, DECIDE or VOTE to attain the common good; it is a counterweight to the old-fashioned policymaking. In the marketplace of ideas, participants, skirting the intervention of traditional media, disseminate ideas and information and directly compete for audience (readers, customers, critics, peers, leaders or policymakers) who BUY or TUNE OUT; it is a counterweight to the conventional media.

When blogging takes the form of free expression so exercised in the realm of deliberative democracy (which I believe was the function taken on by Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism during the run-up to the Arroyo impeachment vote), it occupies the highest rung in the hierarchy of democratic and constitutional values involving as it does the sharing of sovereign authority. This so-called public liberty ordinarily trumps negative liberty for the simple reason that the individual is less than the community.

The Philippine Supreme Court speaking through Justice Malcolm in U.S. vs. Bustos (1918) correctly stressed that: “The interest of society and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public affairs. Complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech. The sharp incision of its probe relieves the abscesses of the officialdom.” At the very least, this ancient liberty in the form of modern-day blogging requires judicial modesty at all times from an unaccountable organ of the government.

Wherefore, when the present Supreme Court ruled in Jonathan M. Tiongco vs. The People of the Philippines (G.R. 199676, October 2005) that “Free expression is guaranteed by the Constitution and any deviation from rule through judicial restraint can only be had after a proper trial of facts,” it is only reaffirming an ancient democratic tradition and a well-settled constitutional law. A temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by a trial court without the benefit of “a proper trial of the facts” and in defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling is an act of judicial immodesty and therefore void ab initio. (Having thrust himself into the Gloriagate controversy, Tiongco has assumed the notoriety of a public figure.)

As against an ancient liberty, the order by the lower court requiring PCIJ to remove a post from its blog supposedly “as the safer and more prudent recourse” and banning PCIJ, for the 20-day duration of the TRO, from “broadcasting, publishing or posting or causing to broadcast, publish, or post articles and statements similar and related to, or connected and in conjunction with,” the post in question is primitive (aside from being obviously unenforceable according to blogger and constitutionalist Edwin Lacierda). It does not have the force of law and must be ignored.

13 Comments:

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