Reports of intimidation and silencing of individuals who exercise their freedom to speak have been circulating online: cases of coercion to publicly apologize, issuance of subpoena orders, refraining public employees from commenting on the government’s efforts, and suspension of Twitter accounts who praise the current administration.
These occurrences show that, regardless of one’s objectives, whether it is to criticize or to praise the government, anyone can be silenced; and these instances – as it sees freedom of speech as a threat – are telltale signs of the downfall of democracy.
But this is the reality: appraisals from the constituents are constitutional and crucial to the development of a nation. Likewise, exercising one’s freedom to speak is an integral part in maintaining a country’s democratic state – in maintaining our country’s democratic state.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN DEMOCRACY
Fundamentally, democracy is a system of government that grounds its legitimacy on the participation of the people – in which its laws, policies, leadership, and major undertakings are either directly or indirectly decided by its constituents.
But beyond elections, government formation, and political undertakings, democracy is also characterized by the high degree of individual rights, freedoms, and civil liberties – and, yes, that includes one’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Thus, democracy entails that citizens should be allowed to put forth their views as they are an integral part of the state. This freedom granted to the state’s constituents empowers them to openly express their demands on how the government agencies should perform their duties.
Without the freedom to speak, how can constituents communicate that they are for – or against – the government’s ways? Without the freedom to express oneself, how can a citizen do its part on directing how the state should be run?
It is also important to note that the freedom to speak and the freedom to express is linked to lexes which may be rude, offensive, incoherent, or even confusing in nature. However, these – albeit to a certain extent – must not render freedom of speech as ineffective or as a threat.
“Free speech does not mean giving bigots a free pass. It includes the right and moral imperative to challenge, oppose, and protest bigoted views. Bad ideas are most effectively defeated by good ideas – backed up by ethics and reason – rather than by bans and censorship,” said Human Rights Activist Peter Tatchell.
The question now is this: where do freedom of speech situate itself – and why is it important – amid the health crisis at hand?
FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN THIS TRYING TIME
It is true that people should obey and trust the government’s judgments during this trying time; however, blind obedience will not help the state move forward and move towards the direction of completely containing and eliminating the virus.
The voice of the masses is important to steer the government to the path that offers workable, feasible, tangible, and all-encompassing plans of action because – while the administration assesses and handles the situation on a macro-level – these people see and experience the gaps and lapses on a micro-level and on a daily basis.
These people see – among others – the lack of necessary aid and assistance especially to the urban poor, the lapses in effective and efficient medical help, and the gaps in sufficient supplies and inventory for the general public and, most importantly, for the front liners.
Being critical about the administration’s ways on handling the crisis does not equate to being “anti-government” nor does it mean rebellion. It should be seen as the people’s way of helping the government identify its priorities in this dire situation.
To reiterate, “Appraisals from the constituents are constitutional and crucial to the development of a nation.”
The administration should listen, heed, and take into account the calls of the people instead of perceiving the freedom to speak as a threat and calling to ban and censor this basic right and freedom.
The voice of the masses is not the enemy here. The state’s constituents are not the enemy here.
To quote Abraham Lincoln, “The government that governs the country is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” But for this to translate in actuality, citizens must be allowed to express themselves and speak out about the affairs of the state. People must be allowed to voice out the changes that they see fit for the country.
Truly, a democratic society encompasses a diversity in thought and opinion; thus, a democratic government must tolerate dissent, opposition, and appraisals as these are part and parcel of democracy.
Amid these diversities during this difficult time – or even in general – it is imperative to take into account the calls of the public to be able to draft and execute concrete plans and actions that unite the people and not divide the state in order to be an effective democratic nation.