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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Is freedom absolute?

"There will be as many restrictions or limitations as there are freedoms."

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Freedom is “the quality or state of being free: such as [from] the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice of action” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). It has always been the aspiration of peoples in history to attain freedom from slavery, racial discrimination, foreign intervention, oppression, want, poverty or government excesses.

It is a very powerful word that brings people to action and moves nations to pursue liberty and delivery from desolation. In 1775 the first 13 colonies of what is now the United States of America, amid mounting tension with the British Crown, met at the Second Virginia Convention to discuss the strategy in negotiating with the [British] Crown [].

Patrick Henry, a well-respected lawyer and the most vociferous critic of British taxation, was convinced that war was around the corner. He put forward a resolution proposing that Virginia’s counties raise militiamen “to secure our inestimable rights and liberties” [].

In support of his resolution, he delivered a moving speech which culminated with this statement: “Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” []. The speech reverberated not only in the halls of the convention but ignited their fight for independence from the British Crown.

In the Great Trial of 1922 where Mahatma Gandhi and Shri Shankarlal Ghelabhi pleaded guilty to violating Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code for circulating offending articles against the British Empire, Gandhi was asked if he would like to make a statement before he was sentenced.

The portion of his statement reads:

My public life began in 1893 in South Africa in troubled weather. My first contact with British authority in that country was not of a happy character. I discovered that as a man and an Indian, I had no rights. More correctly I discovered that I had no rights as a man because I was an Indian. [B]ut I was not baffled. I thought that this treatment of Indians was an excrescence upon a system that was intrinsically and mainly good. I gave the Government my voluntary and hearty co-operation, criticizing it freely where I felt it was faulty but never wishing its destruction. (…) [T]he law itself in this country has been used to serve the foreign exploiter. (…) The administration of the law is thus prostituted, consciously or unconsciously, for the benefit of the exploiter. []

The story of the Philippines is no different from that of other colonized countries. The plight of the Filipino is capsulized in the oratorical piece the “Land of Bondage, Land of the Free” by Raul Manglapus.

It talked about the tao who once owned a piece of land which he cherished because it gave him life, liberty, and happiness. These passages chronicle what happens next:

Then one day the Spaniard came and commanded him to pay tribute to the crown of Spain. The tao paid tribute. And he was silent — he was certain that he was still the master of his land. The Spaniard became rich. But with riches, evil entered into him and he came to the tao a second time. He read to the tao a formidable document saying: “According to this decreto real, which unfortunately you cannot read, this that you have been paying me is not tribute but rent, for the land is not yours but mine.” The tao paid tribute and said nothing … He ceased to be a freeman. He became a serf. Still the tao held his peace. The rent went up and up. The tao starved.

According to the story, the tao took up arms against the Spaniard, who was driven away. It was, however, too good to be true:

[T]he tao was wrong. For the land had another master. This time not a stranger, but his own countryman grown rich. The tao had a new name, kasama, which to us means partner, but which to the tao meant still a slave, for once more he suffered from his countrymen the same things he had suffered from the stranger: the rents, the usury, and all the rest of it. (…) The tao’s home has become his very prison. Its doors, if you can call them such, are wide open. It is a prison nonetheless. For the tao is bound to it, not with chains of steel, but with a stronger chain — his honor. To this day, the tao remains a slave, a prisoner of the usurer.

After the age of the colonizer and vassal states, some think that most of modern society was free.

However, there are still looming issues of racial discrimination, freedom of expression, gender prejudices, inequality in wealth distribution, and unfairness in the dispensation of justice.

On August 28, 1963, at the thick of the struggle for racial equality, Martin Luther King delivered his now famous speech “I Have A Dream” at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., which echoed his advocacy on racial injustice [].

He pleaded with the American public:

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. (…) I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.” (…) I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

The ideal concept of freedom seems not to be subject of any limitation or restriction. However, as we study the law and observe the workings of human society, our freedoms cannot be absolute or unqualified.

For instance, we can freely own a house but we cannot burn it to the ground if it will result in the destruction of our communities. If we persist, we can be made to pay damages or worse, be prosecuted for the criminal case of arson.

Anyone can own a car and enjoy driving it, but we cannot use it in a manner that will result in death, injury or damage to the property of another. We can freely admire or love, but we cannot have sexual relations without the consent of the other person because that will be rape.

We can freely express our thoughts and ideas orally or in writing but we cannot with malice impute towards another a crime, vice or defect (Article 353, Revised Penal Code [RPC]). By doing so, we can be held liable for libel or slander, and if the dishonor or contempt is with the use of online platforms, then cyber-libel is committed.

While we are free to develop foreign friendships and alliances, we cannot adhere to the enemies of the Republic of the Philippines, or give aid or comfort to those who levy war against our government because that is treason (Article 114, RPC).

We are free to appreciate precious objects or expensive art but we cannot take possession without the consent of the owner, nor employ force to possess it. Otherwise, we will be committing theft or robbery.

Parties can enter into contracts as long as their consents are freely given. But if vitiated by duress, fraud or undue influence then the contract may be annulled. The freedom to contract is subject to laws, morals, public customs, public order or public policy (Article 1306, Civil Code of the Philippines).

People may freely voice out their grievances as guaranteed by the Constitution, but they cannot, by force or intimidation, prevent the government from exercising their functions or commit any act of hate or revenge for political or social ends against persons or a social class (Article 140. RPC). To do so is to commit sedition.

The government operatives must maintain peace and order but they cannot freely enter our houses nor can they seize papers or personal effects without a search warrant (Section 2, Article III, Constitution).

They can arrest violators but only with a warrant or under the reasonable circumstances of a warrantless arrest.

There will be as many restrictions or limitations as there are freedoms. The confusion arises when political or social ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, populism, socialism and communism are muddled with the application and enforcement of the law.

Advocacies and ideologies cannot change, revise or amend existing laws but they can influence it before it is passed into law. Hence, unless a new law is passed or an existing law is declared invalid or unconstitutional by the courts, we have no choice but to obey and follow it.

With freedom comes responsibility. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen composed by the French in 1789 provided that “[L]iberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else.” 


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