Tuesday, March 6, 2012


My barber called and discussed with me the event that resulted in the covering by private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre of his ears.

For several days during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, every time Senator Miriam Santiago spoke, she had the habit of berating, lecturing, and insulting the Congressman-Prosecutors and private prosecutors on national television before the eyes and ears of millions of Filipinos. At one instance, she called them “GAGO (Fools) and “BOBO” (Idiots)).

Atty. Vitaliano Aguirre could no longer tolerate Santiago’s inappropriate conduct fully aware of the provisions of the Canon of Judicial Ethics which he knows the latter violated.

My barber made the following observations:

  1. Aguirre was covering his ears to avoid hearing more of Santiago’s insults.
  2. Aguirre was not noticed by Santiago because the former was not in the latter’s line of sight.
  3. Santiago continued her tirades and finished her annoying remarks without interruption and disturbance.
  4. She found out about Aguirre’s action through Senator Jinggoy Estrada who has been observing Aguirre and through Senator Alan Cayatano who video-recorded Aguirre’s move.
  5. Aguirre was cited for contempt because according to Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Santiago, under Senate Court Rules Aguirre showed disrespect by causing disturbance resulting in interruption to the proceedings.
  6. Aguirre was supposedly disrespectful because he refused to listen to more verbal assaults to his dignity but did it without disturbance or interruptions.
  7. “What about Estrada and Alan Cayetano?” my barber asked.

While observing people like Aguirre in the captive audience, Estrada was obviously not paying attention to Santiago’s annoying remarks.

While also observing the people in the captive audience, taking out his camera phone, focusing his camera on Aguirre, turning on the video or still camera, and later turning it off, Cayetano was obviously not paying attention to Santiago’s annoying remarks.

Weren’t Estrada and Cayetano disrespectful too? Did Cayetano get Aguirre’s permission to publish his picture or video?

Take it from my barber!

Then my barber again asked, “What about rights? There must be some rights involved here.”

I explained to him that when Aguirre covered his ears, he exercised individual autonomy within the context of Free Speech Rights. The latter consist of the right to speak, the right against compelled speech, the right to listen and the RIGHT AGAINST COMPELLED LISTENING.”

In an article published by Boston Law Review, Caroline Mala Corbin said, “"Free Speech jurisprudence – which already recognizes the right to speak, the right to listen, and the right against compelled speech – is incomplete without the right against compelled listening. The same values that underlie the other free speech rights also lead to this right. Furthermore, this claim holds true regardless of whether one conceives of the primary purpose of the Free Speech Clause as creating a marketplace of ideas, enhancing participatory democracy, or promoting individual autonomy. “

As examined by Constitutional experts, “the protection afforded to unwilling listeners by the captive audience doctrine, balances private speakers’ right to communicate against listeners’ rights to privacy, equality and individual autonomy.” 

Indeed, the protection for captive listeners with the right against compelled listening is grounded in free speech values

Individual autonomy means each individual in his own world has full autonomous control of his entire body, his brain, his sensual organs, other body parts. He decides what to see and what not see with his eyes. He decides when to pinch his nose if he does not want to smell an odor or figuratively, does not want the “smell” of somebody’s arguments. He can pay attention to other things if a speaker bores him. He can even “cover his ears” if he finds the speaker annoying or insulting.

Indeed, by covering his ears, Aguirre exercised individual autonomy within the context of Free Speech Rights which, in this case, is the Right Against Compelled Listening. He actually had several choices. First, to stand up and object. This would have rudely interrupted Santiago. Besides, he was prohibited from doing it. Second, to stand up and ask permission to leave. This would have rudely interrupted Santiago and definitely be perceived as being discourteous. Third, cover his ears. This would neither cause any disturbance nor interruption. He was also defending his dignity, respect and self-esteem by not being forced to listen to more abusive language.

For being cited for contempt, Aguirre faced a possible fine plus up to ten days in jail. Does he deserve it? What about Santiago’s bad behavior?

Punishing Aguirre would be adding INJURY to a series of INSULTS.

Eight out of ten in the social media favor Aguirre over Santiago. Senator Trillanes in a text message wrote, “A slap on the wrist would suffice.” He would have also stood up and defended himself if he was on the receiving end of Santiago’s scathing remarks.

Former Ambassador and National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Chairman Roy Seneres , Aguirre’s former classmate at San Beda law school delivered a good point. Aguirre was cited for contempt by the Senate but Santiago was never chided for calling the prosecutors “fools”.

“He and Santiago are in pari delicto (equally at fault). Both committed contemptuous behavior. Aguirre should not be punished unless Santiago is punished also. If the Senate can’t punish Santiago, they should not punish Aguirre either. The entire Senate would be committing a contemptuous act if they punish Aguirre only,” Seneres texted.

The Senate, after its caucus, in a display of good political wisdom and judgment, decided NOT to punish Aguirre.

My barber is a little more hopeful about the Senate and the Philippines!!!

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