A Philippine Ethical Value: Subservience

I’ve developed this guiding principle of discovery as it pertains to an American living in the Philippines. It derives from the fact that, often, things don’t make sense. The principle:

  • When behavior does not make sense, keep thinking about it, because it MUST make sense.
JoeAm’s Confusion
My early morning pondering the other day, before our storm, dealt with the case of a woman named Esperlita “Perling” Garcia who was arrested last week for libel for protesting mining activities on Facebook 18 months ago.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacerda denied claims that the arrest was for violation of the controversial libel provision of the Cybercrime Law. This law has been put on hold under a TRO by the Philippine Supreme Court until its constitutionality can be certified. The Cybercrime Law doubles the penalty for libel if done on the internet. Lacierda said the arrest was done for a violation of the Revised Penal Code.
Here are the things I didn’t understand:
  • What is the President’s Office doing getting involved in a legal case involving a very minor localized altercation. People are arrested every day for much more important things than a local spat involving a mere P10,000 bail?
  • Why is the Revised Penal Code being used? I thought the reason for the inclusion of the libel provision in the Cybercrime Law was because internet libel was not covered in the Revised Penal Code.

  • Why in the complainant in the case using the law to punish someone rather than defend his honor? Libel is a crime of honor.
Before discussing how I have managed to answer these questions, let me provide two definitions that will be important to that discussion:
  • Ethical value: A standard of behavior deemed right and proper by the community to which it applies.
  • Subservience: Knowing your proper place as the lesser being in a hierarchy of power.
The Background on the Case
The background on the case is this. Ms. Garcia is 62 years old and a long-term resident of Gonzaga in Cagayan province. She has been participating in local activities protesting the small-scale mining by Chinese and Taiwanese companies in Cagayan. The mining is authorized by the Cagayan provincial government.

A group of protestors planned a meeting in April 30 of 2011. The meeting was broken up by local officials. Ms. Garcia posted a complaint on Facebook in 2011 criticizing the rough way the meeting was broken up. The Mayor of Gonzaga, Carlito Pentecostes Jr., was criticized in the posting and he took offense. He levied the libel charge and Ms. Garcia was arrested on October 18, 2012. She was released on P10,000 bail.
Excerpt from areport in the Inquirer explaining why the Mayor made the charge:
  • . . . [The Mayor] also stood pat on his decision to pursue libel charges against Garcia to “teach her a lesson for her arrogance. . . . [Garcia] portrayed me as a very bad person on Facebook. She has been making up stories about the supposed opposition of the people of Gonzaga against mining when in truth, there is no such resistance here now.”
Ms. Garcia is clearly not a person inclined easily to be subservient. Here is her quote, also from the Inquirer, about her arrest:
  • “I find it interesting that no less than the regional director of the NBI (Hector Eduard Geologo), who had to travel for more than five hours, personally carried out my arrest.”
A number of environmental groups, internet users and the political party Anakbayan have come to Ms. Garcia’s defense.  Anakabayan charged that the arrest was a violation of the Supreme Court’s TRO regarding the Cybercrime Law. That’s where Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda came into the picture. He represents the President whose political party finds Anakabayan to be a frequent source of irritation. According to the Inquirer, Lacierda said:
  • “If you notice, the bail posted was P10,000. The penalty for online libel is prision mayor, which is higher than the penalty imposed under the Revised Penal Code. So this is not a case of e-libel. . . .Let me be clear, let me also inform our good friends from Anakbayan and I hope they don’t ride on this issue but apparently they already rode on it, but they’re claiming that this is the start of e-martial law. Let me tell Anakbayan, please don’t be ignorant of the issues. First, you’re entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to your facts.”
The testy response suggests the President’s office is bristling about the dispute.
JoeAm Arrives at Clarity
What are the ways that power is has been displayed in this case:
  1. Protest of the mining activities represented power by local citizens trying to prevent environmental damage. A group has more power than an individual.
  1. The action of the Gonzaga civic authorities in breaking up a protest meeting repersents a hard form of power: physical confrontation. 
  1. Ms. Garcia’s Facebook posting, aimed at rallying support, was a peaceful form of expression but offensive to Mayor Pentecostes. Again, she was working on exercising the power of a group.
  1. The libel charge levied by Mayor Pentecostes to teach this “arrogant” woman a lesson was clearly a power play. Well, the Mayor is certainly a powerful person.
  1. The defense of the arrest by the President’s spokesman exerted tremendous political power on this local case. Prickly are we?
  1. The rallying of various groups and individuals supporting Ms. Garcia represents the power of the collective, each with his own interest in the case, fighting back.
In the Philippines, conflicts arise when individuals or groups refuse to recognize the hierarchy of power and be obediently subservient to it. If the rule of proper subservience were followed, we would see no conflicts here:

  • If a province approves mining, citizens should not protest.

  • If individuals disagree, they should not band together to protest.
  • You should not speak freely and loosely on your Facebook page. It is a public expression. Sort of . . .
  • If you have upset a notable, such as a Mayor, you should apologize. Groveling would be even better.
  • Those helping you should never ever make a national political case out of a simple legal matter. Please respect the hard work our President is doing. And his sincerity.
  • Go away. Do not get others agitated enough to speak on your behalf, you know, like Human Rights Watch. This might be embarassing for the Philippines.
The expectation of subservience in the Philippines is hard and firm. Palpable. If you rock the boat by refusing to bow, you will pay.

So here’s what I have figured out. JoeAm’s deductions or guesses.

Question 1. Why is the Pesident involved?

The President’s office is involved because the Cybercrime Law isPRESIDENT AQUINO’S law. It is not the Legislature’s original law. This conclusion is consistent with the President’s frequent complaints about media criticism and consistent with the fact that four legislators got identical copies of Cybercrime language from the Department of Justice (see Raissa Robles Report). It is consistent with the President’s enduring refusal to cite Freedom of Expression as a cherished right in the Philippines.

It is bizarre to me. The. President. Just. Can’t. Stick. Up. For. Freedom of speech. He can’t get his heart and mind to go there when he is so “bruised” by criticisms.

The Cybercrime libel provision appears to be an attempt by the Executive and Legislative branches working together to subvert Freedom of Expression. Freedom of Expression is an affront to powerful people. 
  • Subservience is a Philippine ethical value. Power must be respected.

Question 2. Why is the Revised Penal Code being used for an internet case?

The Libel Provision insertion in the Cybercrime Bill by Senator Sotto was not necessary. This case demonstrates that the Revised Penal Code can be used to litigate internet libel charges. The cybercrime libel insertion was an act aimed at strengthening the government’s hand in responding to and suppressing criticism.
  • Subservience is a Philippine ethical value. Power must be respected.

Question 3. Why did the Mayor lash out at Ms. Garcia?
The filing of the libel charge by Mayor Pentecostes was an act of vengeance, not an act in defense of honor. It was an exercise in power, not in protection.
  • Subservience is a Philippine ethical value. Power must be respected.
Well, it all smacks of thuggishness to me, rather than appreciation for the freedoms upon which democracy depends. There is precious little grace emanating from public officials.

Perhaps President Aquino ought to reflect back on his 2012 SONA speech which he closed by recognizing that the people are his boss. It seems to me the people in this instance are justified to rise up and bite him in the ass because:

Free speech, and peaceful protest, are powers enjoyed by the People.
So sorry, Mr. President. I know criticism irritates you. But it is a part of your job. You are a public figure. Perhaps you ought to work on dealing with criticism more gracefully and let the people speak freely.

Your mother gained office because the people spoke freely.

So did you.

Now you want to shut them up?

Know your place, Mr. President.

And tell Mr. Mayor to get a life.

You know, one with Christian kindness in it, and the diplomatic grace of understanding that he represents those who both agree and disagree with him. If he had simply respected Ms. Garcia’s right to object, he would have handled this differently. Like take the dear cranky old woman a plate of spaghetti and a smile instead of a lawsuit. Listen to her instead of telling her to shut up.

You hyper-sensitive people just don’t get it, do you? You are trapped by this notion that subservience is a Philippine ethical value and you MUST impose it.

Failure to be subservient is sometimes called speech.

It is legal.

32 Responses to “A Philippine Ethical Value: Subservience”
  1. Anonymous says:

    I'd have liked to read Ms. Garcia's plaint against Mayor Pentecostes. I'd guess Ms. Garcia noticed that Mayor Pentecostes's actions were not inspired by the Holy Spirit.DocB

  2. I couldn't find the actual text of her remarks and don't know if they are discoverable as a part of the libel suit. The Department of Justice is refining the complaint, and calls it a case of "oral" libel. Attorneys have labeled Lacierda's sremarks as "ignorant". http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/279359/scitech/socialmedia/lawyers-lambast-lacierda-s-ignorant-remark-on-facebook-libel

  3. Edgar Lores says:

    1. Firstly, welcome back, JoeAm. It’s good that the Power of electricity has been restored in your area for you to sound off on the failures and pitfalls of Power in government and society.2. Another term for Power in my vocabulary is Authority.3. Again, if I may make the correlation with the Church –(which seems to be an obsession of mine and Andrew’s, but never mind) – Catholicism has a very rigid hierarchical structure with as many as six different tiers. There are deacons, priests, bishop, archbishops, cardinals and, at the top, the Supreme Pontiff himself, the pope.4. Oh, sorry, forgot to mention the bottom tier, the laity.5. All the ranks are vested with different functions and responsibilities culminating in the pope’s sole designation to interpret scripture and dogma. The lay people are not allowed to interpret the Bible. (Silly me, who are they?) They can only follow the interpretation and authority of the pontiff who, of course, speaks with infallibility. (Isn’t that nice?)6. Thus there is this pyramidal schema that has reigned over the country for close to half a millennium. Even with the advent of democracy, the (ofttimes abused) attitudes and (ofttimes abusive) postures of the hierarchical model of the Church have been grafted into the political structure.7. Given the above, is it any wonder then that the abuse of Church and State Authorities and the subservience to both Authorities are now inbred traits of the Filipino?

  4. It's good to be back out of the dark and quiet. Thanks.Yes, authority uses power to hold course. And subservience is the way those lacking authority are supposed to respond. The Church is indeed an excellent case study.What we have in the Philippines is a conflict between freedom (of speech, for example) and authority. Those in power have failed to recognize that it is their patriotic duty, within a democracy, not to impose subservience on the people. I'll do a follow-up blog to this point.The Church preaches humility to convince the flock to obey what the priests say is God's way. Humility is slyly imposed subservience, and is often fake when exercised by the powerful.

  5. Edgar Lores says:

    Oh, that last sentence is a whopper of a statement.Definitions of whopper:1. A gross untruth; a blatant lie.2. Something especially big or impressive of its kind.

  6. GabbyD says:

    what do you mean the president is involved in the arrest? how do you know that?lacierda was asked a question. he gave an answer. period. anything more?

  7. andrew lim says:

    Until I heard it from Obama, I thought it was a Burger King sandwich.

  8. Where did I say he was involved in the arrest? He is involved in the case. The President has his spokesman issuing a statement justifying an arrest done by his Department of Justice and stating it does not pertain to the Cybercrime Law. The buck has flown quickly to the President's office.Lacierda gave an answer that aggravated an already aggravating situation. Please refer to the link I provided DocB, above.

  9. I cast my vote for definition 2. In all humility, I do that. Even though I must say the sentence impressed me when it rolled off the keyboard.

  10. GabbyD says:

    so he's involved because… of lacierda? wait, did lacierda issue a statement?or did he answer an question at a presscon.there's a difference.

  11. Ah, I see your point now. I don't know. If he was simply asked a question, he would, I think, refrain from answering, unless he knew the President's view. He speaks for the President, after all, and ought not be putting his own words into the President's mouth. He spoke with certainty, as if it had been discussed and thought about and resolved as to "position". But you are right. I presumed he was speaking on behalf of the President. And I obviously don't know who he spoke with before making his statement.

  12. Coco says:

    I fully agree with your subservience assessment, one can’t understand the Philippines without understanding this. But notice that it needs two to tango. Each Filipino knows exactly when to expect subservience from someone too. I once saw a 10 year old girl requesting a tricycle driver to make 2 u-turns to pick her up, she refused to walk 10 meter. Here the picking order is clear for all in every situation.Power in the Philippines is exclusively position power, power out of charisma or out of knowledge are irrelevant. This makes it more straightforward to assess your position and your required attitude. It makes society more relaxed, easier to be kind, but at the cost of many missed opportunities. In the US position power is less important, charisma and knowledge are considered more important, as a result you constantly have to fight for your picking order, resulting in a waste of a lot of energy. I do not believe that religion is the main contributor to this attitude of subservience, I think that it is more an Asian way of showing respect and organizing interactions. Compare European Catholics with Confucian Chinese. I think it has to do with density too, the closer you live together the better you have to organize interactions to prevent your brain from overheating while selecting an appropriate response.

  13. Anonymous says:

    If anything, what the Malacañang is showing is paranoia, a siege mentality. These bright boys, including Pnoy himself, have been weighed ( in the FOI, Anti-cybercrime bill) and found wanting. Tinimbang ngunit kulang. You're right, JoeAm, they just don't get it. As the writer Murakami in 1Q84 would say, " You can't understand without explanation, you can't understand with explanation."DocB

  14. Interesting elaboration. It fits with what I perceive is almost a masterful, elegant reading of power in virtually every Filipino dialogue, and striving to enhance one's own. I suppose at some point the reading becomes almost intuitive, and therefore efficient at ordering who is driving the bus . . . or decision making. But not necessarily efficient at problem solving.Your last paragraph is worth a blog on its own. Or a Doctoral thesis. Finding sanity in a dense environment by ordering the heirarchy of power.Thanks for stretching my brain a bunch on that!

  15. Yes, it is . . . what, a conundrum? . . . that the most popular president in recent times FEELS under attack. He does not FEEL the love!

  16. Anonymous says:

    That's what power does, they say. Hubris it's called. Well, GMA can make any successor paranoid. It's a good thing we have the web we know better than to go with the charade. Ten year's ago we won't ever know this shit.DocB

  17. Yes, that's true. I think the drive to transparency as reflected in wide release of SALN's and passage of the Freedom of Information Act are critically important to prevent the powers that be from shrinking once again behind the screens of secrect motives and means. And the 2016 election is crucially important in carrying forward with open governance.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Subservience goes hand in hand with silence. Letting the genie out of the bottle by allowing true freedom of expression diminishes the cloak of invincibility of the powerful elite.Limiting our cyber freedom relegates us back to the status qou antewhere complaints about our affairs of state are discussed with ourbarbers.amor

  19. Ah, yes, indeed. Subserevience and silence are excellent partners. It is also true than confidence and competence are partners which go a long way toward diminishing the need for suppression of the speech of others. Evidently, some leaders don't have much of one or the other, or both. Confidence is not the same as bull-headed stubbornness, a topic I'll write about later in the week.

  20. GabbyD says:

    huh? when asked a question, and you know the answer, why not answer? he knew because the office was following the issue and sought information. there is no position of the president. it was a simple question about the facts of the case.whats up with all theorizing?

  21. "Thre is no position of the president." So Lacierda was giving a personal opinion that the Cybercrime Law was not the pertinent law in the case? He is not representing the Office of the President?"What's up with all the theorizing?" It is a technique I use generously . . . guessing, theorizing, assuming, postulating, imagining, estimating, deducing . . . aimed at extending from the known to the unknown. To try to figure out "why" as I said at the beginning of the article.The theorizing leads me to believe that subservience is a social value in the Philippines.

  22. GabbyD says:

    no. what lacierda said has nothing to do with what is pertinent or not.he cited facts. he didnt say "well that was correct!" or "thats wrong!"its a fact that she was arrested based on the RPC. its that simple.

  23. My turn to say "huh?" So Lacierda was just blabbing into the wind? He cited facts and he condemned Anakbayan for riding the horse they rode. He said their view was "wrong".The fact that she was arrested on the RPC is exactly my point. This indicates that the libel provision of the Cybercrime Law is not needed. RPC works just fine. So why was libel inserted into the Cybercrime Law? To intimidate. To impose SUBSERVIENCE on those dastardly opinionated bloggers and Facebook posters.

  24. Edgar Lores says:

    Re Coco’s observation that religion is not the main contributor to subservience:1. I think it can be asserted that all peoples – and indeed animals – are subservient to power.2. Let’s say we use three grade levels to rank countries in their subservient attitude to power: respect, cringe and grovel.2.1. Americans can be said to have respect for power. This is primarily due to the fact that, for any long duration, they have not been under an authoritarian political system, like royalty or dictatorship, or a stratified social system, like a feudal or caste set-up. (The exception would be the confederacy.)2.2. Countries that have been under authoritarian/stratified systems or have been colonized– which would be the majority of all countries – can be said to have cringe or grovel. I know that Aussies have cringe whenever the Queen is not amused.2.3. The Philippines, like most Asian countries and like a non-alpha male gorilla, has grovel. Coco offers the observational proof in the general impression is that the Chinese are more subservient than Europeans.2.4. I put this down to their imperial history and feudal structure. “Tremble and obey”, sayeth the empress.2.5. The same observation applies to the Japanese. At one time, samurais had the right to kill peasants almost at whim.2.6. In these two cultures, the tradition of obeisance, which can be a gesture of respect or grovel, has been in place for centuries. In the Philippines we have the similar tradition in the “mano po” gesture.3. In the light of the foregoing – that subservience is “natural” and “normal” in various and varying degrees and that Asians have cultures of indelible superiority and inferiority- I will concede to Coco that the Pinoy subservience is due, not mostly, but only in part to his unquestioning acceptance of external authority as exemplified by the attitude to the Church. I will also now add two other causes: the colonial experience and the pre-Hispanic social stratification.4. The question remains: Why is the interaction between those in power and the powerless so skewed in the Philippines?5. The part answer provided here is subservience of the grovel kind. But if the answer is not wholly subservience, could it be partly be because of patronage? We allow corruption because we benefit from it? And could it be partly that we are sadomasochistic? We allow abuse because we derive pleasure from it?6. Coco’s other observation that power in the Philippines is gained and maintained by power itself, and not from charisma or knowledge, is generally true. Power once gained, remains. This is evidenced by dynasties. The exceptions would be Corona and possibly Gloria; the Marcoses prove the rule rather than the exception. There may be exceptions in charisma (Vilma Santos?) and in legal knowledge (Recto and Tanada), but I cannot name one in non-legal knowledge. Fame, notoriety or even criminality are other drivers. Pacquiao is in a class by himself – neither charisma nor knowledge but sheer guts.

  25. You certainly brought this one to a beautiful set of questions. Is Filipino subervience owed partly to patronage, and a rather sadomasochistic benefit? If I reflect on the class distinctions within the Philippines, I tend to think the masses don't gain much by being outspoken. The main gain from being subservient is staying alive. A pawn, after all, is a pawn. The upper ranges – professionals, entertainers, connected people, and the kings and oligarchs clearly know how to play the subservience and the authoritative game, depending on the circumstance. So, yes, they are sadomasochists. A fine term that I shall freely apply to the Senate, and elsewhere.Point number 6 is really quite earth-shaking. That power in the Philippines has little knowledge or skill behind it. It only has power, and the advantages of trading favors.

  26. baycas says:

    @Joe,The best web page to read is the transcript of the press briefing…Google "for the record: the arrest of esperlita Garcia did not arise from the cybercrime prevention act — sec. lacierda".

  27. baycas says:

    Transcript of the press briefing can be read in the Official Gazette (wwwdotgovdotph).

  28. baycas says:

    Although some lawyers believe that online libel is covered by the RPC, I think there is still no case t prove it is so. This will probably be threshed out in the SC oral arguments early next year.

  29. baycas says:

    Esperlita "PERLING" Serrano Garcia is the Liberal Party mayoral candidate in Gonzaga, Cagayan.Her lone opponent is the incumbent mayor, Carlito "JUN" Fidel Pentecostes, Jr. From the UNA party.Esperlita versus Carlito come May 13, 2013.

  30. baycas, thanks. So either GabbyD or I could go there and find out if his comment was offered up, or a response to a question. Either way, that this case is "presidential level" means something.

  31. Yes. I'm surprised there have been no precedents, and also that the Mayor decided to make one. It will be an important discussion. It seems to me better law to expand the RPC definition of libel sources than tack it onto the Cybercrime Law. But I'm just a marketing guy . . .

  32. A hot time in Gonzaga, 2013. The Mayor certainly succeeded in launching her to fame and resources. Had he trucked over to her place with a plate of spaghetti instead of a libel suit, maybe his job would not be at risk.

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