By Hailey Morphis


According to the most recent World Press Freedom Index rating from Reporters Without Borders, the Philippines ranks 149th out of 180 countries. The country’s best rating came in 2002, when they were ranked 89th, however, they have steadily declined, now 60 places lower than they were 12 years ago.

Historical Background:

The Philippines is part of southeastern Asian and consists of 7107 islands in the western Pacific Ocean. Today they are the 12th most populated country in the world with a population over 99 million. This is a long way to come since the country’s origin in 1542 when the Philippines were claimed by the Spanish, however at the end of the Spanish-American War, in 1898, the Treaty of Paris ceded the Philippines to America and despite invasions from other countries throughout the years, America held claim to the Philippines until 1946 when the islands were granted their independence and renamed The Republic of The Philippines. In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was elected the first president of the Philippines. In 1972, Marcos declared martial law. The parliament was suspended, opposition politicians were arrested, censorship was imposed, and a new constitution gave Marcos absolute power. In 1977, Opposition leader, Benigno Aquino, was sentenced to death. In 1986, Presidential elections see Marcos opposed by Aquino’s widow, Corazon. Marcos declared himself the winner, but Aquino disputed the result. There were mass protests, dubbed “people power”, in Manila. The military withdrew its support for Marcos, who fled to Hawaii. The new government claimed Marcos had looted billions of dollars during his time in power. (x)

Free Speech:

In The 1987 Constitution of The Republic of The Philippines, Article III Section 4 states, “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” However, there have been instances that limit this freedom.

One example is Title Thirteen in The Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, in which it criminalizes libel and slander by act or by deed. However, in 2012, in response to a complaint from an imprisoned broadcaster who “dramatized a newspaper report that then Congressman Nograles was seen running naked in a hotel when caught in bed by the husband of the woman with whom he was said to have spent the night with”, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) ruled that the criminalization of libel violates freedom of expression and violates Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (a treaty amongst the UN which the Philippines is a part of).

Another example of restrictions of freedom of speech, in The Revised Penal Code, blasphemy, and any other offenses against decency or good customs are punishable by imprisonment, fines, or both. A member of the group Filipino Freethinkers, pointed out, amid the furor caused by the Poleteismo artwork that allegedly offended Christianity, which this restriction is incongruent with the right to free speech and the UNHCR backed this assertion.

In Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines, particular forms of expression are required; however section 34 is composed of forms of expression that are prohibited. Examples of prohibited expressions are: “To mutilate, deface, defile, trample on or cast contempt or commit any act or omission casting dishonor or ridicule upon the flag or over its surface”, “To add any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawings, advertisement, or imprint of any nature on the flag”, “To display in public any foreign flag, except in embassies and other diplomatic establishments, and in offices of international organizations”, among other prohibited expressions. Unlike the previous two situations, these limitations have not been lifted, despite being a contradiction to the 1987 Constitution.

While all of the aforementioned restrictions have been resolved, more recently the Philippines have enacted The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 101750). Under the law, “a person could be sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for posting online comments judged to be libelous.” There were several petitions filed asking the Philippine Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the law almost as soon as the law went into effect. In early 2013, The Philippine Supreme Court weighed in on the issue. “The Supreme Court has stopped the government from implementing the cybercrime law. Even so, the government’s control on public speech has not been diminished. Anti-mining activist Esperlita Garcia has since been arrested over a Facebook post she made about the dispersal of a rally in October 2012.” That is just one example of how the government continues to restrict the speech of citizens, despite the Supreme Court ruling.

Free Press:

As previously stated, The 1987 Constitution gives citizens the right to free press. Although citizens are given this right, there has been incredibly violent backlash towards journalists. Between the years 1986 (when the country returned to democracy) and 2005, there were 52 journalists murdered, which evokes the thought if the freedom of press is really there and if it is, does the government protect it? Similarly to the other situations mentioned, other countries spoke up about this issue. In 2012, members of the global media community on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity issued The London Statement, which called for strong action to protect journalists.

In 2011, the Philippine Supreme Court filed a libel case against a journalist on the charges that the reporter defamed a Supreme Court justice in a book. In the book, the reporter quoted residents as saying “the Supreme Court justice was active in inviting two local officials to run with his son as councilor and promising to underwrite campaign expenses.” Ultimately the suit was dropped against the reporter.

Currently in the Philippines, the biggest issue regarding the freedom of press is, like the freedom of speech, the continuing issues with The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and the existing laws restricting libel. Although the government continues to restrict the freedom of speech and press of citizens to some extent both online and offline, citizens are fighting back for their rights to speak freely.

Critical Comparison:

At first glance, it is clear that the citizens of the United States have more freedom in terms of speech and press than those citizens of the Philippines. According to the 2014 World Freedom Index, the United States ranks 49, while the Philippines ranks much lower at 149.

In terms of specific free speech issues, the Philippines has a law prohibiting the creation of any laws that restrict the freedom of speech, press, expression or the right to peacefully assemble. This is very similar to what the United States has guaranteed their citizens in the first amendment. However, it is clear that while both countries have promised this, the Philippines has contradicted that law several times with other laws, and revisions to laws. The United States has sometimes violated the first amendment (for example, the Alien and Sedition Acts), throughout the years, the definition of free speech in the United States has grown and expanded with the times. However, this is not the case in the Philippines. Even in recent years the government tries to strike down laws to prohibit types of speech they find unlawful.

Freedom of expression, like freedom of speech, is protected constitutionally by both nations. However in the Philippines, it is against the law to use the flag of the country in many ways, regardless of freedom of expression. In the United States, the court has famously ruled in favor of protecting the citizens’ right to freedom of expression. In the famous 1988 case, Texas V. Johnson, Johnson burned an American flag in protest of the Reagan administration policies. Although he was tried and convicted under a Texas law that prohibited flag desecration, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Johnson, citing that the act of burning of the flag in protest was a form of speech protected under the first amendment.


In conclusion, while both countries claim to have freedom of speech, press, assembly, and expression, the United States’ government has clearly shown through the decisions of court cases and even the ranking from the World Freedom Index, that they hold these freedoms to a higher regard than the government of the Philippines.

This essay was last updated on April 30, 2014


One Response to Philippines

  1. centric says:

    “In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was elected the first president of the Philippines.” — Please check your information. No, he was not the first president of the Philippines.

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