Will St. Scho sue Mocha Uson?
Singapore—Shibby Lapeña de Guzman, 13, became the epitome of youthful idealism.
The Benildean photographed her in a Manila street with a megaphone, leading Grade 8 students of St. Scholastica’s College in a Nov. 18 noise barrage. They were protesting the Supreme Court decision upholding President Duterte’s authority to order former president Ferdinand Marcos’ state burial.
The campus paper’s photo went viral. It surely inspired or shamed thousands to join the larger Nov. 25 protest rallies.
When someone criticized the photo, Shibby publicly replied: “Hello, I’m the girl in the picture with the megaphone. Please do not underestimate the youth. We completely know and understand the injustice we are protesting against.”
A statement from a thousand alumnae decried “the proliferation of false reports that have triggered cyberbullying attacks against young Scholasticans.” It threatened legal action.
They meant Mocha Uson: dancer, blogger, Philippine Star columnist—and the best law school teaching aid ever.
Mocha claimed to receive a message from a distraught parent on Nov. 17. It accused St. Scho of “child abuse,” forcing her 10-year-old daughter to join an antiburial rally.
At 2:15 p.m. on Nov. 18, shortly after the stealthy burial, Mocha posted the message for her 4.5 million Facebook followers, along with an alleged parental consent form. The post was shared 13,597 times.
Until Nov. 19, Mocha posted photos of students raising their fists and argued it is wrong to use children to make political statements. She also posted a message from a St. Scho administrator, stating the children were given a choice and never forced.
Ateneo law student Kira Rances immediately questioned on Mocha’s page how the message’s verbatim text cited the burial on Nov. 17—a day before media found out about it!
Parents were informed of a rally against the Supreme Court decision. No one knew the stealthy burial would take place that day.
The legal rule is that one may punish Mocha if her posts show “actual malice.”
Was Mocha blatantly malicious, sharing an obviously made-up story with millions of her Facebook followers? She has claimed to check her sources after being accused of sharing fake news so many times.
Did Mocha share the message in good faith, while making legitimate social commentary? She shared a clarification from St. Scho within hours.
Drawing the line is not always easy.
Last week, Sass Sasot, a foreign affairs student in the Netherlands, posted: “Gripuhin ko kayo dyaan ng tumagas iyang bulok ninyong pag-uugali. (I will hit you with a faucet so your bad character leaks out.)”
This was her “figurative language” for “Hacienda Katipunan,” questioning the authenticity of an alleged privileged elite.
I doubt Ateneo students saw it as a grave threat. Sass’ words “gripuhin” and “bardagulan” became the punchline of their endless jokes.
Remember, speech cannot be free for only one view. If one is free to praise Shibby’s resolve, one must also be free to criticize it—criticize, not make casual gang rape threats. Otherwise, praise would be meaningless.
Further, in the 2013 Quinsayas case from the Ampatuan massacre, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio zealously protected commentary on public figures (a prominent school?) and persons intertwined with issues of public interest (political rallies and Catholic schools’ mission?).
The Constitution thus empowers “not a journalist” Mocha to share photos of children in a public street while discussing their role in society. It (usually) protects her even if her facts turn out wrong, absent actual malice.
Shibby’s fans now argue the other side of the debate just three years ago, when profile pictures turned black to protest the Cybercrime Act.
Can they accuse someone of spreading lies to defame their school or inciting harassment of 13-year-olds? Certainly, but one hopes they are consistent in drawing the line.
Meanwhile, I hope tickets to the Shibby-Mocha debate are cheaper than Coldplay’s.
I discuss these free speech dilemmas in “The Complete Philippine Right to Privacy,” 82(4) Phil. L.J. 78 (2008). React: email@example.com, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.