Lunacy and the law

By Reyshimar Arguelles

This week, a public school teacher was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation for tweeting a P50-million bounty on the President’s head. He had deleted the tweet before authorities collared him, but screenshots of it were distributed online. Social media users called it crass, inappropriate, and a quicker way of throwing a stable teaching career out the window.

The absurdity of it all stems from the fact that the teacher made a direct threat against the President despite not having P50 million for bounty hunters. It is clear enough the tweet was made in jest, but to make a joke out of assassinating the Chief Executive seems like a whole other level of internet edginess.

One look in the comments section of every ABS-CBN post on Facebook gives us a clear picture of how online discourse has evolved into a cesspool of ad hominem attacks. The online sphere has empowered people to act like animals without the fear of consequence, so it makes the case for elevating the quality of discourse and purging undesirable content.

But anything goes online where not even Zuckerberg’s minions could stop rabid trolls from spreading ignorance. To be on the safe side still, you just have to know what passes for a joke in this day and age when a good understanding of sarcasm, context, and reading comprehension is needed in political discourse.

So, what we can gather from the teacher’s online threat against the President and his subsequent arrest is this: you are entitled to say anything outrageous — so long as you don’t say anything outrageous. Nothing could be so simpler.

How do you know if your online sentiments won’t prompt authorities to ram your door down? You just have to ensure that your level of discourse agrees with the vast majority of netizens.

When Senator Leila De Lima was pilloried for her alleged drug links, her critics took interest in her affair with a former aide. Bogus articles and videos purportedly detailing this affair began circulating online. This was acceptable at a time when the opposition faced overwhelming backlash for its focus on the issue of extrajudicial killings in the country.

As long as people think the same as you do, you are insulated from any form of persecution. You are exercising your right to express your sentiments as angrily as you can, but you have to choose which side you want to rail against. So, no matter how slanderous a claim you have against a person, you are still protected from slander laws, simply because your sentiments are a matter of free expression.

This is sometimes the problem with the concept of free speech. While no one is going to stop you from whining about the slow distribution of government aid or using the “Law of the Classroom” to describe the rule of law, you may still have to submit to the free speech requirements of the prevailing order.

This type of lunacy can also be observed when politicians seem to uphold the freedom of expression as an unalienable right and, at the same time, call for fairness if they’re caught acting like sleazes. The only responsible press for them is a press that leaves them alone when they’re doing questionable things with impunity.

Ignorance of the law excuses no one, unless you are the one enforcing it. It’s crazy enough when law enforcers break quarantine protocols that limit mass gatherings, so where’s consistency when we need it?

If we were to regard the law as an absolute concept, it has to be all-encompassing. Only then can no one go above it. But since the law right now has devolved in a way that allows people to mold it to their bidding, what then can we make of it?