Gonzales vs. COMELEC G.R. No. L-27833, April 18, 1969 27 SCRA 835 (1969)

Facts: Petitioners so alleged in his action, which they entitled Declaratory Relief with Preliminary Injunction, filed on July 22, 1967, a proceeding that should have been started in the of Court of First Instance but treated by this Court as one of prohibition in view of the seriousness and the urgency of the constitutional issue raised. Petitioners challenged the validity of two new sections now included in the Revised Election Code, under Republic Act No. 4880, which was approved and took effect on June 17, 1967, prohibiting the too early nomination of candidates and limiting the period of election campaign or partisan political activity. Petitioner Cabigao was, at the time of the filing of the petition, an incumbent councilor in the 4th District of Manila and the Nacionalista Party official candidate for Vice-Mayor of Manila to which he was subsequently elected on November 11, 1967; petitioner Gonzales, on the other hand, is a private individual, a registered voter in the City of Manila and a political leader of his co-petitioner. It is their claim that “the enforcement of said Republic Act No. 4880 in question [would] prejudice [their] basic rights…, such as their freedom of speech, their freedom of assembly and their right to form associations or societies for purpose not contrary to law, guaranteed under the Philippine Constitution,” and that therefore said act is unconstitutional.

Issue: Whether the Right of Expression of Speech is susceptible of any limitation.

Held: Yes, Freedom of expression is not an absolute. The Court spoke of two tests that may supply an acceptable criterion for permissible restriction.

“The ‘clear and present danger’ rule means that the evil consequence of the comment or utterance must be extremely serious and the degree of imminence extremely high’ before the utterance can be punished. The danger to be guarded against is the ‘substantive evil’ sought to be prevented.” It has the advantage of establishing according to the above decision “a definite rule in constitutional law. It provides the criterion as to what words may be public established.”

The “dangerous tendency” rule and explained “If the words uttered create a dangerous tendency which the state has a right to prevent, then such words are punishable. It is not necessary that some definite or immediate acts of force, violence, or unlawfulness be advocated. It is sufficient that such acts be advocated in general terms. Nor is it necessary that the language used be reasonably calculated to incite persons to acts of force, violence, or unlawfulness. It is sufficient if the natural tendency and probable effect of the utterance be to bring about the substantive evil which the legislative body seeks to prevent.

Why repression is permissible only when the danger of substantive evil is present? The evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” The apprehended evil must be “relatively serious.” For “[prohibition] of free speech and assembly is a measure so stringent that it would be inappropriate as the means for averting a relatively trivial harm to society.”

This test then as a limitation on freedom of expression is justified by the danger or evil a substantive character that the state has a right to prevent. Unlike the dangerous tendency doctrine, the danger must not only be clear but also present. The term clear seems to point to a causal connection with the danger of the substantially evil arising from the utterance questioned. Present refers to the time element. It used to be identified with imminent and immediate danger. The danger must not only be probable but very likely inevitable.


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