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Special Assignment Eliseo Soriano Case


Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. 164785               April 29, 2009

ELISEO F. SORIANO, Petitioner,
vs.
MA. CONSOLIZA P. LAGUARDIA, in her capacity as Chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, MOVIE AND TELEVISION REVIEW AND CLASSIFICATION BOARD, JESSIE L. GALAPON, ANABEL M. DELA CRUZ, MANUEL M. HERNANDEZ, JOSE L. LOPEZ, CRISANTO SORIANO, BERNABE S. YARIA, JR., MICHAEL M. SANDOVAL, and ROLDAN A. GAVINO, Respondents.

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G.R. No. 165636               April 29, 2009

ELISEO F. SORIANO Petitioner,
vs.
MOVIE AND TELEVISION REVIEW AND CLASSIFICATION BOARD, ZOSIMO G. ALEGRE, JACKIE AQUINO-GAVINO, NOEL R. DEL PRADO, EMMANUEL BORLAZA, JOSE E. ROMERO IV, and FLORIMONDO C. ROUS, in their capacity as members of the Hearing and Adjudication Committee of the MTRCB, JESSIE L. GALAPON, ANABEL M. DELA CRUZ, MANUEL M. HERNANDEZ, JOSE L. LOPEZ, CRISANTO SORIANO, BERNABE S. YARIA, JR., MICHAEL M. SANDOVAL, and ROLDAN A. GAVINO, in their capacity as complainants before the MTRCB Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

VELASCO, JR., J.:

In these two petitions for certiorari and prohibition under Rule 65, petitioner Eliseo F. Soriano seeks to nullify and set aside an order and a decision of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) in connection with certain utterances he made in his television show, Ang Dating Daan.

Facts of the Case

On August 10, 2004, at around 10:00 p.m., petitioner, as host of the program Ang Dating Daan, aired on UNTV 37, made the following remarks:

Lehitimong anak ng demonyo; sinungaling;

Gago ka talaga Michael, masahol ka pa sa putang babae o di ba. Yung putang babae ang gumagana lang doon yung ibaba, [dito] kay Michael ang gumagana ang itaas, o di ba! O, masahol pa sa putang babae yan. Sabi ng lola ko masahol pa sa putang babae yan. Sobra ang kasinungalingan ng mga demonyong ito.1x x x

Two days after, before the MTRCB, separate but almost identical affidavit-complaints were lodged by Jessie L. Galapon and seven other private respondents, all members of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC),2 against petitioner in connection with the above broadcast. Respondent Michael M. Sandoval, who felt directly alluded to in petitioner’s remark, was then a minister of INC and a regular host of the TV program Ang Tamang Daan.3 Forthwith, the MTRCB sent petitioner a notice of the hearing on August 16, 2004 in relation to the alleged use of some cuss words in the August 10, 2004 episode of Ang Dating Daan.4

After a preliminary conference in which petitioner appeared, the MTRCB, by Order of August 16, 2004, preventively suspended the showing of Ang Dating Daan program for 20 days, in accordance with Section 3(d) of Presidential Decree No. (PD) 1986, creating the MTRCB, in relation to Sec. 3, Chapter XIII of the 2004 Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of PD 1986 and Sec. 7, Rule VII of the MTRCB Rules of Procedure.5 The same order also set the case for preliminary investigation.

The following day, petitioner sought reconsideration of the preventive suspension order, praying that Chairperson Consoliza P. Laguardia and two other members of the adjudication board recuse themselves from hearing the case.6 Two days after, however, petitioner sought to withdraw7 his motion for reconsideration, followed by the filing with this Court of a petition for certiorari and prohibition,8 docketed as G.R. No. 164785, to nullify the preventive suspension order thus issued.

On September 27, 2004, in Adm. Case No. 01-04, the MTRCB issued a decision, disposing as follows:

WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, a Decision is hereby rendered, finding respondent Soriano liable for his utterances and thereby imposing on him a penalty of three (3) months suspension from his program, "Ang Dating Daan".

Co-respondents Joselito Mallari, Luzviminda Cruz and UNTV Channel 37 and its owner, PBC, are hereby exonerated for lack of evidence.

SO ORDERED.9

Petitioner then filed this petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for injunctive relief, docketed as G.R. No. 165636.

In a Resolution dated April 4, 2005, the Court consolidated G.R. No. 164785 with G.R. No. 165636.

In G.R. No. 164785, petitioner raises the following issues:

THE ORDER OF PREVENTIVE SUSPENSION PROMULGATED BY RESPONDENT [MTRCB] DATED 16 AUGUST 2004 AGAINST THE TELEVISION PROGRAM ANG DATING DAAN x x x IS NULL AND VOID FOR BEING ISSUED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION

In G.R. No. 165636, petitioner relies on the following grounds:

SECTION 3(C) OF [PD] 1986, IS PATENTLY UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND ENACTED WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION x x x CONSIDERING THAT:

I

SECTION 3(C) OF [PD] 1986, AS APPLIED TO PETITIONER, UNDULY INFRINGES ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEE OF FREEDOM OF RELIGION, SPEECH, AND EXPRESSION AS IT PARTAKES OF THE NATURE OF A SUBSEQUENT PUNISHMENT CURTAILING THE SAME; CONSEQUENTLY, THE IMPLEMENTING RULES AND REGULATIONS, RULES OF PROCEDURE, AND OFFICIAL ACTS OF THE MTRCB PURSUANT THERETO, I.E. DECISION DATED 27 SEPTEMBER 2004 AND ORDER DATED 19 OCTOBER 2004, ARE LIKEWISE CONSTITUTIONALLY INFIRM AS APPLIED IN THE CASE AT BENCH;

II

SECTION 3(C) OF [PD] 1986, AS APPLIED TO PETITIONER, UNDULY INFRINGES ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEE OF DUE PROCESS OF LAW AND EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW; CONSEQUENTLY, THE [IRR], RULES OF PROCEDURE, AND OFFICIAL ACTS OF THE MTRCB PURSUANT THERETO, I.E., DECISION DATED 27 SEPTEMBER 2004 AND ORDER DATED 19 OCTOBER 2004, ARE LIKEWISE CONSTITUTIONALLY INFIRM AS APPLIED IN THE CASE AT BENCH; AND

III

[PD] 1986 IS NOT COMPLETE IN ITSELF AND DOES NOT PROVIDE FOR A SUFFICIENT STANDARD FOR ITS IMPLEMENTATION THEREBY RESULTING IN AN UNDUE DELEGATION OF LEGISLATIVE POWER BY REASON THAT IT DOES NOT PROVIDE FOR THE PENALTIES FOR VIOLATIONS OF ITS PROVISIONS. CONSEQUENTLY, THE [IRR], RULES OF PROCEDURE, AND OFFICIAL ACTS OF THE MTRCB PURSUANT THERETO, I.E. DECISION DATED 27 SEPTEMBER 2004 AND ORDER DATED 19 OCTOBER 2004, ARE LIKEWISE CONSTITUTIONALLY INFIRM AS APPLIED IN THE CASE AT BENCH11

G.R. No. 164785

We shall first dispose of the issues in G.R. No. 164785, regarding the assailed order of preventive suspension, although its implementability had already been overtaken and veritably been rendered moot by the equally assailed September 27, 2004 decision.

It is petitioner’s threshold posture that the preventive suspension imposed against him and the relevant IRR provision authorizing it are invalid inasmuch as PD 1986 does not expressly authorize the MTRCB to issue preventive suspension.

Petitioner’s contention is untenable.

Administrative agencies have powers and functions which may be administrative, investigatory, regulatory, quasi-legislative, or quasi-judicial, or a mix of the five, as may be conferred by the Constitution or by statute.12 They have in fine only such powers or authority as are granted or delegated, expressly or impliedly, by law.13 And in determining whether an agency has certain powers, the inquiry should be from the law itself. But once ascertained as existing, the authority given should be liberally construed.14

A perusal of the MTRCB’s basic mandate under PD 1986 reveals the possession by the agency of the authority, albeit impliedly, to issue the challenged order of preventive suspension. And this authority stems naturally from, and is necessary for the exercise of, its power of regulation and supervision.

Sec. 3 of PD 1986 pertinently provides the following:

Section 3. Powers and Functions.—The BOARD shall have the following functions, powers and duties:

x x x x

c) To approve or disapprove, delete objectionable portions from and/or prohibit the x x x production, x x x exhibition and/or television broadcast of the motion pictures, television programs and publicity materials subject of the preceding paragraph, which, in the judgment of the board applying contemporary Filipino cultural values as standard, are objectionable for being immoral, indecent, contrary to law and/or good customs, injurious to the prestige of the Republic of the Philippines or its people, or with a dangerous tendency to encourage the commission of violence or of wrong or crime such as but not limited to:

x x x x

vi) Those which are libelous or defamatory to the good name and reputation of any person, whether living or dead;

x x x x

(d) To supervise, regulate, and grant, deny or cancel, permits for the x x x production, copying, distribution, sale, lease, exhibition, and/or television broadcast of all motion pictures, television programs and publicity materials, to the end that no such pictures, programs and materials as are determined by the BOARD to be objectionable in accordance with paragraph (c) hereof shall be x x x produced, copied, reproduced, distributed, sold, leased, exhibited and/or broadcast by television;

x x x x

k) To exercise such powers and functions as may be necessary or incidental to the attainment of the purposes and objectives of this Act x x x. (Emphasis added.)

The issuance of a preventive suspension comes well within the scope of the MTRCB’s authority and functions expressly set forth in PD 1986, more particularly under its Sec. 3(d), as quoted above, which empowers the MTRCB to "supervise, regulate, and grant, deny or cancel, permits for the x x x exhibition, and/or television broadcast of all motion pictures, television programs and publicity materials, to the end that no such pictures, programs and materials as are determined by the BOARD to be objectionable in accordance with paragraph (c) hereof shall be x x x exhibited and/or broadcast by television."

Surely, the power to issue preventive suspension forms part of the MTRCB’s express regulatory and supervisory statutory mandate and its investigatory and disciplinary authority subsumed in or implied from such mandate. Any other construal would render its power to regulate, supervise, or discipline illusory.

Preventive suspension, it ought to be noted, is not a penalty by itself, being merely a preliminary step in an administrative investigation.15 And the power to discipline and impose penalties, if granted, carries with it the power to investigate administrative complaints and, during such investigation, to preventively suspend the person subject of the complaint.16

To reiterate, preventive suspension authority of the MTRCB springs from its powers conferred under PD 1986. The MTRCB did not, as petitioner insinuates, empower itself to impose preventive suspension through the medium of the IRR of PD 1986. It is true that the matter of imposing preventive suspension is embodied only in the IRR of PD 1986. Sec. 3, Chapter XIII of the IRR provides:

Sec. 3. PREVENTION SUSPENSION ORDER.––Any time during the pendency of the case, and in order to prevent or stop further violations or for the interest and welfare of the public, the Chairman of the Board may issue a Preventive Suspension Order mandating the preventive x x x suspension of the permit/permits involved, and/or closure of the x x x television network, cable TV station x x x provided that the temporary/preventive order thus issued shall have a life of not more than twenty (20) days from the date of issuance.

But the mere absence of a provision on preventive suspension in PD 1986, without more, would not work to deprive the MTRCB a basic disciplinary tool, such as preventive suspension. Recall that the MTRCB is expressly empowered by statute to regulate and supervise television programs to obviate the exhibition or broadcast of, among others, indecent or immoral materials and to impose sanctions for violations and, corollarily, to prevent further violations as it investigates. Contrary to petitioner’s assertion, the aforequoted Sec. 3 of the IRR neither amended PD 1986 nor extended the effect of the law. Neither did the MTRCB, by imposing the assailed preventive suspension, outrun its authority under the law. Far from it. The preventive suspension was actually done in furtherance of the law, imposed pursuant, to repeat, to the MTRCB’s duty of regulating or supervising television programs, pending a determination of whether or not there has actually been a violation. In the final analysis, Sec. 3, Chapter XIII of the 2004 IRR merely formalized a power which PD 1986 bestowed, albeit impliedly, on MTRCB.

Sec. 3(c) and (d) of PD 1986 finds application to the present case, sufficient to authorize the MTRCB’s assailed action. Petitioner’s restrictive reading of PD 1986, limiting the MTRCB to functions within the literal confines of the law, would give the agency little leeway to operate, stifling and rendering it inutile, when Sec. 3(k) of PD 1986 clearly intends to grant the MTRCB a wide room for flexibility in its operation. Sec. 3(k), we reiterate, provides, "To exercise such powers and functions as may be necessary or incidental to the attainment of the purposes and objectives of this Act x x x." Indeed, the power to impose preventive suspension is one of the implied powers of MTRCB. As distinguished from express powers, implied powers are those that can be inferred or are implicit in the wordings or conferred by necessary or fair implication of the enabling act.17 As we held in Angara v. Electoral Commission, when a general grant of power is conferred or a duty enjoined, every particular power necessary for the exercise of one or the performance of the other is also conferred by necessary implication.18 Clearly, the power to impose preventive suspension pending investigation is one of the implied or inherent powers of MTRCB.

We cannot agree with petitioner’s assertion that the aforequoted IRR provision on preventive suspension is applicable only to motion pictures and publicity materials. The scope of the MTRCB’s authority extends beyond motion pictures. What the acronym MTRCB stands for would suggest as much. And while the law makes specific reference to the closure of a television network, the suspension of a television program is a far less punitive measure that can be undertaken, with the purpose of stopping further violations of PD 1986. Again, the MTRCB would regretfully be rendered ineffective should it be subject to the restrictions petitioner envisages.

Just as untenable is petitioner’s argument on the nullity of the preventive suspension order on the ground of lack of hearing. As it were, the MTRCB handed out the assailed order after petitioner, in response to a written notice, appeared before that Board for a hearing on private respondents’ complaint. No less than petitioner admitted that the order was issued after the adjournment of the hearing,19 proving that he had already appeared before the MTRCB. Under Sec. 3, Chapter XIII of the IRR of PD 1986, preventive suspension shall issue "[a]ny time during the pendency of the case." In this particular case, it was done after MTRCB duly apprised petitioner of his having possibly violated PD 198620 and of administrative complaints that had been filed against him for such violation.21

At any event, that preventive suspension can validly be meted out even without a hearing.22

Petitioner next faults the MTRCB for denying him his right to the equal protection of the law, arguing that, owing to the preventive suspension order, he was unable to answer the criticisms coming from the INC ministers.

Petitioner’s position does not persuade. The equal protection clause demands that "all persons subject to legislation should be treated alike, under like circumstances and conditions both in the privileges conferred and liabilities imposed."23 It guards against undue favor and individual privilege as well as hostile discrimination.24 Surely, petitioner cannot, under the premises, place himself in the same shoes as the INC ministers, who, for one, are not facing administrative complaints before the MTRCB. For another, he offers no proof that the said ministers, in their TV programs, use language similar to that which he used in his own, necessitating the MTRCB’s disciplinary action. If the immediate result of the preventive suspension order is that petitioner remains temporarily gagged and is unable to answer his critics, this does not become a deprivation of the equal protection guarantee. The Court need not belabor the fact that the circumstances of petitioner, as host of Ang Dating Daan, on one hand, and the INC ministers, as hosts of Ang Tamang Daan, on the other, are, within the purview of this case, simply too different to even consider whether or not there is a prima facie indication of oppressive inequality.

Petitioner next injects the notion of religious freedom, submitting that what he uttered was religious speech, adding that words like "putang babae" were said in exercise of his religious freedom.

The argument has no merit.

The Court is at a loss to understand how petitioner’s utterances in question can come within the pale of Sec. 5, Article III of the 1987 Constitution on religious freedom. The section reads as follows:

No law shall be made respecting the establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.

There is nothing in petitioner’s statements subject of the complaints expressing any particular religious belief, nothing furthering his avowed evangelical mission. The fact that he came out with his statements in a televised bible exposition program does not automatically accord them the character of a religious discourse. Plain and simple insults directed at another person cannot be elevated to the status of religious speech. Even petitioner’s attempts to place his words in context show that he was moved by anger and the need to seek retribution, not by any religious conviction. His claim, assuming its veracity, that some INC ministers distorted his statements respecting amounts Ang Dating Daan owed to a TV station does not convert the foul language used in retaliation as religious speech. We cannot accept that petitioner made his statements in defense of his reputation and religion, as they constitute no intelligible defense or refutation of the alleged lies being spread by a rival religious group. They simply illustrate that petitioner had descended to the level of name-calling and foul-language discourse. Petitioner could have chosen to contradict and disprove his detractors, but opted for the low road.

Petitioner, as a final point in G.R. No. 164785, would have the Court nullify the 20-day preventive suspension order, being, as insisted, an unconstitutional abridgement of the freedom of speech and expression and an impermissible prior restraint. The main issue tendered respecting the adverted violation and the arguments holding such issue dovetails with those challenging the three-month suspension imposed under the assailed September 27, 2004 MTRCB decision subject of review under G.R. No. 165636. Both overlapping issues and arguments shall be jointly addressed.

G.R. No. 165636

Petitioner urges the striking down of the decision suspending him from hosting Ang Dating Daan for three months on the main ground that the decision violates, apart from his religious freedom, his freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Sec. 4, Art. III of the Constitution, which reads:

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 grievance.

He would also have the Court declare PD 1986, its Sec. 3(c) in particular, unconstitutional for reasons articulated in this petition.

We are not persuaded as shall be explained shortly. But first, we restate certain general concepts and principles underlying the freedom of speech and expression.

It is settled that expressions by means of newspapers, radio, television, and motion pictures come within the broad protection of the free speech and expression clause.25 Each method though, because of its dissimilar presence in the lives of people and accessibility to children, tends to present its own problems in the area of free speech protection, with broadcast media, of all forms of communication, enjoying a lesser degree of protection.26 Just as settled is the rule that restrictions, be it in the form of prior restraint, e.g., judicial injunction against publication or threat of cancellation of license/franchise, or subsequent liability, whether in libel and damage suits, prosecution for sedition, or contempt proceedings, are anathema to the freedom of expression. Prior restraint means official government restrictions on the press or other forms of expression in advance of actual publication or dissemination.27 The freedom of expression, as with the other freedoms encased in the Bill of Rights, is, however, not absolute. It may be regulated to some extent to serve important public interests, some forms of speech not being protected. As has been held, the limits of the freedom of expression are reached when the expression touches upon matters of essentially private concern.28 In the oft-quoted expression of Justice Holmes, the constitutional guarantee "obviously was not intended to give immunity for every possible use of language."29 From Lucas v. Royo comes this line: "[T]he freedom to express one’s sentiments and belief does not grant one the license to vilify in public the honor and integrity of another. Any sentiments must be expressed within the proper forum and with proper regard for the rights of others."30

Indeed, as noted in Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire,31 "there are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech that are harmful, the prevention and punishment of whichhas never been thought to raise any Constitutional problems." In net effect, some forms of speech are not protected by the Constitution, meaning that restrictions on unprotected speech may be decreed without running afoul of the freedom of speech clause.32 A speech would fall under the unprotected type if the utterances involved are "no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step of truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality."33 Being of little or no value, there is, in dealing with or regulating them, no imperative call for the application of the clear and present danger rule or the balancing-of-interest test, they being essentially modes of weighing competing values,34 or, with like effect, determining which of the clashing interests should be advanced.

Petitioner asserts that his utterance in question is a protected form of speech.

The Court rules otherwise. It has been established in this jurisdiction that unprotected speech or low-value expression refers to libelous statements, obscenity or pornography, false or misleading advertisement, insulting or "fighting words", i.e., those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of peace and expression endangering national security.

The Court finds that petitioner’s statement can be treated as obscene, at least with respect to the average child. Hence, it is, in that context, unprotected speech. In Fernando v. Court of Appeals, the Court expressed difficulty in formulating a definition of obscenity that would apply to all cases, but nonetheless stated the ensuing observations on the matter:

There is no perfect definition of "obscenity" but the latest word is that of Miller v. California which established basic guidelines, to wit: (a) whether to the average person, applying contemporary standards would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. But, it would be a serious misreading of Miller to conclude that the trier of facts has the unbridled discretion in determining what is "patently offensive." x x x What remains clear is that obscenity is an issue proper for judicial determination and should be treated on a case to case basis and on the judge’s sound discretion.35

Following the contextual lessons of the cited case of Miller v. California,36 a patently offensive utterance would come within the pale of the term obscenity should it appeal to the prurient interest of an average listener applying contemporary standards.

A cursory examination of the utterances complained of and the circumstances of the case reveal that to an average adult, the utterances "Gago ka talaga x x x, masahol ka pa sa putang babae x x x. Yung putang babae ang gumagana lang doon yung ibaba, [dito] kay Michael ang gumagana ang itaas, o di ba!"may not constitute obscene but merely indecent utterances. They can be viewed as figures of speech or merely a play on words. In the context they were used, they may not appeal to the prurient interests of an adult. The problem with the challenged statements is that they were uttered in a TV program that is rated "G" or for general viewership, and in a time slot that would likely reach even the eyes and ears of children.

While adults may have understood that the terms thus used were not to be taken literally, children could hardly be expected to have the same discernment. Without parental guidance, the unbridled use of such language as that of petitioner in a television broadcast could corrupt impressionable young minds. The term "putang babae" means "a female prostitute," a term wholly inappropriate for children, who could look it up in a dictionary and just get the literal meaning, missing the context within which it was used. Petitioner further used the terms, "ang gumagana lang doon yung ibaba," making reference to the female sexual organ and how a female prostitute uses it in her trade, then stating that Sandoval was worse than that by using his mouth in a similar manner. Children could be motivated by curiosity and ask the meaning of what petitioner said, also without placing the phrase in context. They may be inquisitive as to why Sandoval is different from a female prostitute and the reasons for the dissimilarity. And upon learning the meanings of the words used, young minds, without the guidance of an adult, may, from their end, view this kind of indecent speech as obscene, if they take these words literally and use them in their own speech or form their own ideas on the matter. In this particular case, where children had the opportunity to hear petitioner’s words, when speaking of the average person in the test for obscenity, we are speaking of the average child, not the average adult. The average child may not have the adult’s grasp of figures of speech, and may lack the understanding that language may be colorful, and words may convey more than the literal meaning. Undeniably the subject speech is very suggestive of a female sexual organ and its function as such. In this sense, we find petitioner’s utterances obscene and not entitled to protection under the umbrella of freedom of speech.

Even if we concede that petitioner’s remarks are not obscene but merely indecent speech, still the Court rules that petitioner cannot avail himself of the constitutional protection of free speech. Said statements were made in a medium easily accessible to children. With respect to the young minds, said utterances are to be treated as unprotected speech.

No doubt what petitioner said constitutes indecent or offensive utterances. But while a jurisprudential pattern involving certain offensive utterances conveyed in different mediums has emerged, this case is veritably one of first impression, it being the first time that indecent speech communicated via television and the applicable norm for its regulation are, in this jurisdiction, made the focal point. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) v. Pacifica Foundation,37 a 1978 American landmark case cited in Eastern Broadcasting Corporation v. Dans, Jr.38 and Chavez v. Gonzales,39 is a rich source of persuasive lessons. Foremost of these relates to indecent speech without prurient appeal component coming under the category of protected speech depending on the context within which it was made, irresistibly suggesting that, within a particular context, such indecent speech may validly be categorized as unprotected, ergo, susceptible to restriction.

In FCC, seven of what were considered "filthy" words40 earlier recorded in a monologue by a satiric humorist later aired in the afternoon over a radio station owned by Pacifica Foundation. Upon the complaint of a man who heard the pre-recorded monologue while driving with his son, FCC declared the language used as "patently offensive" and "indecent" under a prohibiting law, though not necessarily obscene. FCC added, however, that its declaratory order was issued in a "special factual context," referring, in gist, to an afternoon radio broadcast when children were undoubtedly in the audience. Acting on the question of whether the FCC could regulate the subject utterance, the US Supreme Court ruled in the affirmative, owing to two special features of the broadcast medium, to wit: (1) radio is a pervasive medium and (2) broadcasting is uniquely accessible to children. The US Court, however, hastened to add that the monologue would be protected speech in other contexts, albeit it did not expound and identify a compelling state interest in putting FCC’s content-based regulatory action under scrutiny.

The Court in Chavez41 elucidated on the distinction between regulation or restriction of protected speech that is content-based and that which is content-neutral. A content-based restraint is aimed at the contents or idea of the expression, whereas a content-neutral restraint intends to regulate the time, place, and manner of the expression under well-defined standards tailored to serve a compelling state interest, without restraint on the message of the expression. Courts subject content-based restraint to strict scrutiny.

With the view we take of the case, the suspension MTRCB imposed under the premises was, in one perspective, permissible restriction. We make this disposition against the backdrop of the following interplaying factors: First, the indecent speech was made via television, a pervasive medium that, to borrow from Gonzales v. Kalaw Katigbak,42 easily "reaches every home where there is a set [and where] [c]hildren will likely be among the avid viewers of the programs therein shown"; second, the broadcast was aired at the time of the day when there was a reasonable risk that children might be in the audience; and third, petitioner uttered his speech on a "G" or "for general patronage" rated program. Under Sec. 2(A) of Chapter IV of the IRR of the MTRCB, a show for general patronage is "[s]uitable for all ages," meaning that the "material for television x x x in the judgment of the BOARD, does not contain anything unsuitable for children and minors, and may be viewed without adult guidance or supervision." The words petitioner used were, by any civilized norm, clearly not suitable for children. Where a language is categorized as indecent, as in petitioner’s utterances on a general-patronage rated TV program, it may be readily proscribed as unprotected speech.

A view has been advanced that unprotected speech refers only to pornography,43 false or misleading advertisement,44 advocacy of imminent lawless action, and expression endangering national security. But this list is not, as some members of the Court would submit, exclusive or carved in stone. Without going into specifics, it may be stated without fear of contradiction that US decisional law goes beyond the aforesaid general exceptions. As the Court has been impelled to recognize exceptions to the rule against censorship in the past, this particular case constitutes yet another exception, another instance of unprotected speech, created by the necessity of protecting the welfare of our children. As unprotected speech, petitioner’s utterances can be subjected to restraint or regulation.

Despite the settled ruling in FCC which has remained undisturbed since 1978, petitioner asserts that his utterances must present a clear and present danger of bringing about a substantive evil the State has a right and duty to prevent and such danger must be grave and imminent.45

Petitioner’s invocation of the clear and present danger doctrine, arguably the most permissive of speech tests, would not avail him any relief, for the application of said test is uncalled for under the premises. The doctrine, first formulated by Justice Holmes, accords protection for utterances so that the printed or spoken words may not be subject to prior restraint or subsequent punishment unless its expression creates a clear and present danger of bringing about a substantial evil which the government has the power to prohibit.46 Under the doctrine, freedom of speech and of press is susceptible of restriction when and only when necessary to prevent grave and immediate danger to interests which the government may lawfully protect. As it were, said doctrine evolved in the context of prosecutions for rebellion and other crimes involving the overthrow of government.47 It was originally designed to determine the latitude which should be given to speech that espouses anti-government action, or to have serious and substantial deleterious consequences on the security and public order of the community.48 The clear and present danger rule has been applied to this jurisdiction.49 As a standard of limitation on free speech and press, however, the clear and present danger test is not a magic incantation that wipes out all problems and does away with analysis and judgment in the testing of the legitimacy of claims to free speech and which compels a court to release a defendant from liability the moment the doctrine is invoked, absent proof of imminent catastrophic disaster.50 As we observed in Eastern Broadcasting Corporation, the clear and present danger test "does not lend itself to a simplistic and all embracing interpretation applicable to all utterances in all forums."51

To be sure, the clear and present danger doctrine is not the only test which has been applied by the courts. Generally, said doctrine is applied to cases involving the overthrow of the government and even other evils which do not clearly undermine national security. Since not all evils can be measured in terms of "proximity and degree" the Court, however, in several cases—Ayer Productions v. Capulong52 and Gonzales v. COMELEC,53 applied the balancing of interests test. Former Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro, in Gonzales v. COMELEC, elucidated in his Separate Opinion that "where the legislation under constitutional attack interferes with the freedom of speech and assembly in a more generalized way and where the effect of the speech and assembly in terms of the probability of realization of a specific danger is not susceptible even of impressionistic calculation,"54 then the "balancing of interests" test can be applied.

The Court explained also in Gonzales v. COMELEC the "balancing of interests" test:

When particular conduct is regulated in the interest of public order, and the regulation results in an indirect, conditional, partial abridgment of speech, the duty of the courts is to determine which of the two conflicting interests demands the greater protection under the particular circumstances presented. x x x We must, therefore, undertake the "delicate and difficult task x x x to weigh the circumstances and to appraise the substantiality of the reasons advanced in support of the regulation of the free enjoyment of rights x x x.

In enunciating standard premised on a judicial balancing of the conflicting social values and individual interests competing for ascendancy in legislation which restricts expression, the court in Douds laid the basis for what has been called the "balancing-of-interests" test which has found application in more recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Briefly stated, the "balancing" test requires a court to take conscious and detailed consideration of the interplay of interests observable in a given situation or type of situation.

x x x x

Although the urgency of the public interest sought to be secured by Congressional power restricting the individual’s freedom, and the social importance and value of the freedom so restricted, "are to be judged in the concrete, not on the basis of abstractions," a wide range of factors are necessarily relevant in ascertaining the point or line of equilibrium. Among these are (a) the social value and importance of the specific aspect of the particular freedom restricted by the legislation; (b) the specific thrust of the restriction, i.e., whether the restriction is direct or indirect, whether or not the persons affected are few; (c) the value and importance of the public interest sought to be secured by the legislation––the reference here is to the nature and gravity of the evil which Congress seeks to prevent; (d) whether the specific restriction decreed by Congress is reasonably appropriate and necessary for the protection of such public interest; and (e) whether the necessary safeguarding of the public interest involved may be achieved by some other measure less restrictive of the protected freedom.55

This balancing of interest test, to borrow from Professor Kauper,56 rests on the theory that it is the court’s function in a case before it when it finds public interests served by legislation, on the one hand, and the free expression clause affected by it, on the other, to balance one against the other and arrive at a judgment where the greater weight shall be placed. If, on balance, it appears that the public interest served by restrictive legislation is of such nature that it outweighs the abridgment of freedom, then the court will find the legislation valid. In short, the balance-of-interests theory rests on the basis that constitutional freedoms are not absolute, not even those stated in the free speech and expression clause, and that they may be abridged to some extent to serve appropriate and important interests.57 To the mind of the Court, the balancing of interest doctrine is the more appropriate test to follow.

In the case at bar, petitioner used indecent and obscene language and a three (3)-month suspension was slapped on him for breach of MTRCB rules. In this setting, the assertion by petitioner of his enjoyment of his freedom of speech is ranged against the duty of the government to protect and promote the development and welfare of the youth.

After a careful examination of the factual milieu and the arguments raised by petitioner in support of his claim to free speech, the Court rules that the government’s interest to protect and promote the interests and welfare of the children adequately buttresses the reasonable curtailment and valid restraint on petitioner’s prayer to continue as program host of Ang Dating Daan during the suspension period.

No doubt, one of the fundamental and most vital rights granted to citizens of a State is the freedom of speech or expression, for without the enjoyment of such right, a free, stable, effective, and progressive democratic state would be difficult to attain. Arrayed against the freedom of speech is the right of the youth to their moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social being which the State is constitutionally tasked to promote and protect. Moreover, the State is also mandated to recognize and support the vital role of the youth in nation building as laid down in Sec. 13, Art. II of the 1987 Constitution.

The Constitution has, therefore, imposed the sacred obligation and responsibility on the State to provide protection to the youth against illegal or improper activities which may prejudice their general well-being. The Article on youth, approved on second reading by the Constitutional Commission, explained that the State shall "extend social protection to minors against all forms of neglect, cruelty, exploitation, immorality, and practices which may foster racial, religious or other forms of discrimination."58

Indisputably, the State has a compelling interest in extending social protection to minors against all forms of neglect, exploitation, and immorality which may pollute innocent minds. It has a compelling interest in helping parents, through regulatory mechanisms, protect their children’s minds from exposure to undesirable materials and corrupting experiences. The Constitution, no less, in fact enjoins the State, as earlier indicated, to promote and protect the physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being of the youth to better prepare them fulfill their role in the field of nation-building.59 In the same way, the State is mandated to support parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character.60

Petitioner’s offensive and obscene language uttered in a television broadcast, without doubt, was easily accessible to the children. His statements could have exposed children to a language that is unacceptable in everyday use. As such, the welfare of children and the State’s mandate to protect and care for them, as parens patriae,61 constitute a substantial and compelling government interest in regulating petitioner’s utterances in TV broadcast as provided in PD 1986.

FCC explains the duty of the government to act as parens patriae to protect the children who, because of age or interest capacity, are susceptible of being corrupted or prejudiced by offensive language, thus:

[B]roadcasting is uniquely accessible to children, even those too young to read. Although Cohen’s written message, ["Fuck the Draft"], might have been incomprehensible to a first grader, Pacifica’s broadcast could have enlarged a child’s vocabulary in an instant. Other forms of offensive expression may be withheld from the young without restricting the expression at its source. Bookstores and motion picture theaters, for example, may be prohibited from making indecent material available to children. We held in Ginsberg v. New York that the government’s interest in the "well-being of its youth" and in supporting "parents’ claim to authority in their own household" justified the regulation of otherwise protected expression. The ease with which children may obtain access to broadcast material, coupled with the concerns recognized in Ginsberg, amply justify special treatment of indecent broadcasting.

Moreover, Gonzales v. Kalaw Katigbak likewise stressed the duty of the State to attend to the welfare of the young:

x x x It is the consensus of this Court that where television is concerned, a less liberal approach calls for observance. This is so because unlike motion pictures where the patrons have to pay their way, television reaches every home where there is a set. Children then will likely will be among the avid viewers of the programs therein shown. As was observed by Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerome Frank, it is hardly the concern of the law to deal with the sexual fantasies of the adult population. It cannot be denied though that the State as parens patriae is called upon to manifest an attitude of caring for the welfare of the young.62

The compelling need to protect the young impels us to sustain the regulatory action MTRCB took in the narrow confines of the case. To reiterate, FCC justified the restraint on the TV broadcast grounded on the following considerations: (1) the use of television with its unique accessibility to children, as a medium of broadcast of a patently offensive speech; (2) the time of broadcast; and (3) the "G" rating of the Ang Dating Daan program. And in agreeing with MTRCB, the court takes stock of and cites with approval the following excerpts from FCC:

It is appropriate, in conclusion, to emphasize the narrowness of our holding. This case does not involve a two-way radio conversation between a cab driver and a dispatcher, or a telecast of an Elizabethan comedy. We have not decided that an occasional expletive in either setting would justify any sanction. x x x The [FFC’s] decision rested entirely on a nuisance rationale under which context is all important. The concept requires consideration of a host of variables. The time of day was emphasized by the [FFC]. The content of the program in which the language is used will affect the composition of the audience x x x. As Mr. Justice Sutherland wrote a ‘nuisance may be merely a right thing in the wrong place, like a pig in the parlor instead of the barnyard.’ We simply hold that when the [FCC] finds that a pig has entered the parlor, the exercise of its regulatory power does not depend on proof that the pig is obscene. (Citation omitted.)

There can be no quibbling that the remarks in question petitioner uttered on prime-time television are blatantly indecent if not outright obscene. It is the kind of speech that PD 1986 proscribes necessitating the exercise by MTRCB of statutory disciplinary powers. It is the kind of speech that the State has the inherent prerogative, nay duty, to regulate and prevent should such action served and further compelling state interests. One who utters indecent, insulting, or offensive words on television when unsuspecting children are in the audience is, in the graphic language of FCC, a "pig in the parlor." Public interest would be served if the "pig" is reasonably restrained or even removed from the "parlor."

Ergo, petitioner’s offensive and indecent language can be subjected to prior restraint.

Petitioner theorizes that the three (3)-month suspension is either prior restraint or subsequent punishment that, however, includes prior restraint, albeit indirectly.

After a review of the facts, the Court finds that what MTRCB imposed on petitioner is an administrative sanction or subsequent punishment for his offensive and obscene language in Ang Dating Daan.

To clarify, statutes imposing prior restraints on speech are generally illegal and presumed unconstitutional breaches of the freedom of speech. The exceptions to prior restraint are movies, television, and radio broadcast censorship in view of its access to numerous people, including the young who must be insulated from the prejudicial effects of unprotected speech. PD 1986 was passed creating the Board of Review for Motion Pictures and Television (now MTRCB) and which requires prior permit or license before showing a motion picture or broadcasting a TV program. The Board can classify movies and television programs and can cancel permits for exhibition of films or television broadcast.lavvphi1.net

The power of MTRCB to regulate and even impose some prior restraint on radio and television shows, even religious programs, was upheld in Iglesia Ni Cristo v. Court of Appeals. Speaking through Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, the Court wrote:

We thus reject petitioner’s postulate that its religious program is per se beyond review by the respondent Board. Its public broadcast on TV of its religious program brings it out of the bosom of internal belief. Television is a medium that reaches even the eyes and ears of children. The Court iterates the rule that the exercise of religious freedom can be regulated by the State when it will bring about the clear and present danger of some substantive evil which the State is duty bound to prevent, i.e., serious detriment to the more overriding interest of public health, public morals, or public welfare. x x x

x x x x

While the thesis has a lot to commend itself, we are not ready to hold that [PD 1986] is unconstitutional for Congress to grant an administrative body quasi-judicial power to preview and classify TV programs and enforce its decision subject to review by our courts. As far back as 1921, we upheld this setup in Sotto vs. Ruiz, viz:

"The use of the mails by private persons is in the nature of a privilege which can be regulated in order to avoid its abuse. Persons possess no absolute right to put into the mail anything they please, regardless of its character."63

Bernas adds:

Under the decree a movie classification board is made the arbiter of what movies and television programs or parts of either are fit for public consumption. It decides what movies are "immoral, indecent, contrary to law and/or good customs, injurious to the prestige of the Republic of the Philippines or its people," and what "tend to incite subversion, insurrection, rebellion or sedition," or "tend to undermine the faith and confidence of the people in their government and/or duly constituted authorities," etc. Moreover, its decisions are executory unless stopped by a court.64

Moreover, in MTRCB v. ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation,65 it was held that the power of review and prior approval of MTRCB extends to all television programs and is valid despite the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. Thus, all broadcast networks are regulated by the MTRCB since they are required to get a permit before they air their television programs. Consequently, their right to enjoy their freedom of speech is subject to that requirement. As lucidly explained by Justice Dante O. Tinga, government regulations through the MTRCB became "a necessary evil" with the government taking the role of assigning bandwidth to individual broadcasters. The stations explicitly agreed to this regulatory scheme; otherwise, chaos would result in the television broadcast industry as competing broadcasters will interfere or co-opt each other’s signals. In this scheme, station owners and broadcasters in effect waived their right to the full enjoyment of their right to freedom of speech in radio and television programs and impliedly agreed that said right may be subject to prior restraint—denial of permit or subsequent punishment, like suspension or cancellation of permit, among others.

The three (3) months suspension in this case is not a prior restraint on the right of petitioner to continue with the broadcast of Ang Dating Daan as a permit was already issued to him by MTRCB for such broadcast. Rather, the suspension is in the form of permissible administrative sanction or subsequent punishment for the offensive and obscene remarks he uttered on the evening of August 10, 2004 in his television program, Ang Dating Daan. It is a sanction that the MTRCB may validly impose under its charter without running afoul of the free speech clause. And the imposition is separate and distinct from the criminal action the Board may take pursuant to Sec. 3(i) of PD 1986 and the remedies that may be availed of by the aggrieved private party under the provisions on libel or tort, if applicable. As FCC teaches, the imposition of sanctions on broadcasters who indulge in profane or indecent broadcasting does not constitute forbidden censorship. Lest it be overlooked, the sanction imposed is not per se for petitioner’s exercise of his freedom of speech via television, but for the indecent contents of his utterances in a "G" rated TV program.

More importantly, petitioner is deemed to have yielded his right to his full enjoyment of his freedom of speech to regulation under PD 1986 and its IRR as television station owners, program producers, and hosts have impliedly accepted the power of MTRCB to regulate the broadcast industry.

Neither can petitioner’s virtual inability to speak in his program during the period of suspension be plausibly treated as prior restraint on future speech. For viewed in its proper perspective, the suspension is in the nature of an intermediate penalty for uttering an unprotected form of speech. It is definitely a lesser punishment than the permissible cancellation of exhibition or broadcast permit or license. In fine, the suspension meted was simply part of the duties of the MTRCB in the enforcement and administration of the law which it is tasked to implement. Viewed in its proper context, the suspension sought to penalize past speech made on prime-time "G" rated TV program; it does not bar future speech of petitioner in other television programs; it is a permissible subsequent administrative sanction; it should not be confused with a prior restraint on speech. While not on all fours, the Court, in MTRCB,66 sustained the power of the MTRCB to penalize a broadcast company for exhibiting/airing a pre-taped TV episode without Board authorization in violation of Sec. 7 of PD 1986.

Any simplistic suggestion, however, that the MTRCB would be crossing the limits of its authority were it to regulate and even restrain the prime-time television broadcast of indecent or obscene speech in a "G" rated program is not acceptable. As made clear in Eastern Broadcasting Corporation, "the freedom of television and radio broadcasting is somewhat lesser in scope than the freedom accorded to newspaper and print media." The MTRCB, as a regulatory agency, must have the wherewithal to enforce its mandate, which would not be effective if its punitive actions would be limited to mere fines. Television broadcasts should be subject to some form of regulation, considering the ease with which they can be accessed, and violations of the regulations must be met with appropriate and proportional disciplinary action. The suspension of a violating television program would be a sufficient punishment and serve as a deterrent for those responsible. The prevention of the broadcast of petitioner’s television program is justified, and does not constitute prohibited prior restraint. It behooves the Court to respond to the needs of the changing times, and craft jurisprudence to reflect these times.

Petitioner, in questioning the three-month suspension, also tags as unconstitutional the very law creating the MTRCB, arguing that PD 1986, as applied to him, infringes also upon his freedom of religion. The Court has earlier adequately explained why petitioner’s undue reliance on the religious freedom cannot lend justification, let alone an exempting dimension to his licentious utterances in his program. The Court sees no need to address anew the repetitive arguments on religious freedom. As earlier discussed in the disposition of the petition in G.R. No. 164785, what was uttered was in no way a religious speech. Parenthetically, petitioner’s attempt to characterize his speech as a legitimate defense of his religion fails miserably. He tries to place his words in perspective, arguing evidently as an afterthought that this was his method of refuting the alleged distortion of his statements by the INC hosts of Ang Tamang Daan. But on the night he uttered them in his television program, the word simply came out as profane language, without any warning or guidance for undiscerning ears.

As to petitioner’s other argument about having been denied due process and equal protection of the law, suffice it to state that we have at length debunked similar arguments in G.R. No. 164785. There is no need to further delve into the fact that petitioner was afforded due process when he attended the hearing of the MTRCB, and that he was unable to demonstrate that he was unjustly discriminated against in the MTRCB proceedings.

Finally, petitioner argues that there has been undue delegation of legislative power, as PD 1986 does not provide for the range of imposable penalties that may be applied with respect to violations of the provisions of the law.

The argument is without merit.

In Edu v. Ericta, the Court discussed the matter of undue delegation of legislative power in the following wise:

It is a fundamental principle flowing from the doctrine of separation of powers that Congress may not delegate its legislative power to the two other branches of the government, subject to the exception that local governments may over local affairs participate in its exercise. What cannot be delegated is the authority under the Constitution to make laws and to alter and repeal them; the test is the completeness of the statute in all its term and provisions when it leaves the hands of the legislature. To determine whether or not there is an undue delegation of legislative power, the inquiry must be directed to the scope and definiteness of the measure enacted. The legislature does not abdicate its functions when it describes what job must be done, who is to do it, and what is the scope of his authority. For a complex economy, that may indeed be the only way in which the legislative process can go forward. A distinction has rightfully been made between delegation of power to make laws which necessarily involves a discretion as to what it shall be, which constitutionally may not be done, and delegation of authority or discretion as to its execution to be exercised under and in pursuance of the law, to which no valid objection can be made. The Constitution is thus not to be regarded as denying the legislature the necessary resources of flexibility and practicability.

To avoid the taint of unlawful delegation, there must be a standard, which implies at the very least that the legislature itself determines matters of principle and lays down fundamental policy. Otherwise, the charge of complete abdication may be hard to repel. A standard thus defines legislative policy, marks its limits, maps out its boundaries and specifies the public agency to apply it. It indicates the circumstances under which the legislative command is to be effected. It is the criterion by which legislative purpose may be carried out. Thereafter, the executive or administrative office designated may in pursuance of the above guidelines promulgate supplemental rules and regulations.67

Based on the foregoing pronouncements and analyzing the law in question, petitioner’s protestation about undue delegation of legislative power for the sole reason that PD 1986 does not provide for a range of penalties for violation of the law is untenable. His thesis is that MTRCB, in promulgating the IRR of PD 1986, prescribing a schedule of penalties for violation of the provisions of the decree, went beyond the terms of the law.

Petitioner’s posture is flawed by the erroneous assumptions holding it together, the first assumption being that PD 1986 does not prescribe the imposition of, or authorize the MTRCB to impose, penalties for violators of PD 1986. As earlier indicated, however, the MTRCB, by express and direct conferment of power and functions, is charged with supervising and regulating, granting, denying, or canceling permits for the exhibition and/or television broadcast of all motion pictures, television programs, and publicity materials to the end that no such objectionable pictures, programs, and materials shall be exhibited and/or broadcast by television. Complementing this provision is Sec. 3(k) of the decree authorizing the MTRCB "to exercise such powers and functions as may be necessary or incidental to the attainment of the purpose and objectives of [the law]." As earlier explained, the investiture of supervisory, regulatory, and disciplinary power would surely be a meaningless grant if it did not carry with it the power to penalize the supervised or the regulated as may be proportionate to the offense committed, charged, and proved. As the Court said in Chavez v. National Housing Authority:

x x x [W]hen a general grant of power is conferred or duty enjoined, every particular power necessary for the exercise of the one or the performance of the other is also conferred. x x x [W]hen the statute does not specify the particular method to be followed or used by a government agency in the exercise of the power vested in it by law, said agency has the authority to adopt any reasonable method to carry out its function.68

Given the foregoing perspective, it stands to reason that the power of the MTRCB to regulate and supervise the exhibition of TV programs carries with it or necessarily implies the authority to take effective punitive action for violation of the law sought to be enforced. And would it not be logical too to say that the power to deny or cancel a permit for the exhibition of a TV program or broadcast necessarily includes the lesser power to suspend?

The MTRCB promulgated the IRR of PD 1986 in accordance with Sec. 3(a) which, for reference, provides that agency with the power "[to] promulgate such rules and regulations as are necessary or proper for the implementation of this Act, and the accomplishment of its purposes and objectives x x x." And Chapter XIII, Sec. 1 of the IRR providing:

Section 1. VIOLATIONS AND ADMINISTRATIVE SANCTIONS.––Without prejudice to the immediate filing of the appropriate criminal action and the immediate seizure of the pertinent articles pursuant to Section 13, any violation of PD 1986 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations governing motion pictures, television programs, and related promotional materials shall be penalized with suspension or cancellation of permits and/or licenses issued by the Board and/or with the imposition of fines and other administrative penalty/penalties. The Board recognizes the existing Table of Administrative Penalties attached without prejudice to the power of the Board to amend it when the need arises. In the meantime the existing revised Table of Administrative Penalties shall be enforced. (Emphasis added.)

This is, in the final analysis, no more than a measure to specifically implement the aforequoted provisions of Sec. 3(d) and (k). Contrary to what petitioner implies, the IRR does not expand the mandate of the MTRCB under the law or partake of the nature of an unauthorized administrative legislation. The MTRCB cannot shirk its responsibility to regulate the public airwaves and employ such means as it can as a guardian of the public.

In Sec. 3(c), one can already find the permissible actions of the MTRCB, along with the standards to be applied to determine whether there have been statutory breaches. The MTRCB may evaluate motion pictures, television programs, and publicity materials "applying contemporary Filipino cultural values as standard," and, from there, determine whether these audio and video materials "are objectionable for being immoral, indecent, contrary to law and/or good customs, [etc.] x x x" and apply the sanctions it deems proper. The lawmaking body cannot possibly provide for all the details in the enforcement of a particular statute.69 The grant of the rule-making power to administrative agencies is a relaxation of the principle of separation of powers and is an exception to the non-delegation of legislative powers.70 Administrative regulations or "subordinate legislation" calculated to promote the public interest are necessary because of "the growing complexity of modern life, the multiplication of the subjects of governmental regulations, and the increased difficulty of administering the law."71 Allowing the MTRCB some reasonable elbow-room in its operations and, in the exercise of its statutory disciplinary functions, according it ample latitude in fixing, by way of an appropriate issuance, administrative penalties with due regard for the severity of the offense and attending mitigating or aggravating circumstances, as the case may be, would be consistent with its mandate to effectively and efficiently regulate the movie and television industry.

But even as we uphold the power of the MTRCB to review and impose sanctions for violations of PD 1986, its decision to suspend petitioner must be modified, for nowhere in that issuance, particularly the power-defining Sec. 3 nor in the MTRCB Schedule of Administrative Penalties effective January 1, 1999 is the Board empowered to suspend the program host or even to prevent certain people from appearing in television programs. The MTRCB, to be sure, may prohibit the broadcast of such television programs or cancel permits for exhibition, but it may not suspend television personalities, for such would be beyond its jurisdiction. The MTRCB cannot extend its exercise of regulation beyond what the law provides. Only persons, offenses, and penalties clearly falling clearly within the letter and spirit of PD 1986 will be considered to be within the decree’s penal or disciplinary operation. And when it exists, the reasonable doubt must be resolved in favor of the person charged with violating the statute and for whom the penalty is sought. Thus, the MTRCB’s decision in Administrative Case No. 01-04 dated September 27, 2004 and the subsequent order issued pursuant to said decision must be modified. The suspension should cover only the television program on which petitioner appeared and uttered the offensive and obscene language, which sanction is what the law and the facts obtaining call for.

In ending, what petitioner obviously advocates is an unrestricted speech paradigm in which absolute permissiveness is the norm. Petitioner’s flawed belief that he may simply utter gutter profanity on television without adverse consequences, under the guise of free speech, does not lend itself to acceptance in this jurisdiction. We repeat: freedoms of speech and expression are not absolute freedoms. To say "any act that restrains speech should be greeted with furrowed brows" is not to say that any act that restrains or regulates speech or expression is per se invalid. This only recognizes the importance of freedoms of speech and expression, and indicates the necessity to carefully scrutinize acts that may restrain or regulate speech.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the MTRCB in Adm. Case No. 01-04 dated September 27, 2004 is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION of limiting the suspension to the program Ang Dating Daan. As thus modified, the fallo of the MTRCB shall read as follows:

WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, a Decision is hereby rendered, imposing a penalty of THREE (3) MONTHS SUSPENSION on the television program, Ang Dating Daan, subject of the instant petition.

Co-respondents Joselito Mallari, Luzviminda Cruz, and UNTV Channel 37 and its owner, PBC, are hereby exonerated for lack of evidence.

Costs against petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

REYNATO S. PUNO
Chief Justice

LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING
Associate Justice
CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO
Associate Justice
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice
MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
Associate Justice
RENATO C. CORONA
Associate Justice
CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
Associate Justice
DANTE O. TINGA
Associate Justice
MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO
Associate Justice
ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
Associate Justice
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
Associate Justice
ARTURO D. BRION
Associate Justice
DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Associate Justice

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.

REYNATO S. PUNO
Chief Justice


Footnotes

The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation

CONCURRING OPINION

TINGA, J.:

While I concur in the ponencia, I write separately to offer some observations on the dissent of our esteemed colleague, Justice Antonio T. Carpio as well as to briefly explain my views.

The Bill of Rights does not forbid abridging speech, but abridging the freedom of speech.1 The view that freedom of speech is an absolute freedom has never gained currency with this Court, or the United States Supreme Court, which both have carved out exceptions relating to unprotected speech, such as obscenity. Constitutionally protected freedom of speech is narrower than an unlimited license to talk.2 General regulatory statutes not intended to control the content of speech but incidentally limiting its unfettered exercise have not been regarded as the type of law proscribed by the Bill of Rights, when they have been found justified by subordinating valid governmental interests, a prerequisite to constitutionality which has necessarily involved a weighing of the governmental interest involved.3

Justice Carpio dissents as he feels that the three-month suspension of petitioner’s TV program constitutes an unconstitutional prior restraint on freedom of expression. However, said suspension is, much more so, a form of subsequent punishment, levied petitioner in response to the blatantly obscene remarks he had uttered on his television program on the night of 10 August 2004. The primary intent of the suspension is to punish petitioner for such obscene remarks he had made on the broadcast airwaves, and not to restrain him from exercising his right to free expression.

That the assailed subsequent punishment aside from being such also takes on the character of a prior restraint (unlike, e.g., if the punishment levied is a fine) somewhat muddles the issue. But to better clarify the point, let us assume instead that petitioner made the same exact remarks not on television, but from his pulpit. The MTRCB learns of such remarks, and accordingly suspends his program for three months. In that scenario, neither the MTRCB nor any arm of government has the statutory authority to suspend the program based on the off-camera remarks, even if such action were justified to prevent petitioner from making similar remarks on the air. In that scenario, the suspension unmistakably takes on the character of prior restraint, rather than subsequent punishment.

It is clear that the MTRCB is vested under its organic law with ample powers to impose prior restraint on television programs. Section 7 of Pres. Decree No. 1986 declares it unlawful to air any television program unless it had been duly reviewed and approved by the MTRCB. As emphasized in the recent case of MTRCB v. ABS-CBN,4 penned by Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, such power of review and prior approval of the MTRCB extends to all television programs–even news and public affairs programs–and is valid notwithstanding the constitutional guarantee to free expression. Moreover, in conducting its prior review of all television programs, the MTRCB has the power to approve or disapprove, or to delete "objectionable" portions of such television programs submitted for its approval, based on the standards set forth in Section 3 of Pres. Decree No. 1986.

Under this review and approval schematic established by Pres. Decree No. 1986, all broadcast networks labor under a regime of prior restraint before they can exercise their right to free expression by airing the television programs they produce. If the MTRCB were indeed absolutely inhibited from imposing "prior restraint", then the entire review and approval procedure under Pres. Decree No. 1986 would be unconstitutional. I am not sure whether Justice Carpio means to imply this.

I do take it though that Justice Carpio wishes to bring forth as a core issue whether or not the MTRCB can impose the penalty of suspension in a television program, an issue which necessarily takes for granted that the program had violated the matters enumerated as objectionable under Section 3 of Pres. Decree No. 1986. Justice Carpio, to my understanding, believes that the MTRCB can never suspend a program despite its "guilt" because suspension is a prohibited prior restraint on future speech.1avvphi1 Following that line of thought, the imposition of a fine in lieu of suspension would be permissible because such fine would not take the form of prior restraint, even if it may constitute subsequent punishment.

Curiously, Presidential Decree No. 1986 does not expressly confer on the MTRCB the power to levy a penalty other than imprisonment for between three months and a day to a year, a fine of between fifty to one hundred thousand pesos, and the revocation of the license of the television station.5 The less draconian penalties, such as suspension, are provided for instead in the implementing rules of the MTRCB, particularly Chapter XII, Section 1 thereof. The ponencia justifies the adoption of such penalties not specified in Pres. Decree No. 1986 through the conferment by the same law on the MTRCB of the authority "to supervise [and] regulate xxx television broadcast of all xxx television programs"6 and "[t]o exercise such power and functions as may be necessary or incidental to the attainment of the purposes and objectives of this Act".7

I have no doubt that suspending the petitioner will inhibit his speech, even if such ban is enforced in the name of subsequent punishment rather than prior restraint. Such a penalty must endure strict scrutiny since it is related to the exercise of that fundamental guarantee of free speech. However, it is extremely material to my view the fact that the obscene utterances were made on television, and that the penalty imposed relates to the right of petitioner to broadcast on television. If the current concern pertained to speech in a different medium, such as the print media or the Internet, then I would be much less tolerant over the penalties imposed corresponding to the exercise of speech. Yet the fact is, broadcast media enjoys a lesser degree of protection than expression in other mediums, owing to the unique nature of broadcasting itself.

Petitioner’s program is broadcast over UNTV-37, which operates from the UHF band. All of broadcasting, whether radio or television, utilizes the airwaves, or the electromagnetic spectrum, in order to be received by the listener or viewer. The airwaves, which are a scarce and finite resource, are not susceptible to physical appropriation, and therefore owned by the State.8 Each station relies on a particular bandwidth assignation which marks their slot on the spectrum where it can constantly broadcast its signal. Without government regulation, as was the case in the early days of radio in the United States, stations desiring to broadcast over the airwaves would not have a definitive right to an assigned bandwidth, and would have to fend off competing broadcasters who would try to interfere or co-opt each others signals. Thus, government regulation became a necessary evil, with the government taking the role of assigning bandwidth to individual broadcasters. However, since the spectrum is finite, not all stations desiring to broadcast over the airwaves could be accommodated. Therefore, in exchange for being given the privilege by the government to use the airwaves, station owners had to accede to a regime whereby those deemed most worthy by the government to operate broadcast stations would have to accede to regulations by the government, including the right to regulate content of broadcast media.

These limitations of scarcity are peculiar to broadcast only, and do not apply to other mediums such as print media and the Internet. For that reason, the United States Supreme Court9 has acknowledged that media such as print and the Internet enjoy a higher degree of First Amendment protection than broadcast media. If the same utterances made by petitioner were made instead in print media, it would be difficult to justify on constitutional grounds any punishment that proscribed his exercise of free speech, even if his language might run afoul of the relevant anti-obscenity laws. But because these were made on broadcast television, the inherent and idiosyncratic ability of the State to regulate content of broadcast media would justify corresponding duly legislated sanctions. Moreover, since the ultimate consideration of the State in regulating broadcast media is whether such broadcaster should be entitled to use the broadcast spectrum in the first place, a sanction corresponding to suspension from the airwaves which the State owns, is commensurate, even if it may not be so in the case of other media where the State has no inherent regulatory right.

Indeed, nobody has the unimpedable right to broadcast on the airwaves. One needs to secure a legislative franchise from Congress, and thereafter the necessary permits and licenses from the National Telecommunications Commission before a single word may be broadcast on air. Moreover, especially since they are regulated by the State, broadcasters are especially expected to adhere to the laws of the land, including Pres. Decree No. 1986. And under the said law, the legislative branch had opted to confer on the MTRCB the power to regulate and to penalize television broadcast stations in accordance with the terms of the said law.

It is a legitimate question for debate whether the proper sanction on petitioner should be suspension from broadcast, or a less punitive penalty such as a fine. Yet Justice Carpio is proceeding from the premise that suspension can never be an appropriate penalty the MTRCB can impose, because it is a prior restraint. On the other hand, I believe that suspension is a penalty that is part and parcel, if not particularly appropriate to, the inherent regulatory power of the State over broadcast media. After all, the right to broadcast involves the right to use the airwaves which the State owns, and if the broadcaster offends any of the legislated prerogatives or priorities of the State when in comes to broadcasting, suspension is an apt penalty.

With respect to the merits of these petitions, my views are simply this. There is no question that petitioner’s remarks are inherently obscene, and certainly potential cause for a libel suit. These remarks were made on broadcast media, which the State inherently has the right to regulate. The State has the right to prevent the sort of language used by petitioner on the airwaves that it owns, as well as the right to punish broadcasters who do make such remarks. Pres. Decree No. 1986, as it stands, accommodates these particular concerns and imposes corresponding sanctions which I deem appropriate on broadcasters whose transgressions are as grave as that of petitioner. While I may have serious reservations on several other aspects of Pres. Decree No. 1986, a relic of the dictatorship era, that law as applied to this particular case operates in a way that I believe is constitutionally permissible.

DANTE O. TINGA
Associate Justice


Footnotes

The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation

SEPARATE OPINION

CORONA, J.:

Free speech is a preferred right which has to be zealously guarded. Nonetheless, it is not absolute but limited by equally fundamental freedoms enjoyed by other members of society. It is also circumscribed by the basic principle of all human relations: every person must in the exercise of his rights and performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due and observe honesty and good faith.1 For these reasons, free speech may be subjected to reasonable regulation by the State in certain circumstances when required by a higher public interest.

Factual Backdrop

Petitioner Eliseo F. Soriano was one of the hosts of Ang Dating Daan, a television program aired on UNTV 37. The program was given a "G" rating by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB).

On August 10, 2004, at around 10:00 in the evening, petitioner uttered the following statements in his program:

Lehitimong anak ng demonyo[!] [S]inungaling[!]

Gago ka talaga[,] Michael[!] [M]asahol ka pa sa putang babae o di ba[?] [‘]Yung putang babae ang gumagana lang doon [‘]yung ibaba, dito kay Michael ang gumagana ang itaas, o di ba? O, masahol pa sa putang babae [‘]yan. Sabi ng lola ko masahol pa sa putang babae [‘]yan. Sobra ang kasinungalingan ng mga demonyong ito.2

Acting on complaints arising from the said statements, the MTRCB preventively suspended the airing of the program for 20 days.3 Subsequently, the MTRCB found petitioner liable for his utterances and suspended him from his program for three months.4

Ang Dating Daan: An Old Path Incarnate Again

By Ben Douglass. A refutation of Eliseo Soriano’s cult.

I. Introduction

Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us (Ecclesiastes 1:10).

When a Filipino Catholic man first alerted me to the existence and activity of The Church of God International of Mr. Eliseo Soriano, which he publicizes through his popular television show Ang Dating Daan (“The Old Path” in Tagalog), my first instinct was that it was a bit absurd to refer to a religious group as the Old Path which has only been around for about 30 years. However, upon further study of its history and of the corpus of Mr. Soriano’s teachings, I have realized that this is not the case. Rather, it is more ironic than absurd, because it really is an old path, simply not in the sense that Mr. Soriano thinks it is. For it is the same path that we see incarnate in the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many other similar groups: a charismatic leader claims direct divine revelation, twists Scripture, preaches vigorously, and with the help of fortuitous social, economic, and psychological circumstances, manages to attract a sizable flock to follow him down to perdition. Fortunately, Soriano’s claims are so easily falsifiable, so manifestly absurd, his exegetical incompetence so blatantly obvious, his self-contradiction so evident, that any person of good will who reads this essay will be able to see him for the false prophet that he is and fly back to the bosom of Holy Mother Church to be reintroduced to the divine life of grace in the soul. A bit of background first.

II. A Brief History of The Church of God International

He that gathereth not with me, scattereth (Matthew 12:30).

Schisms are the plague of all schismatics. Once a group of factious men splits off from the Mystical Body of Christ to follow winds of doctrine more to their liking, little remains to bind them to each other. Hence, whenever someone comes to an irreconcilable doctrinal disagreement with the leadership of the schismatic church, or simply wants power and authority that they have but are not willing to give him, the first schism is followed by further schisms, and factions proliferate. This is the principle which underlies the history of Ang Dating Daan. Since Soriano is fond of scientific analogies, I will use one myself: bacteria multiply by splitting.

The story starts with a man named Felix Manalo, who left the Catholic Church as a teenager. He toyed briefly with a cult called Colorum which claimed direct communication with God, and then joined the Methodist Episcopal Church and became a minister. As his Catholic mother lay dying he “rejected the last sacrament for her.”1 He then spent a brief stint as a Presbyterian minister, then left them as well for the Christian Missionary Alliance, who impressed him because they baptized by immersion only. He then switched teams again after he lost a debate to a Seventh Day Adventist minister and decided that since he couldn’t beat them he would join them. He left them as well after deciding they were wrong about observing a Saturday Sabbath, and briefly played the harlot with atheism and agnosticism. Finally, according to the account which he convinced his credulous followers to believe, in November 1913 he spent three days and nights in total seclusion studying the Bible and came out convinced that he was God’s last messenger, the messenger from the Far East prophesied by Rev 7:2-3; Isaiah 43:5-6; 46:11; 41:9-11. In any case, in 1914 started a church for himself, which would later claim Protestants to be apostates, and itself to be the one true Church of Christ outside of which there is no salvation.2 But his own biographers give lie to these claims, relating “on December 25, 1918, ministers of the Christian Mission honored Felix Manalo as an outstanding evangelist. The certificate was signed by Ministers Leslie Wolfe and Higinio Mayor, attested by attorney V. Dimagiba. The affair, held at the Gloria Theater in Tondo, Manila was attended by Church members and several Protestant pastors… In August 1919 Manalo visited all local congregations before departing for the United States to advance his Bible studies. He advised the brethren to keep united and protect one another in his absence. One day in September that year he sailed for the U.S. and stayed at Berkeley, California, burying himself in Bible research and studies, and attending classes in a school of religion.”3 So, either he was accepting awards and taking classes from apostates, or these claims came later, and from 1914-1919 Felix Manalo believed himself to be the head of just another Protestant church.

While he was away his church begat the grandfather of And Dating Daan, when two of his students whom he had passed over for ordination, Teofilo Ora and Januario Ponce, started their own church called the Iglesia Verdadero de Cristo (“The True Church of Christ” in Spanish) and drew away much of his fold with charges of immorality. True to the nature which this schismatic church inherited in its genesis, it soon begat the father of Ang Dating Daan with another schism. Nicolas Antiporda Perez founded the Iglesia ng Dios Kay Kristo Hesus, Haligi at Suhay ng Katotohanan (“The Church of God in Christ Jesus, Pillar and Ground of the Truth” in Tagalog), and attracted a following. The day before Eliseo Soriano turned seventeen, his parents took him to hear one of his sermons; the topic was, not surprisingly, the true Church of God according to the Bible, and Soriano was convinced. Perez baptized him, and made him a minister, the only other minister in the whole church. Hence, Soriano expected that when Perez died he would accede to the leadership of the InDKKHHaSnK (hmm, that’s large and unwieldy even as an acronym; I shall not use it again).4 However, when Perez died, a woman name Levita Gugulan in fact came to power,5 and Soriano, true to form, left and started yet another splinter church. He claims that he was forced out by former colleagues who “driven by extreme greed for power embarked on dark schemes against him and launched an underground plot to malign and discredit” him.6 I will prescind from the veracity of this statement, as foul play would not surprise me amongst the denizens of either side of this divide.

Soriano further claims that this occurred in fulfillment of Zechariah 13:8-9, a claim with about as much credibility as Manalo’s claim to be the angel ascending from the east of Revelations 7. Zechariah 13:7 is about the execution of Christ (cf. Matt 26:31) and the following two verses are about the persecution of the early Christian Church. For Soriano to apply it to his little group 2000 years later is absolutely inane. Consider how mild the persecutions Soriano has endured really are compared to what the early Church went through. The early Christians were torn to pieces by lions while crowds of heathens laughed at them; Soriano got sued, and lost. They were crucified; Soriano got briefly kicked off television. They had the option of sacrificing to demons or losing their heads; Soriano’s character is sometimes verbally attacked by the ministers he so frequently attacks himself. Soriano in fact has not endured any more persecution than Mohammed endured, whose persecution consisted of verbal abuse, a boycott, family pressure, and juvenile pranks like people dumping trash on his porch. This, compared to what Christians have endured, is child’s play.

In any case, Bro. Eli, as he now likes to be called, registered his group as Iglesia ng Dios kay Kristo Hesus, Haligi at Saligan ng Katotohanan (“The Church of God in Christ Jesus, Pillar and Ground of the Truth”), a name almost identical to the name of Gugulan’s group, Soriano having only replaced one word for “ground” (suhay, brace) with another (saligan, basis). Not surprisingly, Gugulan sued him, and the Philippine Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Soriano then changed the name of his group to Iglesia Ni YHWH at ni YHWSA HMSYH, and, most recently, to Members Church of God International.7 This is ironic because in one of his sermons which is posted at the Ang Dating Daan website Soriano chastises the Jehovah’s Witnesses for having multiple names throughout their history, and he insists that the real name of the true church is The Church of God in Christ Jesus, and that if an organization does not bear this exact name it cannot be of God.8 I eagerly await Mr. Soriano’s admission that his church no longer meets his own criteria for being of God.

And somehow, in spite of his ignominious origins, legal troubles, and self contradiction, Soriano has managed to draw a rather large following to himself, including many former Catholics. He apparently has an extraordinary memory, and amazes his listeners with his ability to regurgitate Scripture passages of the top of his head. One of his shows, in fact, is called “Ask Soriano, and the Bible Will Answer.” However, he clearly does not understand much of what he has memorized, as will become evident throughout this essay. Soriano must be very charismatic as well, given the way his followers fawn over him.9 He also exploits the chaotic religious landscape of the Philippines with his constant harangues against false preachers, wolves in sheep clothing, who are only after money and don’t really care about their flocks. He is thus a magnet for all those who are disillusioned and disaffected with their current churches, and who are willing to listen to a man claiming that he really loves them, and that he’s “the only sensible and sincere evangelist”10 who cares for them and wants to lead them to salvation. Soriano also uses dishonest debate tactics, such as heckling, setting up debates on his home turf where the audience can shout his opponents down, and recording his opponents’ words so he can replay them to the audience and pronounce allegations of contradiction.11 Finally, he is adept at character assassination, and smears all apostates from his group.12 He uses, in sum, the tactics characteristic of a cult.

III. The Bible Predicted Me, and God Himself Teaches Me

The Lord hath not sent thee, and thou hast made this people to trust in a lie (Jeremiah 28:15).

As noted above, Soriano claims to be the only sincere evangelist. Everyone else is a charlatan, according to him. Naturally, he also claims that he has been predicted by Scripture, specifically Ecclesiastes 9:15. He is, as he styles himself, the poor wise man who saved his city from destruction. Again, this is inane; it is simply another manifestation of Soriano’s utter incompetence to interpret Scripture, for in Ecclesiastes 9:15, Solomon is not predicting anything, but simply illustrating a principle (i.e. that wisdom is better than strength, even though it is accounted as less in the eyes of the world), by relating an event from the past. A poor and wise man saved his city from being destroyed by the army of a great King, but afterwards no one remembered his name. This may be a parable, or it may refer to a real event (Scripture records similar occurrences in Judg 9:52-55; 2 Sam 20:14-22). But in either case, it is narrated as an event which was completed in the past. Moreover, Soriano has yet to turn aside any armies or save any cities, and given the way he dresses, he clearly is not poor, and given the way he preaches, neither is he wise. Finally, the poor wise man’s name was forgotten in obscurity, but Soriano’s fame is only growing. Indeed, his great ambition is that “before I die… all people from the different parts of the world would be able to hear me as I preach the Gospel of Christ.”13 He should have realized, if he wanted to claim Ecclesiastes 9:15 for himself, that he would have to avoid professing ambitions to everlasting world renown. Clearly, if he were to preach his gospel to the entire world, his name would not be universally forgotten. In sum, no passage of Scripture refers directly to Mr. Soriano. He is simply one of the many false prophets contributing to the great apostasy predicted thereby.

Soriano seems to realize that his arguments, while perhaps impressive on the surface, absolutely fall apart upon anything resembling a deeper analysis. Most likely this is why he forbids his followers from interpreting the Bible. Indeed, in an article aptly titled, “Should the Bible Be Interpreted” he declares “it is not correct for us to interpret the Bible! God did not give anybody the right to interpret the Bible! And nobody can claim, not even a person with a Bachelor’s degree, like Law for instance, that he can explain the Bible, even if he follow the principles of hermeneutics or the formal study of methods of interpretation… the only thing that we have to do is, read the Bible. Do not interpret it.” He then quotes Romans 16:25-26 and Colossians 1:24-26 and concludes “Now, can anybody claim that, God left a certain mystery unexplained for these pastors to clarify and interpret themselves? Doing this is a clear act of deception.”14 Next, he further pronounces that “The Bible should no longer be explained by man inasmuch as the Bible already explains itself.”15

This is definitely the most blatant instance of duplicity I have discovered on the part of Mr. Soriano. As the reader has probably already noted, and will continue to note throughout this essay, Soriano’s arguments generally rest on tenuous, dubious, and even outright erroneous and incompetent interpretations of Scripture. We will see again and again that Soriano breaks his own rule and interprets the Bible, and does a poor job of it at that.

And of course, the idea that the Bible is so clear that no one needs to interpret it is itself unbiblical. My first instinct when I read the above passages from Mr. Soriano was to quote 2 Peter 3:16: “As also in all [Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.” The Bible contains many things that are “hard to be understood,” mysteries which need to be explained, a clear refutation of what Soriano states above. One would think, then, that Soriano would avoid this passage. However, he does not, for in a later article Soriano teaches that yes, the Bible does need to be interpreted after all. He quotes 2 Peter 3:16, then states:

We really should know how to use the bible. We should not perceive it as something so simple that anybody can readily interpret. In fact, it is the opposite! The Bible is not a plain as it may seem to be. The Holy Scriptures has the highest degree and the utmost quality of words and wisdom any book could offer that a man can read in his lifetime…. The Bible is unique and more special than any other book essential to our salvation. Hence, not anybody can just stand up and explain, elucidate, or even interpret the words of the Almighty Himself!16

He is here developing a self-contradiction which will be consummated in future articles. But I will make a brief digression first. Soriano illustrates his point with an example:

In Psalms 22:6, the one who is speaking is supposedly ‘…a worm, not man. Reproached of men, and despised of people.’

Continuing in verse 16 and 18, this so-called ‘worm’ said that: ‘…dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me… For they pierced my hands and my feet, they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.’ These descriptions fit very well to our Lord Jesus Christ because Christ experienced all these at the time of His crucifixion and death. Therefore we can safely say that Jesus Christ, as He himself said, is ‘a worm, not man;’ but, in John 8:40, Jesus said to the Pharisees that He is ‘a man hath told you the truth’. Still, in 1 John 5:20, it says that, ‘Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life.’ Here, we are faced with the dilemma of distinguishing the real nature of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is He a worm, a man, or a God? This is one of the greatest debates in the religious world; but how can we, in our humble being, be able to understand this seemingly complicated issue? Is it possible for us, human beings, to comprehend complexities such as these?17

Indeed, Mr. Soriano, that is why Jesus established a Church against which the gates of hell would not prevail (Matt 16:18), and promised to be with her “all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt 28:20), to send her the “Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever: The spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17) who, when He comes, “will teach you all truth” (John 16:13). That is why he told his apostles, “He that heareth you, heareth me” (Luke 10:16) and why the apostles appointed successors to perpetuate their ministry for future generations (cf. 1 Tim 5:19-22; 2 Tim 4:2-5; Tit 1:5; 2:1, 15). For although almost anyone could see that Psalm 22:6 is using a metaphor, not literally saying that Jesus is a worm, it did indeed take divine guidance to bring humanity to a proper understanding of the hypostatic union, the union of the divine and human natures in the single person of Jesus Christ. God guided the successors of the apostles, the bishops of the early Catholic Church, men like St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Athanasius of Alexandria, to explain to their flocks the mystery of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, true God, in the true man Jesus Christ, and this understanding, received from the apostles and transmitted and developed by the same bishops of the early Catholic Church, was finally codified at Catholic ecumenical Councils such as Nicaea and Chalcedon. Christendom has never been without authentic Christian teachers, the successors of the apostles.

But no, Soriano would have his followers believe that Christ abandoned his Church, and that for almost 2000 years there were no “sincere evangelists” who faithfully taught apostolic doctrine, or, rather, he would have them believe that these evangelists existed but there is simply no historical record of them because the mean old Catholic Church covered it up. How convenient. Incidentally, this is the same logic that Dan Brown uses in The Da Vinci Code to argue that Jesus was a mere man who taught peace and worshiped the sacred feminine. You see, once one decides to reject the entire historical record as a forgery written by power hungry men, one can make up any cockamamie story about the past one wants to, and this is how Soriano deceives his followers into believing that his doctrines, so foreign to Christian history, actually represent authentic apostolic teaching. But it is a lie, and Soriano’s duplicity is manifest.

Let’s return to the developing contradiction. Soriano concludes this article by relating the means of properly interpreting the Bible. First, one must have the Spirit of God, which requires one to fear the Lord and keep His commandments. He reconciles his statements thus far with his dictum that no man may interpret the Bible by insisting that the Bible interprets itself, and that if one has the Spirit of God and searches the Scriptures diligently, one will find the explanation of the passage one does not understand in some other passage somewhere else.

Incidentally, he further insists that one must not refer to any book besides the Bible itself in the endeavor of Biblical interpretation, and that anyone who does so is flirting with damnation (I suppose he would except his own sermons and his “book” (I put “book” in quotation marks because I printed it on 16 pages of 8-1/2 x 11 inch paper) Leaving Behind the Fundamental Doctrines of Christ. Sure, it’s alright to refer to those writings in order to understand the Bible). This is absurd. Tremendous insights can be gained into biblical interpretation through historical, grammatical, and linguistic analysis, and this often requires reference to non-biblical literature. Try figuring out what archegos means, for instance, without referring to extra-biblical Greek writings (it is used only once in the entire New Testament: in Hebrews 12:2). Archeology and geography also throw light on much of what is obscure in Holy Scripture. Finally, the Church Fathers, who held on to the traditions which they received from the apostles (2 Thess 2:15), which included the proper understanding of many passages of Scripture, likewise provide for us a sure guide for understanding God’s Word. But Soriano would cut off his flock from these tools, and from education in the methods of biblical exegesis, and leave them adrift all by themselves to try to interpret these ancient texts, written in a language and culture far removed from their own, and expect them to just be able to read and understand. And naturally, they will fail. Without knowing the first thing about Greek and Hebrew exegesis, and being ignorant of the Church’s theology of things like salvation, the trinity, and the hypostatic union, they will simply be unable to understand these seemingly contradictory texts. Then, they will have to turn to Bro. Eli. This is where his self-contradiction reaches its consummation. The following is from an article entitled “Three Colors of Death Green & White & Red” in Soriano’s Old Path Magazine:

Firstly, parables, as parables, were not meant to be understood by most people… Secondly, Jesus used minute details which were intended to hide the truth of the text from the non-spiritual, but to reveal truth to God’s people… Thirdly, symbols (such as the woman, merchant man, wind, angel, dove, water, fire, and others) frequently appear in texts of the Bible.

All of these show the need for a teacher who has the Spirit of God so that one may understand the Word of God. Nothing less would be able to lead one to truth and guide one until the end.

And God is faithful that he would not leave his people alone without one. Fortunate, indeed, is one who has found that true preacher.

As attested to by many, God is really with Bro. Eli Soriano. He is remarkably an extraordinary individual – unschooled by the world’s standards but unbeatable in biblical matters. He can see what others do not and has the understanding of the Word of God not found in anyone even among sages. And for that, how blessed is the Philippines! …It is then no surprise that he claims he is being taught by God which explains his deep understanding of God’s Word and the revelations given to him… Anyone thirsting for the knowledge of God would make sure he is in the right path – the Old Path. And if you truly care for truth, you must make sure you are being led by someone with an understanding given by God, and teaching things of God – like a spring that never runs dry.18

There is more of the same in articles entitled “Super-Preacher in Our Times” and “Nobody Does It Better” in the same issue:

There is no secret in the Bro. Eli’s being unique, singular, and distinctive. The Bible gives its own explanation in John 3:34 as him being sent, therefore speaks the words of God, who gave him unlimited spirit – For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.19

The irony of it all is that God has equipped the faithful preacher with full knowledge of the Bible with unmeasured Spirit, then warned him what not to do that he may finish his work, and yet allowed him to be fair game to wicked people and their evil designs. But God is faithful, this mysterious set-up may be the strength of God’s design in preserving His nation through His Faithful preacher – one whom none can beat in unlocking the mysteries of the Bible

As Bro. Eli preaches, he makes distinctions between quantity of the word, its quality, its direction, time, construction of meaning, and extent of meaning. He goes as far as explaining the source and the intended receiver to place the message in proper context… Truly, none can compare with the understanding that Bro. Eli has that symbolisms in the Bible are effectively expounded to his congregation and to his hearers in bible expositions. While he has not formally studied so-called hermeneutics that are the fare of secular schools, his level of understanding shows an awesome depth that each topic – unheard of before from all corners of this world – is as valuable as his next topic would be. Indeed, Bro. Eli preaches faithfully. Foremost, he unlocks mysteries from the Word of God like nobody. The faithful one whom God has assigned would do his task God’s way – like Bro. Eli.20

Now Soriano’s true colors come out. Before, anyone who feared the Lord and patiently worked at it could interpret the Bible. Now, only he can. Before, “God did not give anybody the right to interpret the Bible!” Now, Soriano is divinely commissioned to interpret the Bible. Before, he asked “can anybody claim that, God left a certain mystery unexplained for these pastors to clarify and interpret themselves? Doing this is a clear act of deception.” Now, he is “unlocking the mysteries of the Bible” for his flock who eagerly lap up every word that falls from his lips. The contradiction could hardly be clearer. Now I am eagerly awaiting Mr. Soriano’s admission that, in addition to his group not being a true church, he has also perpetrated “a clear act of deception” on his poor unfortunate followers. For he has left them utterly dependent on him to learn anything at all about Sacred Scripture. Indeed, how dare they question he who is receiving direct revelation from God. IF YOU QUESTION THE MAN WHO GETS HIS INTERPRETATION STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH OF THE ALMIGHTY YOU ARE A REPROBATE! How dare you think to read what competent Bible scholars and exegetes have to say about Sacred Scripture! They are all liars! All preachers except me are charlatans who only want your money!

Do not listen to this man. He is incompetent to interpret the Bible, and he contradicts himself. This alone should be enough to disqualify him in the eyes of any Christian who would diligently “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). But if that still is not enough, let us examine his repeated appeals to his allegedly exemplary character as proof of his divine commission. Let us even grant that what he says about his life is true. Even so, do not the Catholic saints far exceed him in holiness, sacrifice, labor, and love? Has he stared down a barbarian at the head of an army of the same, as St. Leo the Great did? Did he resist a threat to be boiled in oil when he was but nine years of age, as the Fatima children did? Has he reduced his sleep to three hours a night to attend to the spiritual needs of his children, as St. Pio did? Really, there is nothing so extraordinary about Soriano. Even I can match him. Does he live an austere life? So do I. Does he abstain from the sinful pleasures of the world? So do I. Does he endure persecution and insults, has he had things thrown at him or been threatened for the sake of his gospel? So have I. Can he quote the Bible? So can I. Does he understand what he is quoting? I more so, as I have demonstrated above and will demonstrate again and again as Soriano says the most stupid, asinine, and flabbergasting things I have heard since a young lady at the local abortion clinic told me I have a right to own a slave but not a right to eat (at least the poor guy would go free in no more than 40 days). In sum, to all followers of this old path, I want you to know that Soriano is not the only one who loves you. The Catholic Church loves you, and wants you back. Moreover, she will welcome you back with open arms.

IV. Soriano and the Stinkblossom

Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things? (John 3:10)

The more one reads of Soriano, the more his ignorance is manifest, and the more it grieves one to consider how very many people he has deceived. Take, for example, Leaving Behind the Fundamental Doctrines of Christ. The entire “book” is based on one gargantuan blunder. In fact, if I were to write a book about every blunder in history that was larger than this blunder, it might still be a shorter book than Leaving Behind the Fundamental Doctrines of Christ. He somehow completely misreads Hebrews 6:1-2, which states, in the KJV: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ [i.e. the first rudiments of Christian doctrine], let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” As the following quotes demonstrate, Soriano actually thinks St. Paul is telling his readers to forget about or ignore these fundamental doctrines:

But why did Paul admonished the first Christians that they (including Paul himself) must leave behind these fundamental doctrines of Christ? The fundamental is more on the material! Jesus wants us to attain, not only physical, but spiritual blessings. The fundamental purpose of laying on of hands is to heal the physical or material body of the subject person. But Christ, in his capacity, wants us to seek for the spiritual significance of His teachings because this is the way to learn more of Him…

Why then do we have to stop or leave this fundamental doctrine of Christ on the laying on of hands? A person with leprosy can be healed physically but his spirituality isn’t…21

But why did Paul said, in his dispensation, that Christians must leave the fundamental doctrine of the resurrection of the dead? …A saint who died in this dispensation, particularly in this time will not be delighted to be resurrected, to inhale again polluted air, to drink polluted water, and to eat chemical-laden foods and to be subjected to harsh brutality and gory death again… One thing is sure, the many glory-hungry and money-hungry preachers (it is against my conscience to call them preachers) of our times, who pretend to have power to resurrect the dead are all liars, which further belies their stand of being God-sent. It only displays their total ignorance of what Saint Paul have said almost two thousand years ago that perfection can be attained by leaving the fundamental doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.22

Now, Soriano’s interpretation here is simply silly. All St. Paul is saying that once his audience has sufficiently mastered the basics of the Christian religion, it will be possible for his discourse to advance to more lofty themes. Analogously, a math teacher might tell his students that once they have mastered arithmetic they can move on to algebra. St. Paul is absolutely not telling his audience that they ought to forget or abandon the “fundamental doctrines of Christ.” These are the foundation of Christianity; they support the entire soaring edifice, and without them the religion has nothing on which to stand. The foundation can never be forgotten. St. Paul’s only point is that once it has been laid properly once, the Christian teacher can move on from teaching these subjects and start building upon them the superstructure of more advanced theology. To risk mixing metaphors, once the new Christian has been nursed to a certain degree of maturity on spiritual milk, the teacher can then begin to give him solid food (Heb 5:12-14). It would be silly to keep “laying the foundation” over and over again, by teaching nothing but the basics, and never graduating Christian students from ecclesiastical kindergarten, just like it would be silly to hold back school children in the same grade year after year. Once we learn how to read, write, and do basic math, we can move on to history, philosophy, engineering, etc. But that does not mean we can forget about reading, writing, and basic math, or the more advanced subjects will become impossible. So too, should a Christian forget about repentance, faith, baptism, the laying of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, he will turn his religion into nonsense.

There’s more silliness in Soriano’s “book.” As a side note, for one who blasts the Catholic Church for using a little bit of Latin in her liturgy, he has no problem with using the Latin phrase prima facie himself in the very first paragraph. Don’t you see, Mr. Soriano, that learning the meaning of a few words of Latin, whether prima facie or dominus vobiscum is really not that hard?

In any case, following his opening harangue against false preachers, a feature almost ubiquitous in his works, Soriano quickly jumps into a fairly odd theological disputation: he constructs a dichotomy, as false as it is sharp, between the idea of Jesus as the personal Lord and Savior of the Christian, and His operation through the corporate body of the Church. But as one who is so famed for his ability to memorize the Bible, he should know that both concepts are present in Scripture. See for example the Magnificat, wherein Our Lady exclaims “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47; cf. John 20:28).

It seems Soriano is led to a false conclusion because he starts out from a faulty philosophical premise, namely that that which is “personal” cannot be shared. Indeed, he challenges that if Jesus were the personal savior of anyone, it would be unethical to let Him be someone else’s savior as well. He makes an analogy to a man sharing his wife, his “personal property” as Soriano describes her. This is clearly an instance of equivocation regarding the meaning of “personal,” as the word does not necessarily imply exclusivity or possession, but merely a relationship. Jesus has an intimate and direct relationship with each individual soul consecrated to His service, and jealousy need not ensue. That Soriano thinks jealousy would ensue from such a relationship merely demonstrates once again that he is incompetent to interpret Scripture. He has projected his own erroneous presuppositions onto the Word of God, and his exegesis has been clouded accordingly.

A little while later, Soriano makes yet another exegetical blunder when he states that the primary purpose of the laying of hands is “to heal the physical or material body of the subject person”23 (this is allegedly why we ought to “leave behind” this fundamental doctrine; Jesus wants us to forget about temporal things like bodily health and move on to the spiritual realm). One wonders if he is reading the same Bible as the rest of us. Scripture frequently records that the Apostles laid their hands on persons in perfect bodily health, in order to confer a spiritual gift. “The Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (Acts 8:17; cf. 19:6). St. Paul likewise urges St. Timothy to kindle afresh the charisma, the spiritual, supernatural gift which he thereby received (2 Timothy 1:6). That gift was his ordination to the episcopacy. The Apostles, through the laying of hands, also ordained St. Stephen and six other men to the diaconate (Acts 6:5-6). So, one sees that in Scripture the laying of hands is ordered primarily to supernatural and spiritual realities, not mere bodily health as Soriano says. And the Catholic Church is ever faithful to the Bible. In fact, the phrase “the laying of hands” is simply the biblical manner of denoting the Catholic sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders.

Moving on, it does not take Soriano long to make another obvious mistake: he uses Hebrews 11:13, 35-40 in attempts to prove that the saints resurrected in Matthew 27:50-53 are not currently in heaven. Hebrews 11 is about the era before the Cross, the era of the Old Covenant. Men like Abraham and Noah died in faith, but did not go immediately into heaven. As St. Paul says in Hebrews 11:40, they “received not the promise; God providing some better thing for us, that they should not be perfected without us [the saints of the New Covenant].” However, that era is over, for on Holy Saturday, Christ descended to the abode of the righteous dead and “preached to those spirits that were in prison” (1 Pet 3:19). His mission was successful, and “ascending on high, he led captivity captive” (Eph 4:8). This means He brought the souls of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, et al to heaven with Him, where they now comprise the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) who, as St. Paul informs us, watch over the lives of Christians. Should we die in a state of grace, we will follow them. There is no period of “soul sleep” as Soriano believes. We will not lie senseless in our graves until the general resurrection on the last day. Rather, “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). We will be judged immediately and sent to either heaven, purgatory, or hell; on the last day this judgment will merely be publicly declared.

Next, leaving behind Leaving Behind the Fundamental Doctrines of Christ, let us go on to Soriano’s sermons, not sparing them from critical scrutiny, but likewise demonstrating their bankruptcy and internal contradiction. Let’s start with his sermon on “the salvation which is being taught by the Bible”, in which he chastises his ecclesiastical great grandfather, the Iglesia ni Cristo of Mr. Felix Manalo, for teaching that outside of it there is no salvation.24 He is, of course, quite right in decrying this claim as false. It is indeed blatantly and obviously false. However, in effect Soriano makes the exact same claim, for while he does reject any form of extra ecclesiam meam nulla salus (outside my church there is no salvation) in theory, this is essentially what his doctrine amounts to in practice. Although he teaches that the true Christian church existed before him, that he joined it, and did not create it, and is emphatic that it is forbidden for preachers to create their own churches, on the other hand he teaches that the only means of joining the true church is to assent to the whole body of apostolic doctrine as recorded by the Bible.25 And who possesses the whole body of apostolic doctrine? Who is the only preacher who properly understands the Bible and teaches all its commandments without addition or deletion? Who is the only preacher who uses only the Bible to interpret the Bible, without referring to other books? Soriano, of course. He is, recall, the “only sensible and sincere evangelist,” and has been divinely commissioned to unlock the mysteries of the word of God. He “holds the key,” to use the headline of one of his magazines, to the meaning of Sacred Scripture, and thus he holds the key to eternal salvation. His literature reminds his followers:

Not all preachers can save, however. Only the faithful one used by the Lord as vessel can save – himself and those that hear him.26

I care for my fellow Filipinos. As former President Joseph Estrada once said, nobody will care for the Filipinos but the Filipinos themselves. Many foreigners have come to our country but they only deceived us. We can have no other ally except our fellow Filipino . . . a Filipino, who speaks clearly . . . a Filipino who knows every righteous thing that the Bible says. I am extending you whatever I can offer, my countrymen. That is what I am here for.27

Most of our preachers today are like the devil. Why? They speak slyly. Whenever they use the Bible, they employ deception.28

So, Soriano can on the one hand avoid making the preposterous and untenable claim that his 30 year old group is the one true Church of Jesus Christ outside of which there is no salvation, and on the other hand he can tell people that he is the only preacher who can lead them to salvation. How convenient.