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Many years ago when Joseph Estrada (Erap) was still president, there was a book containing jokes and anecdotes attributed to him. I can still remember one of the anecdotes contained in that book- A reported asked Erap: “Sir I heard that a case was filed against you for sedition, any comments? Well, that is not true because I never “sediced” anybody. I did not understand the meaning of the sedition until I took up law where we discussed the crime of sedition and inciting to sedition. Its not a very common crime and it was made popular only a few days ago when some individuals were arrested for allegedly committing the crime of inciting to sedition when they posted on social media that they will reward anyone who can kill the president with 50 or 100 million. Of course it was probably a joke on the part of the one who posted it but it can actually put him behind bars. Some people were surprised that posting such a statement on facebook can actually constitutes a crime!
Sedition is defined in Art. 139 of the Revised Penal Code: “The crime of sedition is committed by persons who rise publicly and tumultuously in order to attain by force, intimidation, or by other means outside of legal methods…” On the other hand, inciting to sedition is defined under Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code which is committed by anyone who “…should incite others to the accomplishment of any of the acts which constitute sedition, by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, cartoons, banners, or other representations tending to the same end…” Sometime in 1947, a person in the name of Oscar Espuelas was charged with the crime of Inciting to Sedition under Article 142. Espuelas wrote a letter and caused the publication of his picture and a note. The picture depicted himself to be hanging by his neck from a tree and the note appears to be a suicide note which states that he is committing suicide because he is ashamed of the government under President Roxas and that since he could not put all the Roxas people under “Juez de Cuchillo” (Law of the Knife), he sacrificed his own life instead. He was found guilty by the trial court but appealed until the case reached the Supreme Court. The High Court unfortunately upheld the conviction of Espuelas. The Court said “the publication suggest or incites rebellious conspiracies or riots and tends to stir up people against the constituted authorities, or to provoke violence from opposition who may seek to silence the writer” (G.R. No. L-2990, 17 December 1951). The SC added that it induces “people to resort to illegal methods other than those provided by the Constitution, in order to repress the evils which press upon their minds”. The Court even went on to say that “it is clear that the letter suggested the decapitation or assassination of all Roxas officials”. This, according to the SC determined the fate of Espuelas.
Some critics of the penal provision on sedition and inciting to sedition say that this is prone to abuse especially against the critics of the sitting government. But without dwelling on this argument, can it be said that the facebook posts offering reward to anyone who can kill the president incite people to actually commit it? I am no expert on this and there is not much jurisprudence on it, but I find one thing unclear: Can an offer of 100 million reward from an ordinary citizen who might not even have one million, actually incite people to commit sedition? Will it be different if the one who posted the offer is person who is known to be wealthy? But then again, it will be up to the trial court to determine and decide if in fact the statement tends to incite sedition.