Philippines: proposed constitutional amendment a threat to freedoms of expression and assembly

The ICJ today expressed its concern that a constitutional amendment under consideration by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Constitutional Amendments would, if adopted, severely restrict the rights to freedom expression and assembly in the country.

The proposed amendment would limit the constitutional protection of the exercise of these rights only to what State authorities deem to be “reasonable”.

In a letter to Representative Roger G. Mercado, the Chairperson of the Committee, the ICJ urged the removal of the phrase “responsible exercise” as a precondition for the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly.

The ICJ stressed that this limitation is incompatible with the obligations of the Philippines under international human rights law.

“Adding the phrase ‘responsible exercise’ is unacceptable since it gives those persons or government agencies tasked to execute the law unfettered discretion to restrict freedom of expression and assembly,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

“The restriction clearly impairs the essence of these rights and cannot meet the standard of legality,” he added.


Emerlynne Gil, Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t: +662 619 8477 (ext. 206) ; e:


The 1987 Philippine Constitution provides three ways by which it can be revised or amended. First, Congress can constitute itself, upon three-fourths vote of all its Members, to act as a Constituent Assembly. Second, Congress may call a Constitutional Convention by a vote of two-thirds of all its members or submit to the electorate, by a majority vote of all its members, the question of whether to call a convention or not. Third, at least 12% of all registered voters may sign a petition to propose amendments to the Philippine Constitution.

On 7 December 2016, President Duterte issued an Executive Order constituting a Consultative Committee to conduct consultations and to review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution. Their findings shall be submitted to the Philippine Congress.

On 16 January 2018, the House of Representatives voted to constitute Congress as a Constituent Assembly to commence the amendment of the Philippine Constitution. Thus, the Committee on Constitutional Amendments was created to draft the proposed changes to the Philippine Constitution.

One of the proposals considered is to amend Section 4, Article III of the Philippine Constitution, adding the following four-word qualifier (in bold text) to the existing provision, so that it would read: “No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of 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 grievances.”

Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are protected respectively under Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  They only may be restricted on narrowly specified grounds, such as where necessary to protect national security or public health.  Overly broad and expansive limitations, such as protecting only expression exercised “reasonably”, goes well beyond these specified grounds.

Philippines-Congress Sub Committees-Advocacy-Open Letters-2018-ENG (Full letter in PDF)

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