Alterum No Laedare: A Rejoinder

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That entry, of course, begs a rejoinder.

I personally think that it is at the height of a moral and ethical crisis in society when basic precepts like honesty (honeste vivere), doing no harm (alterum no laedare), and giving every one his or her due (suum cique triburere) are questioned.  When something like a just and fair society becomes relegated to the “unattainable,” it is a crisis in itself.  If rice crises and the rising prices of fuel are bad enough, the inability or reluctance of a society to work toward justice not only becomes its own undoing, but it spells its own death.

Let me explain – again – why “do no harm” is something I hold in such a high (if not neurotic) regard.  We do live in an unjust society, so let’s hold that as a given.  Society today is replete with so many liars and ingrates.  The reason why we still live today – the very reason why we exist, survive, and scrape the bottom of empty barrels to eke out a living – is because of a precept called “do no harm.”  I think Emperor Justinian I, who coined the phrase “alterum no laedare,” had enough foresight in his time to realize that for society to exist in harmony, even in its most rudimentary form, people must look out for each other.

“Foresight,” or I should say, a “duh” moment.  Consider people mobbing a thief or a pickpocket.  Or people throwing epithets at rapists on TV.  People who boil over with rage and anger when they hear of a crime.  A criminal represents the opposite of “do no harm.”  He or she is a malcontent whose existence revolves around harming another person, to live devoid of conscience, to disregard the welfare of other people.  If the malcontent harms one person, he or she can definitely harm another.

Let me get to the word “conscience.”  Laws, ethics, and personal principles are nothing more than embodiments of conscience.  Rather than to restrict us from living meaningful lives, laws permit us to do so.  There are just some lines you cannot cross.  For all the complicatedness of the law, it is merely a map that indicates your limits.  You can have your fun in a given limitation, but when your fun transgresses upon one’s person, there are repercussions.

While we’re on the subject of blogging responsibly:

A libel is public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.

“Definition of Libel”
Art. 353, Sec. 1, Ch. 1, Title 13, Book 2
Revised Penal Code of the Philippines

I leave it to lawyers to interpret if libel does apply to blogs in Philippine jurisprudence.  Even if it doesn’t, this is not a license for libel or slander to find refuge in blogs, for blogs to be made as a venue for it.  Still, it brings to mind a very important point about how laws are merely reiterations of conscience: the definition of libel in Philippine law is worded in such a way that nobody in the right mind would dare dishonor someone, to discredit someone, to hold someone in contempt, or to besmirch dead people.

The motive is of course, irrelevant.  The law, being a reiteration of conscience, is very explicit:

Every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if it be true, if no good intention and justifiable motive for making it is shown.

“Requirement for Publicity”
Art. 354, Sec. 1, Ch. 1, Title 13, Book 2
Revised Penal Code of the Philippines

Because the law draws lines on the basis of reiterating commonly-held beliefs about what ought to be, there is no reason for us to not live up to it.  The law – conscience – exists because we have to live up to it.  Never mind the perceived “sacrifices” we make because this is “imputed” on us and “imposed” on us.

To act with justice, to live honestly, to harm no one, and to give every one his or her due, is NOT an ideal.  These are the most basic of requirements expected of every single human being who lives in some form of society.

Which brings me to ask: what is so difficult about life without doing any harm?  What is so complicated about writing – irrevocably reduced to blogging, in this case – in a responsible, fair, just manner that seeks far more prudent and noble ends than to commit slander?

I won’t dare be sanctimonious to say that in four years of blogging, I never made lapses.  I wrote things that, had I lived in a less-permissive society, would land me in jail for sure.  Yet as time goes on, and you learn from your mistakes, you realize how responsible you really are for what you write.  It’s not “just a blog,” as much as every act of writing is itself a commitment to history.  To own up to it is not enough; it is expected that in the exercise of free speech and expression, that in the exercise of creativity, people should realize how important the ought-to-be is.

Besides, “do no harm” is not all that complicated.  It’s just three words.  Meaningless?  Relative?  Antiquated?  A deterrent to the creative process?

Hmmm… I am reminded of how Plato, in The Republic, offered a prescription to those who do not act justly and those who do not have the interest of others in mind.  Plato’s solution, metaphorical or literal, makes a lot of sense: the people in the polis throw the malcontent over the city walls.

It makes a lot of sense.

12 comments on “Alterum No Laedare: A Rejoinder”

  1. Reply

    It’s great that THE REVISED PENAL CODE was mentioned. However, the penal code’s precepts about BLOGGING in particular was dismissed here. All the while, I thought this was a retort to blogging as a license to slander.

    That’s the beauty of literary criticism.

  2. Reply


    understand this.

    the law – WHICH IS AGAIN, A REITERATION OF CONSCIENCE – is explicit in it. the revised penal code, which defines what libel is, is a REITERATION of “do no harm.” read the definitions again, and again if necessary, and you will the impetus behind this entry is to respond to your “retorts,” which did not, in any way, refute any of my passing critiques about blogging USED AS slander. instead, you choose to argue with me on the basis of ad hominem statements that do not, by any means, constitute arguments. i argue with facts. you argue with movie lines and anecdotes about pigs in courtrooms.

    let me make clear a reason behind why i feel genuinely offended about people who slander through their blogs. writing is my means of livelihood. without writing, there will be no food on my table. writing pays for my rent, writing pays even for my writing. somehow, i think i am entitled to put that in its own regard: that i respect my means of livelihood more than enough to protect it from people who bastardize it.

    there is a saying among judges:

    “If you’re weak on the facts, pound on the law. If you’re weak on the law, pound on the facts. If you’re weak on the facts and the law, pound on the table.”

    so far, jamestoned, you’ve been doing a lot of pounding on the table.

    • her royal badness
    • June 25, 2008

    fyi. there is a new law on libel. maybe you guys should check that out. still, the article on libel in the RPC holds true, legal and binding. legally speaking, there’s a difference between slander and libel; the difference is not just on one hand, slander caters to speech while on the other hand, libel caters to what is written. Don’t take the RPC at face value, there are several cases that expound on this.

    Let me just say that the problem with literary criticism is that it pressumes that everything is theoretical, that everything is text and subject to debate. True, but the law and precepts of the law do not take literary criticism lightly. Why? For the simple reason that it affects human lives!

    There is no law yet on blogging, but please do see articles 19, 20 and 21 of the civil code. The RPC talks about slander and libel, but the CC talks about the application of alterum no laedare.

  3. Reply

    On a personal note: We have different backgrounds Marocharim, but to say that my “views” (not arguments) are ad hominems—-synonymous to saying it has no intelligence, no plan, or no purpose—-does not belittle my disambiguation.

    It only belittles the lack of imagination of those people who cannot comprehend it.

    I don’t condone cyber bullying (which is how I define harm with malice or e-libel for that matter). Moreso, if you say that ad hominems constitute my views—-then please, allow me to doubt lifting passages from this page for my thesis.

    Why? Because it’s still a “blog”.

  4. Reply

    jamestoned: i rest my case.

    • Coco
    • July 1, 2008

    I am confused. I read this entry, but not before I read the entry that has begged this rejoinder to be written. It now seems to me that you have put so much political and legal attachments to the ‘slanderous’ or ‘libelous’ blog entry of an ‘irresponsible blogger’.

    This leads me to question: did the ‘irresponsible blogger’ destroy the reputation of the person blogged about? Was this person mentioned (and repeatedly mentioned)in the blog entry of the ‘irresponsible blogger’ as someone who is not fit to be part of the society? Is it just and fair (to the ‘irresponsible blogger’) to compare what her or she wrote about in that blog entry to that of a crime (as we are now talking about the RPC and the CC)?

    Hmm, it must have been one hell of a destructive blog entry. The person blogged about must have been scarred for life, reputation damaged to the public (or the cyberspace in this case?) forever, ostracized and gravely humiliated. Should we now put that ‘irresponsible blogger’ to jail for bringing upon that fate?

    Before we do that (and be unfair to the ‘irresponsible blogger’!), can we ask first: was it just a trivial blog entry that was the fruit of the ever-changing and colorful human emotion and observation that leads to opinion (and in this case, a blog entry)?

    I hope next time we read about a seemingly slanderous or libelous blog entry, let us think first and ask ourself: it is just to JUDGE (and put to trial) a person’s emotional musings? Hmm, I guess not. Not unless of course, it was done purposely (and concealed under the veil of emotional blogging) to be a means of destroying one’s reputation.

    Then we can all live in an ideal world of Alterum No Laedare.

    I just have to add, of no significant importance: Critical reading is as important as critical writing.

    Until then, this is indeed a sick sick unjust world we have to live in—but that does not spare us from the responsibility of changing for the better.

    I hope this comment does not make a violator of the Alterum No Laedare principle.)

  5. Reply


    remember malu fernandez? ok, so malu wrote one entry – ONE entry – and ka-putt. was it just and fair for her to be treated in such a way? we can argue over that for hours on end. in the end, you only get what you put in.

    why the law? why the ethics? why the political “chenelou?” because that’s exactly what “do no harm” is.

    nothing is ever “just” anything.


    • Coco
    • July 2, 2008

    Yes, I was familiar with what she wrote. But then again, Malu Fernandez wrote for a publication, not her personal blog. So I guess there IS a difference. 😉

    And you are absolutely right: ‘nothing is ever just anything’.

  6. Reply

    I guess the most imprtant question to ask is:

    Was it worth it to offend someone?

    I don’t know about the next person, but for me: hell no.

    • her royal badness
    • July 8, 2008

    this whole thing proves two things: one, that there is an outstanding debate on blog ethics ready to be explored and two, why we do not have an internet law…yet. 😀

    the principle of alterum no laedare does not seek a perfect world. i dont get it why ALL of you keep on equating it to utopia or perfection. what it seeks is just this: that the world could at least be a tolerable place to live in.

    chill people. let’s just live and learn.

    and perhaps, one day, we won’t just pound on the fact, on the law or on the table, but throw the pounding out of our system all together.

    (of course, then again, without contradictions, we’ll all be dead)

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