A former Palau President and a lawmaker supported Koror’s highest ranking matriarch, Bilung Gloria Salii’s, imposition of fines against individuals in viral explicit videos, pointing out that Palau’s constitution guarantees the role and function of a traditional leader.
Former Palau President Johnson Toribiong, who is one of the framers of Palau’s Constitution, and Senator Uduch Sengebau Senior, who chairs the Senate Committee on Culture and Tradition, came to the defense of the traditional leader when some individuals raised the issue of violation of free speech after the Bilung imposed fines against individuals who were involved in explicit videos that were circulating online.
Both cited Section 1, Article 5 of Palau’s Constitution which provides that” the government shall take no action to prohibit or revoke the role or function of a traditional leader as recognized by custom and tradition which is not inconsistent with this Constitution, nor shall it prevent a traditional leader from being recognized, honored, or given formal or functional roles at any level of government.”
Former President Toribiong said that he respects the Bilung for “having the courage to be the voice of morality” and “collective values against indecent, immoral, or shameful conduct.”
Toribiong said that the people shown in explicit videos had brought contempt and reproach to the people of Palau.
“What they were doing, to me, may be appropriate behind closed doors but does commit what I call public indecent exposure,” Toribiong said.
Toribiong added that there should be a limit to freedom of speech and expression and that the limit should be the Palauans’ collective moral values and traditional respect for their culture.
“Those people submitted to the imposition of the fines. The issue is moot. The debates are all in vain. But the issue whether or not Bilung can impose such fines can be seen from the younger people who think that democracy and freedom of speech and freedom of expression supersede our traditional values… I think there should be a limit to that and I think the limit is our collective moral values and traditional respect for our culture,” Toribiong said.
According to Toribiong, Bilung has spoken on behalf of all Palauan mothers when she imposed the fines against the questioned individuals.
“The fact that they (fined individuals) did not resist Bilung and paid the fines means there is a tradition that’s enforced in the faith of this country,” Toribiong said.
Toribiong also said that freedom of speech has a limit and that he is glad that the Bilung imposed the fines. He also believes that there is no need for Palau to establish a separate court to deal with matters of traditional laws, explaining further that these should be left to the traditional leaders to exercise their rights.
Meanwhile, Senator Senior also re-echoed Toribiong’s position on the issue, saying that Bilung’s assessing of fines against the individuals in question “does not run afoul of the constitution.”
Senior also pointed out that free speech can be regulated if it falls within the bounds of obscenity. She explained that there should be a balancing act between one’s right to free expression versus the prurient or obscene.
Senior, however, admitted that there is a loophole in Palau’s current democratic law and that this is what they are trying to address through a legislation.
Palau, according to Senior, currently does not have a legislation that prohibits an individual from sharing pornographic content just for the “pleasure of sharing it.”
Senior also said that she believes that Palau’s statutory law supports what the Bilung did.
Senior shared that the twenty-first amendment to Palau’s constitution added a third section under Article 5 that mandates the government to take “affirmative action to assist traditional leaders in the preservation, protection, promotion of Palauan heritage, culture, languages.”
The senator also said that there is currently no statute that prohibits the Bilung from imposing the fines.
“So even though we’re saying, our individual right, freedom of expression, is guaranteed under article 4 of the constitution but there is nothing that prevents Bilung from assessing this traditional fine,” Senior said.
But Senior was also quick to add that Bilung did not fine the questioned individuals for violating a statutory law but only because their conducts were not in conformity with the traditional Palauan values.
“Because that did not comply or is not consistent [and] does not reflect our traditional values, she is within her authority to assess a fine,” Senior said. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)