HECKLING, that is interrupting a public speaker with derisive or aggressive comments or abuse, has been a manifestation of genuine democracies for hundreds of years. To heckle attained its present meaning in the mid-17th century when there was much to heckle about.

In 2003, the United States of America (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) invaded Iraq, without United Nations agreement. The invasion was justified at the time by intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and could use them. Not everyone believed this. The non-believers were later proved correct. In late 2003, the US President George W. Bush visited the UK where he was greeted with much heckling about the Iraq war. He did not take offense. He beamed at his hecklers and said ‘Isn’t democracy wonderful!’

Not yet in the Philippines.

Last Thursday, while President Aquino was giving his Independence Day speech at Naga City, a college student standing 45 meters away from the stage at Plaza Quince Martires started shouting “Free Benito Tiamzon and all political prisoners and scrap all forms of pork! DAP, Ibasura!”

The student, Pio Mijares, attending Ateneo de Naga University, was quickly taken away by members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

Mijares was charged at the Naga City Prosecutor’s office with “tumults and other disturbances of public order.” He was also charged with “assault against an agent of person in authority.”

I am disappointed.

It is a sign of a mature democracy that any person at any time may express dissent. It is regrettable that the dissent, expressed by Mijares, was suppressed. “Tumults” is a large, confused noise caused by a large mass of people. Mijares did not engender tumults.

Around 500 members of the rights group Karapatan-Bicol held a rally at Naga City but were prevented from getting close to the site where the President was speaking. We agree if the rallyists intended to overwhelm the speech.

Independence Day marks the time when Philippine sovereignty was transferred from the Republic of Spain to the United States of America. This was completed at the Treaty of Paris on 10 December 1898. No Filipino was invited to the treaty negotiations. Is Independence Day really a cause for celebration?

Heckling has useful purposes. Firstly, it causes the speaker to realize that there is an adversarial opinion. Does PNoy know about the Benito Tiamzon case?

Secondly, it can cause the speaker to respond. There is nothing better than a quick and articulate put-down to the heckler by the speaker to cause the crowd to be more supportive of the speaker.

One is left with the impression that PNoy operates in a bubble in which his acolytes endlessly reassure him that everything is fine. Heckling punctures the bubble. Sometimes the bubble needs puncturing.

The Australian government recently unveiled a budget which was not well-received by the populace. Included in the unpopular items was a significant increase in tertiary education fees. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop went to the University of Sydney to explain the reason for the fee hikes. She was jostled and heckled. On camera at least she seemed to accept the angry students’ protest to hazards of the trade and smiled benignly. There were no arrests of the unruly students.

We wish the PSG would not intervene until and unless PNoy is in physical danger.