Jurisprudence on "chilling effect"

Philippine jurisprudence has incorporated the concept of a "chilling effect," but the definition has remained abstract. In Chavez v. Gonzales, the Court stated that a “chilling effect” took place upon the issuance of a press release by the National Telecommunications Commission warning radio and television broadcasters from using taped conversations involving former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the allegations of fixing elections:
We rule that not every violation of a law will justify straitjacketing the exercise of freedom of speech and of the press. Our laws are of different kinds and doubtless, some of them provide norms of conduct which even if violated have only an adverse effect on a person’s private comfort but does not endanger national security. There are laws of great significance but their violation, by itself and without more, cannot support suppression of free speech and free press. In fine, violation of law is just a factor, a vital one to be sure, which should be weighed in adjudging whether to restrain freedom of speech and of the press. The totality of the injurious effects of the violation to private and public interest must be calibrated in light of the preferred status accorded by the Constitution and by related international covenants protecting freedom of speech and of the press. In calling for a careful and calibrated measurement of the circumference of all these factors to determine compliance with the clear and present danger test, the Court should not be misinterpreted as devaluing violations of law. By all means, violations of law should be vigorously prosecuted by the State for they breed their own evil consequence. But to repeat, the need to prevent their violation cannot per se trump the exercise of free speech and free press, a preferred right whose breach can lead to greater evils. For this failure of the respondents alone to offer proof to satisfy the clear and present danger test, the Court has no option but to uphold the exercise of free speech and free press. There is no showing that the feared violation of the anti-wiretapping law clearly endangers the national security of the State. 
This is not all the faultline in the stance of the respondents. We slide to the issue of whether the mere press statements of the Secretary of Justice and of the NTC in question constitute a form of content-based prior restraint that has transgressed the Constitution. In resolving this issue, we hold that it is not decisive that the press statements made by respondents were not reduced in or followed up with formal orders or circulars. It is sufficient that the press statements were made by respondents while in the exercise of their official functions. Undoubtedly, respondent Gonzales made his statements as Secretary of Justice, while the NTC issued its statement as the regulatory body of media. Any act done, such as a speech uttered, for and on behalf of the government in an official capacity is covered by the rule on prior restraint. The concept of an “act” does not limit itself to acts already converted to a formal order or official circular. Otherwise, the non formalization of an act into an official order or circular will result in the easy circumvention of the prohibition on prior restraint. The press statements at bar are acts that should be struck down as they constitute impermissible forms of prior restraints on the right to free speech and press. 
There is enough evidence of chilling effect of the complained acts on record. The warnings given to media came from no less the NTC, a regulatory agency that can cancel the Certificate of Authority of the radio and broadcast media. They also came from the Secretary of Justice, the alter ego of the Executive, who wields the awesome power to prosecute those perceived to be violating the laws of the land. After the warnings, the KBP inexplicably joined the NTC in issuing an ambivalent Joint Press Statement. After the warnings, petitioner Chavez was left alone to fight this battle for freedom of speech and of the press. This silence on the sidelines on the part of some media practitioners is too deafening to be the subject of misinterpretation.
The constitutional imperative for us to strike down unconstitutional acts should always be exercised with care and in light of the distinct facts of each case. For there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to slippery constitutional questions, and the limits and construct of relative freedoms are never set in stone. Issues revolving on their construct must be decided on a case to case basis, always based on the peculiar shapes and shadows of each case. But in cases where the challenged acts are patent invasions of a constitutionally protected right, we should be swift in striking them down as nullities per se. A blow too soon struck for freedom is preferred than a blow too late.

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