Highway closure to tourists questioned
The legality of an executive order that prohibits tourists from traversing a portion of a national road in Sadanga, Mountain Province when going to Tinglayan, Kalinga is being challenged.
In a letter dated Aug. 3 addressed to Mountain Province Governor Bonifacio Lacwasan, Tinglayan Mayor Sacrament Gumilab has asked the governor to review and declared as null and void EO 18 signed by Sadanga Mayor Gabino Ganggangan.
Citing the Local Government Code which authorizes governors to review EOs issued by mayors within their jurisdiction, Gumilab offered six grounds in explaining to the governor that EO 18 does not have legal force and effect.
He said the EO impairs a citizen’s right to travel and it is unconstitutional for violation of the right to equal protection of laws. He added that a mayor has no authority to prohibit use of national roads while the EO provides hardships and waste of time and resources to travelers. He likewise claimed the EO is based on flawed logic and it does not serve its purpose.
Gumilab said Ganggangan’s intention of preventing marijuana and arms trade may be noble, but there are other ways to prevent this without trampling on the constitutional rights of any person.
Last week, Ganggangan has issued EO 18 that barred tourists who intend to go to Tinglayan specifically to Barangay Buscalan where traditional tattoo artist Whang-od lives from passing through Sadanga saying he does not want the municipality to become a transshipment point of marijuana and ammunition. He said those who want to go to Tinglayan should take the Tabuk City route.
Gumilab said this alternative will cost more in terms of resources and time. For tourists coming from Sagada and who plan to go to Tinglayan, the shortest and direct route would be to pass through the Bontoc-Tabuk national highway where they have to pass through Sadanga. If travelers take the Tabuk City route from Mountain Province, they have to head first to Baguio City then ride a bus going to Tabuk, then take another ride going to Tinglayan.
“Imagine the hassle that legitimate tourists would experience due to the fault of a few,” Gumilab said.
Gumilab said only when there is a threat to national security, public safety, and public health may travel be restricted.
“Nowhere in our laws or the rules of court give authority to administrative officials, in this case the mayor, to curtail the right to travel of a person on the basis of preventing the commission of said (trade of drugs and ammunition) activities,” Gumilab said.
He added roads may only be closed if there is an emergency, during fiesta and public rallies, agricultural and industrial fairs, public works undertaking, telecommunications and waterworks projects and the duration should be specific.
In EO 18, no date was set as to when the road will be reopened.
Gumilab also said trading of drugs or firearms may be committed by any other person passing through the road section in Sadanga, not just tourists bound to Tinglayan.
“The EO excludes any other tourists or any other persons which may likely commit the same acts that the EO seeks to prevent,” Gumilab said.
Even as he confirmed that said road may have been a preferred route in the transportation of drugs and ammunition, Gumilab said this is not enough to justify issuance of EO18.
“Banning tourists going to Tinglayan does not prevent the commission of crimes such as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act or the Firearms and Ammunitions Law because any other person even if not a tourist will commit it,” Gumilab said.
Meanwhile, in his post on his social media account last Aug. 7, Ganggangan admitted that EO 18 has no legal basis but maintained his directive is part of his moral responsibility of curbing a societal menace.
He said it is public knowledge that marijuana cultivation in Tinglayan is rampant that growers of the weed even expanded their farms to as far as Sadanga resulting in tribal conflict and near severance of the bodong (peace pact) between the Botbot-Sadanga tribes in the 1990s.
He also said it is a fact that many pose as tourists who want to have their tattoos done by Whang-od or pretend to visit the Sleeping Beauty Mountain but in truth they intend to buy marijuana and its byproducts.
“When I issued EO 18, it was with the thought of doing what I could possibly do within my capacity and within my area of responsibility to help in the campaign to stop the proliferation of marijuana as it is posing more health hazards to more people than whatever benefit it gives to a few.”
He said the eradication activities conducted by the Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Council have been put to waste for after every activity, cultivation continues.
“It is simply to a cat and mouse game between the planters/growers and government law enforcers,” Ganggangan said. – Rimaliza A. Opiña