September 29, 2023

Paul McCartney of the Beatles, when estranged from a person he held in high esteem, once said, “We would have been very good friends for millions of years and I thought it was a bit much for them suddenly to be persona non grata and out of my life.”
Really now? That would have been taken out of context, but what is persona non grata? It’s Latin for “unacceptable” or “unwanted.”
Recently, the Baguio city council passed a persona non grata resolution – expression of the sentiment of the body but definitely not cast in stone. This merely suggests that a person is unwelcome or unacceptable in the city.
It, however, does not prevent a person from going, staying, or working here or transacting with government, private entities or individuals. Our constitution expressly guarantees freedom to travel and abode and no resolution could abridge said right. No law exists giving our legislative bodies power to declare someone persona non grata and any first year Law student would argue that since the same has no basis in law, clearly it is unconstitutional.
Only a court order can limit a person’s liberty of abode or right to travel and the grounds are limited to the following: national security, public safety, and public health.
Persona non grata is used only in diplomacy referring to a foreigner entering/remaining in a country whose stay is prohibited by government.
The 1961 Vienna Convention for Diplomatic Relations says a country can declare any member of a diplomatic staff persona non grata at any time without having to explain its decision. It is a country’s defense mechanism as foreign diplomats are protected – cannot be arrested or prosecuted.
Under the circumstances, the diplomat must be recalled. Examples are German diplomat Kriener in Caracas for internal affairs interference; Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Horak for calling for the release of political detainees; actor Brad Pitt because he appeared in the cover of “GQ” China, though lifted when he visited with Angelina Jolie; and former United States president Donald Trump in Panama after his usual “stupid” remarks.
The power to declare persona non grata is never shared with local government units of the Philippines. Resolutions have no legal effect as local legislative units are not the proper fora for this kind of declarations. If one violates a law, criminal or civil cases should be filed in court which is the body that would mete out the ban.
In concubinage for example, one of the penalties is “destierro” – banning a person from entering or staying in a place for a limited time, which is closest to the declaration of persona non grata.
To name and shame a person is not the business of a sanggunian as the members are supposed to be solely lawmaking bodies, although understandably, it’s political season. What is popular though is not necessarily right.
You may say, did you not author the resolution on Col. Gregorio Lim being declared persona non grata? He relieved SPO4 Albert Tadeo and assigned him to Apayao because Tadeo arrested his wife for violating the Number Coding Ordinance. Mea culpa. It was a legal strategy to bring back Tadeo from his miserable assignment and the PNP higher brass gave in. Withdrawn and the end justified the means. Also, City Mayor Benjie Magalong came to plead for his mistah.
On Dec. 21, 2010, the La Trinidad council declared former Baguio Midland Courier reporter Jimmy Laking persona non grata for his reports and columns on politics, governance, and the debates surrounding the proposed construction of a mall in the locality.
The “official SP spanking” took him to task for allegedly violating media ethics and standards because on several occasions, he misquoted members of the council and erroneously reported matters which are not in accordance with the intent and final decisions of this council.”
Laking sued the council for abuse of authority in connection with Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
He proved his point when now retired Judge Danilo Camacho of the Regional Trial Court Branch 62, in his March 20, 2011 decision said the resolution has legal infirmities.
The court ordered then vice mayor Romero Salda and councilors Jim Botiwey, Henry Kipas, Arthur Shontogan, Roderick Awingan, Horacio Ramos Jr., Estrella Adeban, Francis Lee, Von Tauli, and Robert Namoro suspended from office.
Before the implementation of the decision, the parties settled and everybody went to live happy ever after. Hay! Apo ti biag!