July 24, 2024

For all his perceived sins and omissions, President Rodrigo Duterte, thinking like the lawyer he should be, hit the bull’s eye when he announced on Monday that “nobody and nobody but only the national government, meaning him or Inter-Agency Task Force, can impose restrictions on travel.”
The Office of the President is the only office that can declare that there’s an emergency of national interest, and that power of declaration is not shared by anybody in the local level. Under the current pandemic, the right to travel has become “illusory” as overzealous or ignorant local government unit heads have arrogated upon themselves to create restrictions or limitations far beyond those imposed by the Bayanihan Law or the Inter-Agency Task Force Resolution.
Under general community quarantine, lawyers can resume practice, not only in their locality but anywhere in the country. To require them to be back within 24 hours or obtain a certificate of appearance or schedule from the court restricts not only their right to travel but regulates their practice, which only the Supreme Court on Bar Matters can do.
By the way, the practice of law does not only refer to court appearances. It covers more – meetings and pleadings here and there. The right covers even the petty desire to “exercise” unhampered by time and place, like setting a rule that you can only walk, jog, or do zumba at Burnham from 5 to 8 a.m. One cannot also dictate on tourist when to come and when not to. Restricting returning residents, workers, or even students at a pace of 100 per day likewise should be a no-no if we follow the President’s dictum as he ordered LGUs to accept overseas Filipino workers returning to their homes. Yes, one can impose terms and conditions, but not bar them from getting back.
The right is part of the liberty of which a citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law and only on clear and compelling grounds of national security, public health, and public safety as mandated by the Constitution. Duterte in fact warned that local officials may be criminally charged should they limit the movement of the public and it would be good to reverse the situation and indict them for violating the Bayahihan Act.
His Excellency added, “It is the constitutional right of people to travel and go home. Do not impede it. Do not obstruct the movement of people because you run the risk of getting sued criminally.”
While he recognized that this was how some local officials protect their respective jurisdictions from the virus, Duterte said it is “cruel” for them to deny entry to the OFWs.
Any freshman law student worth his salt would always remember the case of Villavicencio v. Lukban (39 PHIL 778) where Justo Lukban, then mayor of Manila, ordered the district of ill-repute women, members of the oldest and noblest profession – prostitutes daw, closed.
One hundred seventy women were isolated, then at night, without their consent and without any opportunity to consult with friends or to defend their rights, were forcibly hustled on board steamers for transportation to regions unknown. The mayor made a feeble attempt to say that the women left voluntarily and gladly but the presence of the police was in contrast to his claim as the officers chose the shades of night to cloak their secret and stealthy acts. Some of the ladies of the night were received as laborers in a Davao banana plantation. One or two were able to escape and return to Manila and petitioned the Supreme Court on habeas corpus to challenge Hizzoner’s order.
The High Court ruling was clear: “No official, no matter how high, is above the law. Lukban committed a grave abuse of discretion by deporting the prostitutes to a new domicile against their will. There is no law expressly authorizing his action. On the contrary, there is a law punishing public officials, not expressly authorized by law or regulation,who compel any person to change his residence.
Furthermore, the prostitutes, as citizens of the Philippines, are still entitled to the same rights, as stipulated in the Bill of Rights, as every other citizen. Their choice of profession should not be a cause for discrimination. It may make some, like Lukban, quite uncomfortable but it does not authorize anyone to compel said prostitutes to isolate themselves from the rest of the human race.
These women have been deprived of their liberty by being exiled to Davao without even being given the opportunity to collect their belongings or, worse, without even consenting to being transported to Mindanao. For this, Lukban must be severely punished. The courts are the forum which function to safeguard liberty and to punish official transgressors.
The essential object and purpose of the writ of habeas corpus are to inquire into all manner of involuntary restraint and to relieve a person therefrom if such restraint is illegal. If the mayor and the chief of police could deport the women, they must have the means to return them from Davao to Manila. The respondents may not be permitted to restrain a fellow citizen of her liberty by forcing her to change her domicile and to avow the act with impunity in the courts. The great writ of liberty may not be easily evaded.”
Almost 81 years after, PRRD reiterated the sacred ruling. Juan de la Cruz, OFWs, lawyers, carpenters, traders, returning residents, workers, students, and even prostitutes (sometimes confused with lawyers) have the right to travel and only Digong can say “no” or where and how. Sigh!