By Rey Panaligan
Three Boracay Island residents have asked the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse its decision that declared constitutional President Duterte’s Proclamation No. 475 which closed Boracay Island to tourists and non-residents for six months from April 26 to October 25 last year.
They told the SC that if the ruling is not reconsidered, it would set “a dangerous legal precedent as far as constitutional rights are concerned.”
The petitioners in the case were Mark Anthony Zabal, Thiting Estoso Jacosalem and Odeon Bandiola, who were assisted by the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL)
They insisted that the President’s exercise of police power through Proclamation No. 475 failed to comply with the requisites enumerated under Section 6, Article III of the 1987 Constitution which states that the right to travel can be curtailed only “in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.”
They also pointed out that “the temporary nature of the infringement does not change the fact that the damage had been done, with the livelihoods of thousands of workers – petitioners included – being affected or lost, all to the detriment of these workers and their families.”
In its decision handed down last February, the SC upheld the position of the government that the six-month closure of Boracay Island did not violate the Constitution, particularly on the rights to travel and due process.
The decision written by Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo stated:
“Thus, in order for the now staunch commitment to save the environment not to fade, it behooves upon the courts to be extra cautious in invalidating government measures meant towards addressing environmental degradation.
“Absent any clear showing of constitutional infirmity, arbitrariness or grave abuse of discretion, these measures must be upheld and even lauded and promoted.
“After all, not much time is left for us to remedy the present environmental situation.”
The Office of the President had said the closure of Boracay Island was for the purpose of rehabilitating the island. An inter-agency task force implemented the six-month rehabilitation work.
Solicitor General Jose C. Calida, the government’s chief lawyer, said the closure of Boracay Island was in line with the power of the President under Sections 1 and 17, Article VII of the Constitution.
He said a state of calamity was declared in Boracay Island on the recommendation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
“In this case, the situation in Boracay Island called for a strong and urgent measure to address the human-induced hazards that have caused the degradation of Boracay Island’s eco-system…,” Calida said.
“Evidently, Proclamation No. 475 is nothing more that the President’s exercise of his power of control over the executive branch of government, especially in addressing the state of calamity in Boracay Island,” he stressed.
“Had the President failed to act on the recommendation of the NDRRMC to address the environmental disaster in Boracay, he would have violated his bounden duty under existing laws and the Constitution,” he added.
At the same time, .Calida said the President did not usurp legislative power in issuing the proclamation.
As a matter of fact, he said, there was no conflict with Congress as the President was “merely implementing the policies laid out by the Legislative Department in various pertinent laws” like Philippine Clean Water Act, Solid Waste Management Act, and Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act.
“It cannot be overemphasized therefore that the issuance of Proclamation No. 475 is within the ambit of the powers of the President and not contrary to the doctrine of separation of powers and the mechanisms laid out by the people through the Constitution,” he said.
On the right to travel, Calida said the mandate in the Constitution is not absolute since it provides exceptions in cases of “national security, public safety or public health,” which apply to Boracay Island.