By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III
As the pandemic-induced restrictions begin to ease up with cases of infections steadily on the decline, life’s return to normalcy beckons.
Pupils in various schools nationwide trickle in as the school gates slowly open.
But before daily life returns to normal, the hazards that used to plague children on their way to school must first be reckoned. In retrospect, before the lockdown edicts were handed down, small children blossoming in tricycles or pedicabs many of them tenuously holding on to the rails with their backpacks, was a mundane scene. Some parents straddling on their motorcycles bring their children to school sandwiched for “safety”.
It would be hypocritical for our government to apprehend motorists driving without wearing a seatbelt -which is commonsensically less risky than little children being allowed to cling to tricycles and pedicabs- but tolerate this blatant hazard that is posed to children in the streets.
Republic Act No. 7610 entitled Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination seeks to address “child abuse”. It defines “child abuse” as the “maltreatment” of children which includes, among others: “circumstances that threaten or endanger the survival or normal development of children”.
Worryingly, RA 7610 does not have enough teeth for law enforcement officers to apprehend “child endangerment” as the same is not yet defined as a specific crime or offense. But this does not obviate any initiative on our law and policymakers to come up with a drastic measure to address this concern.
Curiously, in LTO v. City of Butuan, G.R. No. 131512 which came down on January 20, 2000, the issue on who between the Land Transportation Office and the local government unit can regulate the operation of tricycles plying the streets was decided.
First, the Supreme Court laid down the premise by raising a serious concern on the hazards posed by tricycles on the streets when not properly regulated. Thus:
“The Court cannot end this decision without expressing its own serious concern over the seeming laxity in the grant of franchises for the operation of tricycles-for-hire and in allowing the indiscriminate use by such vehicles on public highways and principal thoroughfares. Senator Aquilino C. Pimentel, Jr., the principal author and sponsor of the bill that eventually has become to be known as the Local Government Code, has aptly remarked:
Tricycles are a popular means of transportation, specially in the countryside. They are, unfortunately, being allowed to drive along highways and principal thoroughfares where they pose hazards to their passengers arising from potential collisions with buses, cars and jeepneys.
The operation of tricycles within a municipality may be regulated by the Sangguniang Bayan. In this connection, the Sangguniang concerned would do well to consider prohibiting the operation of tricycles along or across highways invite collisions with faster and bigger vehicles and impede the flow of traffic”.
Second, the LTO v. City of Butuan ruling listed down the pertinent laws that public officials must be mindful of lest they incur criminal and/ or civil liabilities for neglectful conduct insofar as the hazards posed on the streets by the tricycles, thus:
“The need for ensuring public safety and convenience to commuters and pedestrians alike is paramount. It might be well, indeed, for public officials concerned to pay heed to a number of provisions in our laws that can warrant appropriate cases and incurrence of criminal and civil liabilities. Thus —
The Revised Penal Code —
Art. 208. Prosecution of offenses; negligence and tolerance. — The penalty of prision correccional in its minimum period and suspension shall be imposed upon any public officer, or officer of the law, who, in dereliction of the duties of his office, shall maliciously refrain from instituting prosecution for the punishment of violators of the law, or shall tolerate the commission of offenses.
The Civil Code —
Art. 27. Any person suffering material or moral loss because a public servant or employee refuses or neglects, without just cause, to perform his official duty may file an action for damages and other relief against the latter, without prejudice to any disciplinary administrative action that may be taken.
Art. 34. When a member of a city or municipal police force refuses or fails to render aid or protection to any person in case of danger to life or property, such peace officer shall be primarily liable for damages, and the city or municipality shall be subsidiarily responsible therefor. The civil action herein recognized shall be independent of any criminal proceedings, and a preponderance of evidence shall suffice to support such action.
Art. 2189. Provinces, cities and municipalities shall be liable for damages for the death of, or injuries suffered by, any person by reason of the defective condition of roads, streets, bridges, public buildings, and other public works under their control or supervision.
The Local Government Code —
Sec. 24. Liability for Damages. — Local government units and their officials are not exempt from liability for death or injury to persons or damage to property”.
Indeed, as the school gates are about to open once more, a law or ordinance that would strengthen or enhance the regulation of the operation of tricycles and pedicabs must be passed.
At the end of the day- both literally and metaphorically- we want to see our children back in our homes, safe and sound. And as Nelson Mandela warned: “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children”.
(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates- a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).