By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III
The recent confusion that was brought about by the report that MARINA had banned all forms of bicycles to be loaded on board fiber-made ferries bound for and coming from Guimaras Province raised an uproar. Concerned citizens took to social media which instantly swirled with condemnation of the restriction of their freedom to pedal their way to and from Guimaras mostly for recreational purposes.
A swift action by government officials of Iloilo City and the Guimaras Province by calling the attention of MARINA and the Philippine Coast Guard resulted in the lifting of the prohibition.
In the Department of Transportation’s portal, MARINA’s functions are described as follows:
“The MARINA oversees the promotion and development of the maritime industry, and also provides effective regulation of shipping enterprises. Since its establishment in June 1994, MARINA was granted the authority to issue Certificates of Public Convenience (CPC), permitting the operation of domestic and overseas water carriers. Other functions of the agency include the registration of vessels, the issuance of licenses, the addressing of safety concerns pertaining to vessel construction, and the enforcement of maritime law”.
Indeed, it is always the better policy to “be safe, than sorry”. However, it must be stressed that when governmental agencies formulate policies that will impact on individual liberties, they ought to proceed more delicately.
One amorphous yet compelling if not profound provision in the Philippine Constitution is “the right to life, liberty or property”. This harkens to the United States Constitution which originally included the clause “the pursuit of happiness” as among the unalienable rights of man.
In his separate opinion in Spark v Quezon City, GR No. 225442, August 8, 2017, Justice Leonen explained the formulation of the concepts of “life, liberty and property”. Thus:
“At stake here is the basic constitutional guarantee that “[n]o person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws”. There are two (2) dimensions to this: first, is an enumeration of objects of protection-life, liberty and property; second, is an identification and delimitation of the legitimate mechanism for their modulation or abnegation-due process and equal protection. The first dimension lists specific objects whose bounds are amorphous; the second dimension delineates action, and therefore, requires precision.
Speaking of life and its protection does not merely entail ensuring biological subsistence. It is not just a proscription against killing. Likewise, speaking of liberty and its protection does not merely involve a lack of physical restraint. The objects of the constitutional protection of due process are better understood dynamically and from a frame of consummate human dignity. They are likewise better understood integrally, operating in a synergistic frame that serves to secure a person’s integrity.
“Life, liberty and property” is akin to the United Nations’ formulation of “life, liberty, and security of person” and the American formulation of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. As the American Declaration of Independence postulates, they are “unalienable rights” for which “[g]overnments are instituted among men” in order that they may be secured. Securing them denotes pursuing and obtaining them, as much as it denotes preserving them. The formulation is, thus, an aspirational declaration, not merely operating on factual givens but enabling the pursuit of ideals”.
So, in congealing policies, administrative agencies tasked with the authority to regulate and/ or prohibit freedom of movement must be reminded that in the constitutional scheme, there is a gradation in the interference of the people’s freedoms. If there is a way to merely regulate instead of imposing a total ban, then the former must be pursued.
Freedom is the rule, and restriction is the exception. Above all, the right to pursue happiness is such a cherished freedom that must not be interfered with unless for compelling reasons.
(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 law book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).