The 2017 outbreak of war in Marawi prompted the Local Government Unit of Iligan to impose the city-wide curfew under Ordinance No. 17-6613. However, this two-year old regulation is still being scrutinized on whether there is an infringement of any of the expressed terms in the Constitution and a compelling interest for its continued imposition.
In the exercise of the State’s police power, ordinances are created to insure the maintenance of social order within a locality. It is well-established that for an ordinance to be valid, it must be according to the procedure prescribed by law and must conform to the following substantive requirements:
- It must not be in contravention to the Constitution or any statute;
- must not be unfair or oppressive;
- must not be partial or discriminatory;
- must not prohibit but may regulate trade;
- must be general and consistent with public policy and
- must not be unreasonable.
There is yet no petition filed to question the constitutionality of the curfew, but it is considered by some to be violative of certain fundamental rights.
Accordingly, it is an undue restriction of the liberty of both minors and adults, specifically their right to interstate travel which is recognized and guaranteed under Section 6, Article III of the 1987 Constitution. To wit: “The liberty of abode and of changing the same within the limits prescribed by law shall not be impaired except upon lawful order of the court. Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law”.
Contrary to how people usually construe this provision, it must be understood that the said right is not absolute, therefore it can be restricted. The only permissible reasons for limitation are national security, public safety, and public health, which are expressly provided in the said constitutional provision. These exceptions are permissible grounds that can only curtail such constitutional right. It can be recalled that the necessity to carry out the ordinance was initially due to the urgency to protect the city from a possible extremist takeover two years ago, considering the siege that transpired in Marawi that is just roughly an hour-drive away. Until today, this is still an underlying reason why such restriction remains in effect. Although the siege already took place, there is still an assumption of reoccurrence, not to mention that Iligan has been a target of penetration. In other words, the curfew was not just a post-siege security measure but a precautionary course of action for a probable terrorist attack in the future. Also, the unsupervised presence of adults and minors along the streets would make it difficult for the police objective of the law enforcers to be realized in a speedy manner–it is in this sense then that the said restriction is deemed necessary. The imposition was not merely to abide with the president’s declaration of martial law across Mindanao, but first and foremost, it is to continually preserve the overall well-being of the people in the city whether they may be a permanent resident or in transit. As derived from the maxim salus populi suprema lex, the welfare of the people is the supreme law of the land; hence, the interest of one is subordinate to the interest of a greater number.
Another concern raised is the unwarranted government interference with the parents’ natural and primary right to rear children. This parental right is guaranteed in the Child and Youth Welfare Code of The Philippines. In this law, child protection is of paramount interest especially that it is considered by the state not as a mere creature. Thus, their individual traits and aptitudes should be cultivated to the utmost, insofar as they do not conflict with the general welfare.
The restraint on minors to roam around or meander in public or private roads, streets or other public places, whether singly or in groups, is essential. This is owing to the fact that they are the frequent personalities involved in various infractions of city ordinances and national laws. This reality further emphasizes the compelling interest of the State to protect and care for a juvenile’s welfare. Children are generally believed to have peculiar vulnerability and inability to make critical decisions in an informed and mature manner. As held in Samahan ng mga Progresibong Kabataan v. City of Quezon, GR No. 225442, Curfew Ordinances “would keep unsupervised minors during the late hours of night time off of public areas, so as to reduce–if not totally eliminate–their exposure to potential harm, and to insulate them against criminal pressure and influences which may even include themselves.” By virtue also of parens patriae, the state is enabled to intervene for the welfare of children, so long as it does not transgress the constitutionally enshrined natural and primary right of parents. Overall, the involvement of the government in setting disciplinary hours is not to bypass parental control but it is to help guardians in protecting their children from neglect, abuse or cruelty and exploitation, and other conditions prejudicial or detrimental to their children’s development.
Aside from apparently limiting Iliganons’ right to travel and the right of the parents to solely bring up their minor children, the curfew has affected both locally-owned and medium-scale businesses. It is asserted that this is opposite to the principle which Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) or RA No. 9501 upholds. It recognizes that MSMEs have the potential for more employment generation and economic growth and therefore can help provide a self-sufficient industrial foundation for the country. It is then the state’s interest to give primacy to the needs of the MSMEs and to ensure their viability and growth.
While it can be conceded that the curfew ordinance has caused the drop in the profits of commercial establishments and has decreased the wages of service-industry workers, it is worth noting that, at least to an extent, said curfew has promoted occupational safety. Commission of crimes usually happens in the evening, and records show that many of the victims are employees whose working schedule is at night. Those business establishments such as bars and entertainment districts having late operating hours, are usually the areas where assaults or brawls take place. Laborers with graveyard shifts have been associated with sexual violence-related cases to which they are victims of. The curfew at least provide a minimum degree of protection that must be ideally afforded to workers, whether during work or after. This will consequently, reduce physical risks and criminal activity which they can possibly be involved. As to the salary, the decrease is inevitable but it can still be assured that it is still within the minimum wage prescribed. The Labor Code guarantees that wage earners should be given the minimum amount of remuneration by their employers which cannot be reduced by collective agreement or an individual contract. Thus, the lessened working hours and profit caused by curfew is not a valid reason to give them unreasonable amount of wage. Lastly, with regard to the sustainability of the business, it is safe to assume that owners have already made and employed their contingency plans in order to get by and keep up with their reduced sales, especially that two years have already lapsed. With these, it cannot really be said the curfew has curtailed the right to a sustainable and growing business.
As mentioned, there is no petition filed yet assailing the said curfew’s constitutionality but it can still be subjected to a judicial question. It is imperative, however, to consider that ordinances enjoy the presumption of constitutionality, thus they retain their binding effect until judicially declared invalid. To declare curfew unconstitutional, there must be a clear and unequivocal breach of the Constitution, not merely a doubtful or argumentative contradiction. Where doubt exists, even if well-founded, there can be no finding of unconstitutionality. Moreover, the legislative bodies of Iligan City are also presumed to have acted conscientiously and with full awareness of the constitutional and statutory bounds of the said city ordinance. Iliganons therefore need not just abide, but recognize as well that such local policy has to be enforced to ensure a safer and better community for both individuals and business establishments. Considering that the downsides of the curfew do not totally outweigh the benefits, then it is just reasonable to have it continually enforced.