Tuesday, February 17, 2009

HIGH TIME FOR SHORT TIME (High Court okays Short Time)

By Obiter07

If time is short, then there is no need to rush, so the High Court held in White Light Corporation, et al. vs. City of Manila, et al. (January 20, 2009 G.R. No. 122846). The Court ruled in said case that the ban on short time admissions is unconstitutional as it infringes upon the right to liberty and privacy.

This is actually the second case which involves an effort by the City of Manila to impose moral standards through the control and even closure of certain establishments. In City of Manila v. Laguio, Jr. et al. vs. Lim, et al. [G.R. No. 118127. April 12, 2005], the Supreme Court nullified an ordinance banning Sauna Parlors; Massage Parlors, Karaoke Bars, Beerhouses, Night Clubs, Day Clubs, Super Clubs, Discotheques, Cabarets, Dance Halls; Motels and Inns within the Ermita-Malate area.

This time, the city issued Manila City Ordinance No. 7774 entitled, “An Ordinance Prohibiting Short-Time Admission, Short-Time Admission Rates, and Wash-Up Rate Schemes in Hotels, Motels, Inns, Lodging Houses, Pension Houses, and Similar Establishments in the City of Manila” (the Ordinance) which prohibited “short-time admission and rate [sic], wash-up rate or other similarly concocted terms … in hotels, motels, inns, lodging houses, pension houses and similar establishments in the City of Manila.” Short-time admission was defined as “admittance and charging of room rate for less than twelve (12) hours at any given time or the renting out of rooms more than twice a day or any other term that may be concocted by owners or managers of said establishments but would mean the same or would bear the same meaning.” The penalty for violation ranges from a fine of P5,000.00 or imprisonment for a period of not exceeding 1 year or both such fine and imprisonment at the court’s discretion.

Certain hotel operators filed suit and the Regional Trial Court declared the Ordinance to be null and void. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the RTC and affirmed the constitutionality of the Ordinance.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. It stated that for an “ordinance to be valid, it must not only be within the corporate powers of the local government unit to enact and pass according to the procedure prescribed by law, it must also conform to the following substantive requirements: (1) must not contravene the Constitution or any statute; (2) must not be unfair or oppressive; (3) must not be partial or discriminatory; (4) must not prohibit but may regulate trade; (5) must be general and consistent with public policy; and (6) must not be unreasonable.”

Although the city sought to justify the Ordinance as a valid exercise of police power, the Court held that, while the goals of eliminating the use of certain establishments for “illicit sex, prostitution, drug use and alike” are within the police power, the “desirability of these ends do not sanctify any and all means for their achievement.”

The Court adverted to the validity of an ordinance being tested against the requirements of substantive due process, recognizing the “capacity of the petitioners to invoke as well the constitutional rights of their patrons – those persons who would be deprived of availing short time access or wash-up rates to the lodging establishments in question.” While the rights of these customers in this case may seem trivial, and “shorn of political consequence”, the “Bill of Rights does not shelter gravitas alone. Indeed, it is those “trivial” yet fundamental freedoms – which the people reflexively exercise any day without the impairing awareness of their constitutional consequence – that accurately reflect the degree of liberty enjoyed by the people. Liberty, as integrally incorporated as a fundamental right in the Constitution, is not a Ten Commandments-style enumeration of what may or what may not be done; but rather an atmosphere of freedom where the people do not feel labored under a Big Brother presence as they interact with each other, their society and nature, in a manner innately understood by them as inherent, without doing harm or injury to others.”

Adverting to a previous decision, the Court stated that liberty “as guaranteed by the Constitution was defined by Justice Malcolm to include "the right to exist and the right to be free from arbitrary restraint or servitude. The term cannot be dwarfed into mere freedom from physical restraint of the person of the citizen, but is deemed to embrace the right of man to enjoy the facilities with which he has been endowed by his Creator, subject only to such restraint as are necessary for the common welfare."[] In accordance with this case, the rights of the citizen to be free to use his faculties in all lawful ways; to live and work where he will; to earn his livelihood by any lawful calling; and to pursue any avocation are all deemed embraced in the concept of liberty.[] xxx”

The court recognized that the Ordinance seeks to curtail sexual behavior, with the City arguing that the subject establishments “have gained notoriety as venue of ‘prostitution, adultery and fornications’ in Manila since they ‘provide the necessary atmosphere for clandestine entry, presence and exit and thus became the ‘ideal haven for prostitutes and thrill-seekers.’” However, it also found that “legitimate sexual behavior among willing married or consenting single adults which is constitutionally protected will be curtailed as well xxx.” Liberty also includes “respect for the individual whose claim to privacy and interference demands respect.” In fact, the right to privacy is independent of the right to liberty.

In short, government can’t stop sex if it is done in private between consenting adults. Obviously, short time doesn’t apply to long-winded court decisions.

Other legitimate activities would be affected by the ordinance as when entire families “choose to pass the time in a motel or hotel whilst the power is momentarily out in their homes.” Passengers-in-transit may wish to wash and rest between trips. Anyone in need of “comfortable private spaces for a span of a few hours with purposes other than having sex or using illegal drugs can legitimately look to staying in a motel or hotel as a convenient alternative.”

In any event, the Ordinance likewise fails as a police power measure. Such measures must show “that the interests of the public generally, as distinguished from those of a particular class, require an interference with private rights and the means must be reasonably necessary for the accomplishment of the purpose and not unduly oppressive of private rights. It must also be evident that no other alternative for the accomplishment of the purpose less intrusive of private rights can work. More importantly, a reasonable relation must exist between the purposes of the measure and the means employed for its accomplishment, for even under the guise of protecting the public interest, personal rights and those pertaining to private property will not be permitted to be arbitrarily invaded.”

The Ordinance is “a blunt and heavy instrument.” It does not distinguish “between places frequented by patrons engaged in illicit activities and patrons engaged in legitimate actions.” It “prevents legitimate use of places where illicit activities are rare or even unheard of.” It “makes no classification of places of lodging, thus deems them all susceptible to illicit patronage and subject them without exception to the unjustified prohibition.”

The court noted that behavior which the Ordinance seeks to curtail is in fact already prohibited and could in fact be diminished simply by applying existing laws. Further, it is apparent that the Ordinance can easily be circumvented by merely paying the whole day rate without any hindrance to those engaged in illicit activities. Moreover, drug dealers and prostitutes can in fact collect “wash rates” from their clientele by charging their customers a portion of the rent for motel rooms and even apartments.

Individual rights may be adversely affected only to the extent that may fairly be required by the legitimate demands of public interest or public welfare. While well-intentioned, the Ordinance is “an arbitrary and whimsical intrusion into the rights of the establishments as well as their patrons,” “needlessly restrains the operation of the businesses of the petitioners as well as restricting the rights of their patrons without sufficient justification” and “equates wash rates and renting out a room more than twice a day with immorality without accommodating innocuous intentions. “

In closing, the Court stated that “it is possible for the government to avoid the constitutional conflict by employing more judicious, less drastic means to promote morality.” Although the Court failed to say how.

Short time had its full day, and not merely a short stay, in court this time. And lady justice has remained true to her nature by being blind (read neutral) to short time patrons, weary travelers or not.


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