Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Seares: Boracay and right to travel

JOSE Manuel Diokno, a lawyer of Flag or Free Legal Assistance Group, has suggested that the right to travel may have been violated by the president’s order to close Boracay island for six months starting this April 26.

It’s doubtful if Boracay’s closure can be stopped by invoking the right travel.

What Constitution says

True, people who wish travel to Boracay are effectively barred under guidelines issued by the Department of Tourism. And under Section 6, Art. III of the Constitution, “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.”

Freedom to travel may have been confused with liberty of abode and changing the same. Limits prescribed by law on freedom of movement are enforced by court order and due process.

Lukban’s order

Manila Mayor Justo Lukban ordered 170 women prostitutes to be confined in the city’s red-light district from Oct. 16-25 in 1918. Midnight of Oct. 25, they were carted away in police wagons and loaded on two government steamships and transported under guard to Davao City where Gov. Franciso Sales and an “hacendero” accepted them as “laborers.” One of the women sued for habeas corpus, which the Supreme Court granted (Villavicencio vs. Lukban, GR #L-14639 of 2019). The landmark ruling upheld the right of individuals to choose or change their place of abode. The women were uprooted from Manila without their consent.

Law-prescribed limits

That is not the case in Boracay, which involves the right to travel. But the right is not absolute, And, unlike liberty of abode, freedom of movement may be restricted even by administrative officers. Immigration bureau officers, for example, can stop one’s trip abroad; limits to travel are prescribed by law and enforced by courts through bureaucrats.

Near zero access to Boracay, with exceptions strictly regulated, is surely arbitrary. It wasn’t done before by the government: shutting down 400 hectares of reserved forest land and 628.96 hectares of “alienable and disposable agricultural land” -- closing entirely all the Islands businesses, stripping 36,000 people of their means of livelihood and costing the economy a P56 billion loss.

Arbitrary method

Those who defend the apparently arbitrary method, which has resulted in the large-scale loss of jobs and derailment of the local economy, are met with the argument that it’s an exercise of strong political will by the nation’s leaders.

That can only be assuaged by measures to help the small wage-earners to survive in the next half year. And this early, government social welfare agencies already admit they can only help a few.

The almost total shutdown, along with the stringent rules on news coverage, fuels the suspicion that improvements in the island would include a mammoth casino to be built by a favored license-holder. If true, that would change the picture altogether.


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