MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has declared the curfew for minors implemented in Quezon City as constitutional but unconstitutional in Manila and Navotas.
In a 40-page decision in GR No. 225442 (Samahan ng mga Progresibong Kabataan [SPARK] v. Quezon City), promulgated on August 8, 2017 but was released to media on Sunday, the Court En Banc declared Ordinance No. 8046 of the City of Manila entitled “An Ordinance Declaring the Hours from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. of the Following Day as ‘Barangay Curfew Hours’ for Children and Youths Below 18 Years of Age; Prescribing Penalties Therefor; and for Other Purposes”).
The High Court also struck down “Pambayang Ordinansa Blg. No. 99-02, as amended by Pambansang Ordinansa Blg. 2002-13 of Navotas City entitled ‘Nagtatakda ng Curfew’ ng mga Kabataan na Wala Pang Labing Walong (18) Taong Gulang sa Bayan ng Navotas, Kalakhang Maynila”.
In ruling on the petition for certiorari and prohibition filed by SPARK questioning the constitutionality of the curfew ordinances, the Court found it proper to examine the assailed regulations under the strict scrutiny test — the test of judicial scrutiny which applies when a classification interferes with the exercise of fundamental rights — as the ordinances set restrictions on the minors’ exercise of their right to travel under Section 6, Art. III of the Constitution.
Under the strict scrutiny test, the government has the burden of proving that the classification is necessary to achieve a compelling state interest, and is the least restrictive means to protect such interest or the means chosen is narrowly tailored to accomplish the interest.
The Court said that while all three curfew ordinances passed the first prong of the strict scrutiny test in that “they not only conveyed but, in fact, attempted to substantiate legitimate concerns on public welfare, especially with respect to minors,” each of the ordinances must still be “narrowly tailored as to ensure minimal constraint not only on the minors’ right to travel but also on their other constitutional rights.”
After a thorough evaluation of the provisions of the ordinances, the Court found that only the Quezon City ordinance met the said requirement as the Manila and Navotas ordinances were not narrowly drawn in that their exceptions were inadequate and run the risk of overly restricting the minors’ fundamental freedoms.
“To be fair, both ordinances protect the rights to education, to gainful employment, and to travel at night from school or work,” said the Court.
“However, even with those safeguards, the Navotas Ordinance and, to a greater extent, the Manila Ordinance still do not account for the reasonable exercise of the minors’ rights of association, free exercise of religion, rights to peaceably assemble, and of free expression, among others.”
The Court added that the exceptions under the Manila ordinance were too limited and, thus, unduly trample upon protected liberties.
It likewise observed that while the Navotas ordinance was apparently more protective of constitutional rights than the Manila ordinance, it still provided insufficient safeguards in that it hindered minors from engaging in legitimate non-school or non-church activities in the streets; it effectively prohibited minors from attending traditional religious activities (such as simbang gabi or dawn masses) at night without accompanying adults; and it did not accommodate avenues for minors to engage in political rallies or attend city council meetings to voice out their concerns in line with their right to peaceably assemble and to free expression.
In addition, the Court ruled that the penal provisions of the Manila Ordinance which impose reprimand and fines/imprisonment on minors are in conflict with Section 57-A of RA 9344 (Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006), as amended, which provides that no penalty shall be imposed on children for violations of juvenile status offenses.
“Hence, following the rule that ordinances should always conform with the law, these provisions must be struck down as invalid,” the Court added.
The Court noted that the Quezon City ordinance “stands in stark contrast to the first two ordinances as it sufficiently safeguards the minors’ constitutional rights” as its list of exceptions is more narrowly drawn to sufficiently protect the minors’ rights of association, free exercise of religion, travel, to peaceably assemble, and of free expression.
“In particular, the Quezon City Ordinance provides for adequate exceptions that enable minors to freely exercise their fundamental rights during the prescribed curfew hours, and therefore, narrowly drawn to achieve the State’s purpose,” said the Court.
The SC has lifted the temporary restraining order it issued on the three ordinances also in July last year.
SPARK, a group of students in the three cities, argued in their petition filed through lawyer Jesus Falcis III that the curfew ordinances are unconstitutional due to vagueness as they result in arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement and overbreadth as they impair legitimate activities of minors during curfew hours.
Petitioner also claimed a violation of the right of minors to liberty and to travel without substantive due process, adding that the curfew “deprives parents of the natural and primary right in the rearing of the youth without substantive due process.”