Political Law

Leovillo Agustin vs Romeo Edu

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G.R. No. L-49112 – 88 SCRA 195 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Generally Accepted Principles of International Law – Police Power

Agustin is the owner of a Volkswagen Beetle Car. He is assailing the validity of Letter of Instruction No 229 which requires all motor vehicles to have early warning devices particularly to equip them with a pair of reflectorized triangular early warning devices. Agustin is arguing that this order is unconstitutional, harsh, cruel and unconscionable to the motoring public. Cars are already equipped with blinking lights which is already enough to provide warning to other motorists. And that the mandate to compel motorists to buy a set of reflectorized early warning devices is redundant and would only make manufacturers and dealers instant millionaires.

ISSUE: Whether or not the said is EO is valid.

HELD: Such early warning device requirement is not an expensive redundancy, nor oppressive, for car owners whose cars are already equipped with 1) ‘blinking-lights in the fore and aft of said motor vehicles,’ 2) ‘battery-powered blinking lights inside motor vehicles,’ 3) ‘built-in reflectorized tapes on front and rear bumpers of motor vehicles,’ or 4) ‘well-lighted two (2) petroleum lamps (the Kinke) . . . because: Being universal among the signatory countries to the said 1968 Vienna Conventions, and visible even under adverse conditions at a distance of at least 400 meters, any motorist from this country or from any part of the world, who sees a reflectorized rectangular early warning device installed on the roads, highways or expressways, will conclude, without thinking, that somewhere along the travelled portion of that road, highway, or expressway, there is a motor vehicle which is stationary, stalled or disabled which obstructs or endangers passing traffic. On the other hand, a motorist who sees any of the aforementioned other built-in warning devices or the petroleum lamps will not immediately get adequate advance warning because he will still think what that blinking light is all about. Is it an emergency vehicle? Is it a law enforcement car? Is it an ambulance? Such confusion or uncertainty in the mind of the motorist will thus increase, rather than decrease, the danger of collision.

On Police Power

The Letter of Instruction in question was issued in the exercise of the police power. That is conceded by petitioner and is the main reliance of respondents. It is the submission of the former, however, that while embraced in such a category, it has offended against the due process and equal protection safeguards of the Constitution, although the latter point was mentioned only in passing. The broad and expansive scope of the police power which was originally identified by Chief Justice Taney of the American Supreme Court in an 1847 decision, as “nothing more or less than the powers of government inherent in every sovereignty”  was stressed in the aforementioned case of Edu v. Ericta thus: “Justice Laurel, in the first leading decision after the Constitution came into force, Calalang v. Williams, identified police power with state authority to enact legislation that may interfere with personal liberty or property in order to promote the general welfare. Persons and property could thus ‘be subjected to all kinds of restraints and burdens in order to secure the general comfort, health and prosperity of the state. Shortly after independence in 1948, Primicias v. Fugoso reiterated the doctrine, such a competence being referred to as ‘the power to prescribe regulations to promote the health, morals, peace, education, good order or safety, and general welfare of the people.’ The concept was set forth in negative terms by Justice Malcolm in a pre-Commonwealth decision as ‘that inherent and plenary power in the State which enables it to prohibit all things hurtful to the comfort, safety and welfare of society.’ In that sense it could be hardly distinguishable as noted by this Court in Morfe v. Mutuc with the totality of legislative power. It is in the above sense the greatest and most powerful attribute of government. It is, to quote Justice Malcolm anew, ‘the most essential, insistent, and at least illimitable powers,’ extending as Justice Holmes aptly pointed out ‘to all the great public needs.’ Its scope, ever expanding to meet the exigencies of the times, even to anticipate the future where it could be done, provides enough room for an efficient and flexible response to conditions and circumstances thus assuring the greatest benefits. In the language of Justice Cardozo: ‘Needs that were narrow or parochial in the past may be interwoven in the present with the well-being of the nation. What is critical or urgent changes with the time.’ The police power is thus a dynamic agency, suitably vague and far from precisely defined, rooted in the conception that men in organizing the state and imposing upon its government limitations to safeguard constitutional rights did not intend thereby to enable an individual citizen or a group of citizens to obstruct unreasonably the enactment of such salutary measures calculated to insure communal peace, safety, good order, and welfare.”

It was thus a heavy burden to be shouldered by Agustin, compounded by the fact that the particular police power measure challenged was clearly intended to promote public safety. It would be a rare occurrence indeed for this Court to invalidate a legislative or executive act of that character. None has been called to our attention, an indication of its being non-existent. The latest decision in point, Edu v. Ericta, sustained the validity of the Reflector Law,  an enactment conceived with the same end in view. Calalang v. Williams found nothing objectionable in a statute, the purpose of which was: “To promote safe transit upon, and avoid obstruction on roads and streets designated as national roads . . .”  As a matter of fact, the first law sought to be nullified after the effectivity of the 1935 Constitution, the National Defense Act, with petitioner failing in his quest, was likewise prompted by the imperative demands of public safety.

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