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Road clearing — not road widening

“Order was never intended by the DILG for road widening. This is way off the mark. If that happens, it makes the implementing mayor and subalterns vulnerable to criminal, civil and administrative suits.

Macabangkit B. Lanto

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Memorandum Circular 2019-121 is salutary. Kudos to President Digong for coming up with the idea. People have for long invaded and appropriated our roads. It’s a move long overdue.

There really should be no confusion about this directive from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). Its text, intent and spirit are crystal clear for everyone to understand. It hardly leaves room for doubt about what it is.

The memo head spells out: “Subject… To Clear Roads of Illegal Structures and Construction,” to reclaim “public roads which are being used for private ends.” But sadly, when implementor local executives weaponize it for selfish political interest and harass or get back at the local political opposition, the directive gets muddled, nasty and engenders confusion.

The directive plainly targeted highly urbanized cities where traffic has gotten worse to put transport and movement of motorists in near paralysis, because of the invasion of roads by stall owners, illegal parking, and the conversion of roads into basketball courts. It hardly refers to remote municipalities where there is no problem of traffic congestion, much less to national highways where traffic flow is unhindered.

Mayors invoke the state’s power to abate public nuisance per se as shield to possible suits. This gives them right to summarily dismantle the structures without need to file expropriation cases and secure an order from the courts. The justification is because they pose a threat to safety and life. Here, the interest of the state preponderates over private interest, which is the essence of democracy. In other words, the evil sought to be prevented is greater than the inconvenience of private owner.

The order was never intended by the DILG for road widening. This is way off the mark. If that happens, it makes the implementing mayor and subalterns vulnerable to criminal, civil and administrative suits.

Last week, the mayor of the remote town of Mulondo, Lanao del Sur with town policemen and a truckload of heavily armed soldiers in tow, equipped with a backhoe and necessary tools, demolished the concrete perimeter walls of Bae Kilalaan Ibrahim. The structure is allegedly along the national highway, not a provincial nor a barangay road. According to Bae Ibrahim, there was no previous notice to them of destruction. In fact, when they learned about the plan, she sent a letter to the mayor questioning it and asked they be heard. She warned of possible legal consequences. But all her importuning fell into deaf ears.

Complainant assured that their walls have not violated standard measurement of roads, nay, illegally encroached upon the highway. Her husband is an employee of the Department of Public Works and Highways for decades and a member of the technical working group in charge of road widening, and knows like the back of his hand such technical rules on how wide a national road should be, and how many meters should a structure be constructed from the shoulder of the road.

They decried the alleged invasion of their constitutional right to property without compensation.

I asked for a possible motive, and their simple answer was — there was bad blood with the mayor. They did not vote for him in the last polls.

Readers, this is not an isolated case. It’s making a furor in other towns. Some local executives in their overeagerness have gone out of legal bounds in enforcing the order. They were given “60 calendar days” to implement the order or until Sunday, 29 September, else “appropriate administrative cases shall be filed” against them.

Lest they face sanctions, the mayors are outdoing each other implementing it. Somebody should tell them that some of these structures are not nuisances per se and their removal calls for observance of due process, and in fact needs a court order.

Our jurisprudence is rich with a plethora of similar, cases but for space constraints, I am unable to cite them.

This is what happened when orders from the national offices are not canalized by specific parameters and implementing guidelines. The implementors are left to exercise wide discretion, which is subject to abuse.

To solve the conundrum, the DILG should come out pronto with implementing rules specifying allowable width of the road, along its classification as national highway, provincial and barangay road because of their variance of standard width. Likewise, they should specify the distance from the road shoulder toward where construction is allowable. Else, the directive will continue to create more problem than solution.

Email: amb_mac_lanto@yahoo.com

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