by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago
October 2, 2006
WE ARE LIVING IN BILLBOARD HELL
According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines (OAAP), which has commendably cooperated with the Senate, the estimated annual revenues of the outdoor advertising industry is P1.8 billion. (The exact computation is P1,783,440,000.)
Also according to the same association, the Top Ten billboard advertisers are:1. Globe
With the proper exceptions, I charge these Top Ten and all other billboard advertisers and their advertising agencies with corporate greed, the unthinking, unfeeling, unreasoning pursuit of corporate profits, without any sense of social responsibility, and without any sense of shared destiny. I charge the trial judges who have issued temporary restraining orders, or TROs, against the removal or abatement as a nuisance of hazardous billboards, with unethical, if not immoral, judicial conduct. And I charge the defenders of billboards sporting phony arguments that billboards are or so-called part of freedom of speech, and sporting phony arguments that billboard owners are so-called corporate taxpayers and providers of employment, with ignorance of the law and unconscionable refusal to face the facts of the uglification and aesthetic desertification of our homeland.
I charge you all with the pox! Can you resurrect the dead? One person was reportedly killed, and four others injured, at the corner of Estrella St. and Edsa Avenue in Makati during the height of typhoon Milenyo last Thursday. An FX driver was reportedly killed, and several others injured, when three giant commercial billboards fell in the same city, and in Muntinlupa. There were similar reported incidents in the past.
Innocent human beings were torn from their lives, and taken, never to return, from the bosom of their loving, bereaved families, simply because nobody dared to face the reality that we Filipinos are living in billboard hell.
What other deaths and destruction were caused by the total of 21 billboards that reportedly fell in Metro Manila? In the language of the Civil Code, who will pay the amount of damages for death caused by criminal billboards that violated the requirements of the National Building Code? Who shall be liable for the loss of the earning capacity of the deceased? Who shall support their families? Who shall relieve their families of unspeakable and lifetime mental anguish? For you cannot resurrect the dead.
Every life given by the intelligent designer is unique and irreplaceable. If a family member of the defenders of billboards died because a giant billboard hit him on the head, would the defenders still be singing hymns to exploitative capitalist economics? Is the biblical Golden Rule already passé in this callous, alienated, impersonal society? I submit that all your high technology and rationalizing glossolalia will not resurrect those who are dead.
BILLBOARD BAN IS CONSTITUTIONAL
There is as yet no categorical ruling on the constitutionality of a billboard ban or regulation from our Supreme Court, because no proper case has been brought before it. The most recent Supreme Court decision issued in late 2005 was based on the ratio decidendi that it is the DPWH, and not the MMDA, which should enforce the provisions of P.D. No. 1096, or the National Building Code. The Court did not rule that the billboards on the MRT Edsa structure are legal, or that they comply with existing laws on billboards.
However, the United States Supreme Court has long held that the prohibition of billboards is constitutional. Billboards are a form of commercial speech, which can be prohibited under the police power of the state; in the same way that libel can be prohibited, even if it inhibits free speech.
For the right of free speech does not include abuse, much less death and destruction. The rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, although not decisive, are considered authoritative in our jurisdiction, not because we are still suffering from colonial mentality, but because the U.S. Supreme Court is one of the oldest and most respected judicial branches of a modern democracy.
Let me quote verbatim from decided American cases.
The police power is not to be narrowly confined within the field of public health, safety, and morals; and statutes and ordinances regulating or even prohibiting billboards and outdoor advertising may be sustained, on the ground that they are or may become detrimental to the public welfare, or that such regulations are necessary to free highway travelers from annoyance, to prevent obstructions of traffic, and to preserve the safety of such travelers. General Outdoor Advertising Co. v. Department of Public Works, 296 US 543.
Billboards may properly be put in a class by themselves for purposes of regulation, or prohibition. St. Louis Poster Advertising Co. v. St. Louis, 249 US 269.
The forced removal of nonconforming outdoor advertising displays is also a valid exercise of police power, and does not constitute the taking of property without compensation or give rise to constitutional cause for complaint. People ex rel. Department of Transportation v. Hadley Fruit Orchards, Inc., 54 Cal. App. 3d. 49.
The ordinance represented a reasonable place and manner limitation on speech, leaving ample alternative channels of communication and, thus, did not deny owners freedom of speech. Ackerley Communications, Inc. v. Seattle, 449 U.S. 804.
Regulations as to size and height, manner of construction, and maintenance or placements of billboards and signboards, and the prohibition of indecent or immoral advertising, will be upheld if they have a reasonable tendency to protect the public safety, health, morals, or general welfare, including purely aesthetic considerations of public beauty and culture. Lake Wales v. Lamar Advertising Asso. (Fla) 414 So 2d 1030.
A municipal corporation under the general police powers may prohibit them altogether, or may subject their construction to regulations of as drastic a nature as it sees fit. St. Louis Gunning Advertisement Co. v. St. Louis, 231 US 761.
So also a regulation of advertising billboards which applies to billboards in close proximity to public parks and boulevards may properly have a relation to public health, comfort, and welfare that the regulation would not otherwise possess and may be upheld on that ground. General Outdoor Advertising Co. v. Indianapolis Department of Public Works, 202 Ind 85.
The Court recognized that, insofar as an ordinance regulates commercial speech, it may permit accessory commercial advertising and forbid other commercial advertising without running afoul of the First Amendment, where it directly advances governmental interests in traffic safety and aesthetics. Metromedia, Inc. v. San Diego, 453 US 490.
Governmental authorities have the power to prohibit the maintenance of advertising signs on public property, such as sidewalks, streets, and parks. Commonwealth v. McCafferty, 145 Mass 384.
It is within the power of a municipality – within the scope of its delegated authority over the public streets and sidewalks – to prohibit or regulate signs hanging over the public ways. 1426 Woodward Ave. Corp. v. Wolff, 312 Mich 352.
AMERICAN LAW ON BILLBOARDS
The U.S. Congress enacted their Highway Beautification Act way back in 1965 (at 23 USCS). At that time, the law already called for the control of outdoor advertising signs, displays, and devices in areas adjacent to the interstate system and the primary highway system, to protect the public investment in such highways, to promote the safety and recreational value of public travel, and to preserve national beauty.
The American law defines effective control as the prohibition of signs erected within 660 feet of the highway right-of-way, located outside of urban areas, that are erected with the purpose that their message be read from the highway, with the exception of certain classes of signs and notices expressly permitted by the act.
SBN 1714, ANTI-BILLBOARD BLIGHT ACT OF 2006
In 2004, the Board of Commissioners of Penn Township enacted and ordained the Anti-Billboard Blight Act. SBN 1714, which I filed, merely copies the American law. As chair of the subcommittee on billboards under our Senate committee on public works and highways, I conducted a public hearing. Subsequently, I authorized a Technical Working Group composed chiefly of representatives of the DPWH and the private-sector OAAP to draft a substitute bill.
However, with the recent mass falling of billboards with consequent loss of lives and property, I have decided to reject the now liberal substitute bill. Instead, I shall file a committee report recommending approval of my original bill, because it is simpler and more stringent.
My bill includes an outright ban on certain billboards, particularly those that are located in a position that obstructs or obscures the view of vehicular or pedestrian traffic, in such a manner as to endanger their movement. The proposed billboard ban extends to residential areas, any public property such as public rights-of-way and telephone or utility poles, and to the roof of any building. The ban is effective immediately, after publication of the law.
Today, I have written President Arroyo, respectfully recommending that my bill shall be certified as urgent. I have also written the Supreme Court, through Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, respectfully recommending issuance of a memorandum circular to all judges prohibiting the issuance of TROs in cases involving the abatement or removal of billboards.
BILLBOARDS ARE A PUBLIC NUISANCE
We do not have to wait for a new law to remove the billboards from hell. Under the Civil Code, a billboard is a nuisance because it:1. Injures or endangers the health or safety of others; or
2. Annoys or offends the senses; or
3. Shocks, defies, or disregards decency or morality; or
4. Obstructs or interferes with the free passage of any public highway or street, or any body of water; or
5. Hinders or impairs the use of property.
The local Building Official is required to initiate a remedy against a public nuisance, including:
1. A prosecution under the Penal Code or any local ordinance; or
2. A civil action; or
3. Abatement, without judicial proceedings.
In turn, the mayor is required to commence a civil action brought by reason of the maintenance of a public nuisance. Therefore, Metro Manila mayors have the responsibility to file civil suits for damages, in the cases of homicide or destruction of property, caused by the falling of the billboards from hell.
MOTION TO CONSIDER AS SPONSORSHIP SPEECH
Today, my staff circulated a committee report recommending approval of SBN 1714, in its original form as the Anti-Billboard Blight Act. I appeal to my colleagues in the committee on public works and highways to sign the committee report, so that I can report it out immediately.
Considering that I have taken an unusual procedure because of the exigencies of the recent calamities caused by fallen billboards, Mr. President, I move that this privilege speech should be eventually considered a sponsorship speech, provided that the committee will approve my report; and in the event, that plenary debate should start immediately.
Mr. President, I further move that because of my poor medical condition, interpellation today on this speech should be answered by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, whom I have appointed vice-chair of my subcommittee on billboards. After this speech, because of anorexia, I am so exhausted and feeble that I will need to go back to bed with dispatch.
Thank you for your kind indulgence.