Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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ANOTHER LEGAL OBSTACLE

MMDA drive vs smokers stopped

Cigarette smokers can huff and puff all they want—at least, for now.

On Monday, Judge Carlos Valenzuela of the Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court Branch 213 issued a writ of preliminary injunction against the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), effectively stopping the agency’s ongoing crackdown against people who smoke in public.

The court order was based on a petition filed by security guards Antony Clemente and Vrianne Lamson who were fined P500 each by MMDA environmental personnel in July after they were caught smoking on a sidewalk in Cubao, Quezon City.

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Earlier, the petitioners asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order, a motion which was granted on August 15 and lapsed after 20 days. Last month, the lawyer of the petitioners, Luis de la Paz, filed a motion for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction.

In granting the petitioners’ motion, the court noted that Republic Act No. 9211, or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, does not mention roads and sidewalks as public places where smoking is prohibited.

It added that the petitioners had “sufficiently shown a right to challenge the [MMDA’s] act” as it noted that there was “an urgent and paramount necessity for the writ to prevent serious damage.”

“Respondents’ act of implementing their smoking ban even [in] ‘open areas’ has resulted in petitioners’ apprehension and being made liable to suffer the penalty therefore, either a fine or rendition of community service, per respondents’ Environmental Violation Receipts,” the court stated.

It added that the writ would be in effect until the court has resolved the main issue in the case—that of whether or not the MMDA has a “valid authority” to implement RA 9211 in the first place.

Sought for comment, De la Paz hailed the decision of the court. “We’re very happy that we were able to get this injunction,” he told the Inquirer.

In August, the case filed by the two guards became controversial after Clemente reportedly admitted on television that he filed the case because he was promised money by a tobacco firm.

Later on, he executed an affidavit in which he denied the news report. De la Paz himself was also put on the spot after HealthJustice, a group of lawyers advocating tobacco control, claimed that one of the clients of Gonzales Batiller David Leabres Reyes & Associates—the law firm he works for—was Philip Morris.

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De la Paz issued a denial, although he later admitted that his law firm did some consultancy work for the tobacco company from 2001 to 2004. But he clarified that they never represented the company in any case.

For its part, the MMDA said that while its campaign against public smoking was being blocked by a legal obstacle, its antismoking policy was catching on.

According to MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino, the antitobacco movement was “spreading like wildfire” with the Rizal government set to implement a province-wide crackdown on smokers starting today.

Tolentino said that a similar campaign was also being eyed by the Southern Leyte provincial board.

“There is a growing clamor for the measure … it is flourishing. [Local government units] are realizing the importance of a no-smoking policy,” Tolentino said at Wednesday’s launch of the agency’s “Metro Ko, Love Ko” program in Makati City.

“They have seen its rationale which is valid and correct,” he added.

Tolentino, meanwhile, said that he had yet to read a copy of the order issued by the Mandaluyong court, although he stressed that the MMDA would exhaust all legal remedies available to the agency like filing a motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals.

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TAGS: Judiciary, MMDA, Philippines – Metro, public smoking, Smoking Ban, TRO
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