Tuesday, December 23, 2008


In today's Inquirer.net edition, it is reported that the Supreme Court junked the petition seeking to bar actors and actresses elected to public office from appearing in movies and television shows. The petition was based on the Local Government Code's provision prohibiting governors, city and municipal mayors from practicing their profession or engaging in any occupation other than the exercise of their functions as local chief executives.

It is still early, however, for politician-turned-actors and actresses to call for a celebration. The petition filed by the political action party Social Justice Society (SJS) was dismissed not because the Supreme Court disagreed that elected showbiz personalities should not appear on the silver screen, but because the remedy chosen was defective.

The SJS initiated an action for declaratory relief before a Manila Regional Trial Court against Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, Sen. Lito Lapid and former ParaƱaque Mayor Joey Marquez. A declaratory relief is an action initiated by a party interested under a deed, will, contract, or other written instrument, or whose rights are affected by a statute or government regulation, to interpret or determine the validity of such written instruments or law and declare the rights and duties of the parties under such instruments or regulation.

In other words, this remedy is available if a person affected by a legal instrument or law wants the court to interpret or determine the validity such instrument or law, and to find out what his or her legal rights are. A crucial requirement for this type of remedy is the presence of an actual controversy, meaning the person seeking relief must be in imminent danger of suffering an actual loss or invasion of his or her rights. It cannot be a mere apprehension of a future loss or violation of rights that is remote and unsubstantive.

The Supreme Court ruled that SJS failed to show the presence of such imminent loss or injury requirement to confer it the legal standing to file the case in court. There was a yet no legal controversy to speak of that will trigger the judicial mechanism.

Perhaps the courts would be more willing to entertain a suit premised on the aforecited Local Government Code provision if a voter-resident of Batangas, for example, would file a petition for prohibition to prevent Governor Santos-Recto from making a movie, the filming of which is already ongoing or about to commence. The petitioner could claim that as a voter-resident of Batangas, he or she is being denied of the service of the governor by engaging in an occupation or profession other than the exercise of her functions as chief executive of the province as required by law.

While the claimed loss here would be generalized in the sense that it cannot be quantified on an individual or personal level, it could be asserted as a denial of the sevices (consisting of the time and attention) that the governor is supposed to provide to the province and ultimately to her constituents. Her constituents are entitled as a matter of law to her time and attention as chief executive of the province. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that a public functionary is an employee of the people from whose taxes his salaries are derived, and every employer is entitled to have his or her employees devote their time to work. A less than full devotion of a public functionary's time to her duties would be stealing time from her constituents.

All we need is the proper timing to institute the appropriate legal action so that the meaning of this important provision of the Local Government Code, as they relate to showbiz politicians or even other professionals, is finally settled by the High Court.

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