In this article, we shall delve on the constitutional rights of a person with respect to his liberty of abode and right to travel. When we usually talk about our freedom, it is usually the liberty to go from one place to another that is usually being talked about; the right to travel.
We, as free people, have the right to go where we want, of course, with certain limitations. As it follows, we also have the right to choose our own residence and to leave said space whenever we like. It is the most common indication of our liberty, of our freedom. More than anything, the liberty of abode and travel seems to be more than just a right but is also a privilege.
Section 6. The liberty of abode and of changing the same within the limits prescribed by law shall not be impaired except upon lawful order of the court. Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.1
The said right to choose one’s own residence and the right to travel are guaranteed in, and by, the supreme law of the land, the Constitution. It is safeguarded by the virtue of the due process clause and said Section 6 highlights the necessity of their importance in our society.
But that is not often the case. In other tyrannical states or circumstances, a person may not choose his own residence. Worse, he does not get any at all or he will be forced to move away from his residence. In times of war, the right to travel may be halted or one may be moved from a place without his consent.
Hence, the Constitution has enforced full protection of said rights for its citizens.
When can the right to travel be restricted?
As with all the other rights, said liberty of abode and travel are with certain limitations. Pursuant to said Section 6 of the Bill of Rights, the liberty of abode can be limited upon lawful order of the court and said right to travel to protect the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.
One of the common exemptions in the liberty of abode and the right to travel is a person in custody of the law or a person that is facing charges that may be restrained by authority or a court.
A lessee who has not been paying his monthly dues may be ejected from his residence by not fulfilling his contractual obligations.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the liberty of abode and travel was affected. People who were infected cannot go to their own residence and must be admitted to quarantine facilities to not contaminate the other people in the household. Also, domestic and international travels had been regulated given the circumstances.
Those that have comorbidities and of young age are not permitted to travel due to the travel restrictions imposed by the government. The government has the power to limit the exercise of these rights if it is for the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.
In Yap vs. Court of Appeals,2 the Supreme Court said that “the right to change abode and travel within the Philippines, being invoked by petitioner, are not absolute rights. Section 6, Article III of the 1987 Constitution states:3
The liberty of abode and of changing the same within the limits prescribed by law shall not be impaired except upon lawful order of the court. Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law.”4
In Genuino vs. De Lima,5 the Supreme Court said that the right to travel is part of the “liberty” of which a citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law. It is part and parcel of the guarantee of freedom of movement that the Constitution affords its citizens. Liberty under the foregoing clause includes the right to choose one’s residence, to leave it whenever he pleases and to travel wherever he wills.6
Thus, Zacarias Villavicencio vs. Justo Lucban,7 the Court held illegal the action of the Mayor of Manila in expelling women who were known prostitutes and sending them to Davao in order to eradicate vices and immoral activities proliferated by the said subjects. It was held that regardless of the mayor’s laudable intentions, no person may compel another to change his residence without being expressly authorized by law or regulation.8
It is apparent that the right to travel is not absolute. There are constitutional, statutory and inherent limitations regulating the right to travel.
In Silverio vs. Court of Appeals,9 the Court elucidated, thus:
Article III, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution should be interpreted to mean that while the liberty of travel may be impaired even without Court Order, the appropriate executive officers or administrative authorities are not armed with arbitrary discretion to impose limitations. They can impose limits only on the basis of “national security, public safety, or public health” and “as may be provided by law,” a limitive phrase which did not appear in the 1973 text (The Constitution, Bernas, Joaquin G.,S.J., Vol. I, First Edition, 1987, p. 263). Apparently, the phraseology in the 1987 Constitution was a reaction to the ban on international travel imposed under the previous regime when there was a Travel Processing Center, which issued certificates of eligibility to travel upon application of an interested party.10
In addition to the pronouncements in Genuino vs. De Lima,11 the Court also said that:
Clearly, under the provision, there are only three considerations that may permit a restriction on the right to travel: national security, public safety or public health. As a further requirement, there must be an explicit provision of statutory law or the Rules of Court providing for the impairment. The requirement for a legislative enactment was purposely added to prevent inordinate restraints on the person’s right to travel by administrative officials who may be tempted to wield authority under the guise of national security, public safety or public health. This is in keeping with the principle that ours is a government of laws and not of men and also with the canon that provisions of law limiting the enjoyment of liberty should be construed against the government and in favor of the individual.12
Statutory Limitations on the Right to Travel
In Leave Division, OCA vs. Heusdens,13 a case stemmed from the leave application for foreign travel sent through mail by Heusdens (respondent). Records disclose that the Employees Leave Division of OCA received respondent’s leave application for foreign travel but Huesdens left for abroad without waiting for the result of her application.14
It turned out that no travel authority was issued in her favor because she was not cleared of all her accountabilities as evidenced by the Supreme Court Certificate of Clearance. The OCA recommended the disapproval of respondent’s leave application.15
It further advised that respondent be directed to make a written explanation of her failure to secure authority to travel abroad in violation of OCA Circular No. 49-2003. Chief Justice Puno approved the OCA recommendation. Eventually, OCA filed an administrative complaint against Heusdens. Subsequently, it arrived at the Supreme Court.16
The Court said that the exercise of one’s right to travel or the freedom to move from one place to another, as assured by the Constitution, is not absolute.17
There are constitutional, statutory and inherent limitations regulating the right to travel. Section 6 itself provides that “neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety or public health, as may be provided by law.” Some of these statutory limitations are the following:18
1] The Human Security Act of 2010 or Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9372. The law restricts the right to travel of an individual charged with the crime of terrorism even though such person is out on bail.19
2] The Philippine Passport Act of 1996 or R.A. No. 8239. Pursuant to said law, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs or his authorized consular officer may refuse the issuance of, restrict the use of, or withdraw, a passport of a Filipino citizen.20
3] The “Anti- Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003” or R.A. No. 9208. Pursuant to the provisions thereof, the Bureau of Immigration, in order to manage migration and curb trafficking in persons, issued Memorandum Order Radjr No. 2011-011,12 allowing its Travel Control and Enforcement Unit to “offload passengers with fraudulent travel documents, doubtful purpose of travel, including possible victims of human trafficking” from our ports.21
4] The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 or R. A. No. 8042, as amended by R.A. No. 10022. In enforcement of said law, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) may refuse to issue deployment permit to a specific country that effectively prevents our migrant workers to enter such country.22
6] Inter-Country Adoption Act of 1995 or R.A. No. 8043. Pursuant thereto, the Inter-Country Adoption Board may issue rules restrictive of an adoptee’s right to travel “to protect the Filipino child from abuse, exploitation, trafficking and/or sale or any other practice in connection with adoption which is harmful, detrimental, or prejudicial to the child.”24
The Supreme Court took the liberty to enumerate some of the statutory limitations on the right to travel contemplated in Section 6 of the Bill of Rights.
In SPARKS vs. Quezon City,25 after the pronouncement of President Duterte to implement a nationwide curfew for minors, several local governments in Metro Manila started to strictly implement their curfew ordinances on minors through police operations.
Petitioners assail the constitutionality of the said Curfew Ordinances based on the minors’ right to travel. They claim that the liberty to travel is a fundamental right, which, therefore, necessitates the application of the strict scrutiny test.
The Supreme Court ruled that:
“Jurisprudence provides that this right refers to the right to move freely from the Philippines to other countries or within the Philippines. It is a right embraced within the general concept of liberty. Liberty – a birthright of every person – includes the power of locomotion and the right of citizens to be free to use their faculties in lawful ways and to live and work where they desire or where they can best pursue the ends of life. The right to travel is essential as it enables individuals to access and exercise their other rights, such as the rights to education, free expression, assembly, association, and religion.”26
The freedom guaranteed by the Constitution should be available to the populace in a democratic nation. They ought to have unrestricted access to these rights, save in those instances which the law validly limits the exercise thereof.
One of them is the freedom to live and go anywhere. A basic right guaranteed by the Constitution is the freedom to select one’s own abode and to leave it at any time, as well as the freedom to move about the Philippines at will.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that these rights are not absolute and sometimes do not apply. These privileges are not unqualified. They may have restrictions based on what the law may require.
- Section 6, Article III, 1987 Constitution
- G.R. No. 141529, June 6, 2001
- G.R. No. 197930, April 17, 2018
- G.R. No. L-14639, March 25, 1919
- G.R. No. 94284, April 8, 1991
- A.M. No. P-11-2927, December 13, 2011
- August 8, 2017, G.R. No. 225442