Motel ‘short time’ stays, says SC

Published by rudy Date posted on January 30, 2009

Motels in Manila and their patrons have reason to celebrate two weeks before Valentine’s Day.

The Supreme Court yesterday declared as unconstitutional a Manila city ordinance banning “short time” admission in motels, saying it violates the rights of both motel operators and their clients – especially married couples.

“The ordinance needlessly restrains the operation of the businesses of petitioners as well as restricting the rights of their patrons without sufficient justification. The Ordinance rashly equates wash rates and renting out a room more than twice a day with immorality without accommodating innocuous intentions,” stated the High Court in a decision penned by Associate Justice Dante Tinga.

The SC reversed an earlier decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) and ruled that City Ordinance 7774, which was signed by Mayor Alfredo Lim during his previous term on Dec. 3, 1992, violated constitutional guarantees on personal freedom.

The SC classified the ordinance as a police measure that had arbitrarily intruded private rights, likening it to an earlier junked resolution of the Commission on Elections requiring newspapers to donate advertising space to candidates.

According to the high tribunal, the ordinance was created to minimize if not eliminate the use of motels in crimes involving illicit sex, prostitution or illegal drug use.

“The behavior which the ordinance seeks to curtail is in fact already prohibited and could in fact be diminished simply by applying existing laws. Less intrusive measures such as curbing the proliferation of prostitutes and drug dealers through active police work would be more effective in easing the situation,” suggested the Court in its 32-page ruling.

The SC said that the ordinance might anyway be futile since criminals could still be able to hold illicit activities by paying the whole day rate for motels without any hindrance.

The High Court stressed that the city government should not prevent legitimate businesses from offering legitimate products in its bid to address the perception of urban decay: “Rather, cities revive themselves by offering incentives for new businesses to sprout up, thus attracting the dynamism of individuals that would bring a new grandeur to Manila.”

Also, the Court believes that the ordinance has curtailed “legitimate sexual behaviors among consenting married or single adults” inside motel rooms, which are “constitutionally protected.”

It also upheld the justification of motel operators that the wash rates or renting of rooms more than twice a day are offered to accommodate transit passengers resting between trips or any person “in need of comfortable private spaces for a span of a few hours with purposes other than having sex or using illegal drugs.”

The ruling was based on a case against the Manila ordinance of Mayor Lim originally filed by the Malate Tourist and Development Corp. (MTDC), owner and operator of the Victoria Court chain, with the Manila regional trial court on Dec. 15, 1992.

The complainant was later joined by other motel operators White Light Corp., Titanium Corp. and Sta. Mesa Tourist and Development Corp. (STDC).

The Manila RTC had upheld the complaint of the motel operators and declared the ordinance null and void on Oct. 20, 1993. But the CA reversed the RTC decision and affirmed the constitutionality of the ordinance.

The appellate court had ruled that the ordinance was a valid exercise of the local government’s police powers and did not violate any right to privacy or freedom of movement. – Edu Punay with Lorena Baclagon, Philippine Star

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