Claire dela Fuente and Freedom of Expression

Philippine newspapers reported that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) canceled the franchise of a bus company owned and managed by singer Claire de la Fuente.  According to the LFTRB, the bus company participated in an unlawful strike in November 2010.  The strike left thousands of Metro Manila commuters stranded. Bus companies were then protesting the plan of the  Metro Manila Development Authority to include buses in the plate number coding scheme as part of an effort to reduce traffic congestion along EDSA. [Inquirer, January 21]

An LFTRB board member was quoted as saying that the bus company’s position is that the transport strike “is legal and lawful even if it would paralyze transportation and inconvenience the public.” [Manila Bulletin, January 21]

This case presents an example of the clash between the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution and the police power of the State. Under the Constitution, ”no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” On the other hand, one of the most essential powers of the State is its police power, which is the power to enact such laws and regulations in relation to persons and property as will promote public safety, public health, public morals and the general welfare  and convenience of the people.

Jurisprudence recognizes that the freedom of expression is not absolute.  The State recognizes that the State may regulate freedom of expression so that the exercise thereof may not injure others or the interests of society or the public.  For instance, notwithstanding the right to free speech, one who commits libel or slander may be charged with, and penalized for committing, a criminal offense.

Under the law, a franchise granted to a person engaged in public service (such as transportation companies) is considered a privilege granted by the State.  The cancellation of the franchise would mean that Claire’s bus company must stop operations as it will not have any permit to offer transportation services to the public.  However, the bus company may ask the LFTRB to reconsider its decision cancelling the franchise.

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