Saturday, October 23, 2004

Banning the billboards

Banning the billboards

Updated 00:39am (Mla time) Oct 23, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on Page A14 of the October 23, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I COMPLETELY agree with Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Bayani Fernando's plan to prohibit billboards along the EDSA highway, for a start. It is a valid security measure for the benefit of motorists and pedestrians using this busy highway. The ban can be sustained under the police power provided it is exercised by the proper authorities. While primarily vested in the national legislature, it may be, and has in fact been, delegated to the local governments under what is known as the General Welfare Clause.

This delegation is found in Section 16 of the Local Government Code and calls on local government units to "ensure and support, among other things, the preservation and enrichment of culture, promote health and safety, enhance the right of the people to a balanced ecology, encourage and support the development of appropriate and self-reliant and technological capabilities, improve public morals, enhance economic prosperity and social justice, promote full employment among their residents, maintain peace and order, and preserve the comfort and convenience of their inhabitants."

This wordy provision covers practically every human activity, which may be regulated by the local legislative bodies, from the province and city to the “barangay” [village or neighborhood district], for any of the purposes meticulously enumerated by the Code. A more general and comprehensive statement of such purposes, as found in the original Administrative Code of 1917, would have sufficed, but Congress was probably infected by the fussiness of the Constitution of 1987 and chose to be as garrulous as that long-winded document. The legislators should have remembered that the more you specify, the more you are likely to exclude and the more you generalize, the more you can include. “Expressio unius est exclusio alterius.”

The most obvious justification for the planned prohibition is the promotion of the safety of the people, motorists and pedestrians alike, by preventing possible motor accidents because of the distraction offered by the billboards to drivers who should be paying attention to their vehicles. Some billboards can be terribly distracting, like those illustrating intimate apparel such as lingerie or even only revealing clothes worn by girls advertising tractors.

I remember that billboard I wrote about last year with a life-size picture of a beautiful model with her splendid mini-skirted legs spread apart as she reached down for I think a handbag or something. Frankly, I can't recall what she was advertising because the billboard called attention not to any article or product but to the pretty girl herself, whom the viewers appreciated with much enjoyment and probably also voyeuristic thrill. I was in that article advocating the same thing Fernando is now proposing, viz., the banning of billboards, but subject to some exceptions, like the billboard of that beautiful girl. It was admittedly distracting, but there are times when one must live dangerously.

Seriously, some attractive billboards can really threaten bodily injury, even fatal accidents at times. One need simply pass through EDSA to appreciate this statement. The pictures of beautiful girls, most of them familiar actresses, can make young men, and even old grandfathers, forget their driving in the momentary enjoyment of beauty -- and even sexiness -- on the billboards. The possible effect can be expected-minor scrapes if you are lucky or even fatal crashes. And you can't even blame the girl who caused all that disturbance because all she was doing was looking pretty, and she wasn't even there.

The danger becomes even more threatening if the model is wearing a low-cut dress or brief shorts or indiscreet underwear better revealed in the bedroom than on a billboard for all to see. And there isn't rhyme or reason for the presence of the girl in the advertisement, which is for paint, or machinery, or fried chicken. Once there was a billboard proclaiming the durability of condoms, but when I passed the same place again later, the billboard had disappeared. It appears that you can innocently praise sanitary napkins publicly but not condoms.

In the 1915 case of Churchill and Tait v. Rafferty, 32 Phil. 580, the Supreme Court affirmed the power of the legislature to regulate billboards, not principally to prevent accidents but to promote aesthetic values. "Billboards which are offensive to the sight," it held, "are not dissociated from the general welfare of the public." This brings to mind that billboard, also on EDSA, advertising an insurance company with the ordinary face of a man who is probably the head of the company and wanted everybody to know it. That billboard should have been banned as an egocentric nuisance. "A source of annoyance and irritation to the public," Justice Trent said, "does not minister to the comfort and convenience of the public."

For the nonce, let the promotion of public safety justify Fernando's proposal. We can later expand the ban to cover billboards offensive to sight, like the pictures of candidates for elective office that belong better to the rogues' gallery.


Post a Comment

<< Home