Why you shouldn't cite "Calalang" for social justice

"Social justice is neither communism, nor despotism, nor atomism, nor anarchy, but the humanization of laws and the equalization of social and economic forces by the State so that justice in its rational and objectively secular conception may at least be approximated. Social justice means the promotion of the welfare of all the people, the adoption by the Government of measures calculated to insure economic stability of all the component elements of society, through the maintenance of a proper economic and social equilibrium in the interrelations of the members of the community, constitutionally, through the adoption of measures legally justifiable, or extra-constitutionally, through the exercise of powers underlying the existence of all governments on the time-honored principle of salus populi est suprema lex."This has been a very popular citation when it comes to the definition of social justice. It is not surprising since, as anyone can see, Justice Jose P. Laurel's pen was at its best when he wrote this. However, there is irony whenever we invoke this definition to "give more in law to those who have less in life."

Notice that the definition starts with a list of negatives. Social justice is not communism. It is not despotism. It is not atomism. It is not anarchy. Why did the ponente use this enumeration instead of more positive ones?

The answer is clear from a perusal of the case. In Calalang v. Williams, a traffic regulation in Manila was crafted. The legal measure sought to ban calesas from some streets in Manila during certain afternoon hours. The first paragraph of the case explains, "Maximo Calalang, in his capacity as a private citizen and as a taxpayer of Manila, brought before this court this petition for a writ of prohibition against the respondents, A. D. Williams, as Chairman of the National Traffic Commission, [et al.]" (G.R. No. 47800; December 2, 1940)

"It is alleged in the petition that the National Traffic Commission, in its resolution of July 17, 1940, resolved to recommend to the Director of Public Works and to the Secretary of Public Works and Communications that animal-drawn vehicles be prohibited from passing along Rosario Street extending from Plaza Calderon de la Barca to DasmariƱas Street, from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and along Rizal Avenue extending from the railroad crossing at Antipolo Street to Echague Street, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., from a period of one year from the date of the opening of the Colgante Bridge to traffic; that the Chairman of the National Traffic Commission, on July 18, 1940 recommended to the Director of Public Works the adoption of the measure proposed in the resolution aforementioned, in pursuance of the provisions of Commonwealth Act No. 548 which authorizes said Director of Public Works, with the approval of the Secretary of Public Works and Communications, to promulgate rules and regulations to regulate and control the use of and traffic on national roads; that on August 2, 1940, the Director of Public Works, in his first indorsement to the Secretary of Public Works and Communications, recommended to the latter the approval of the recommendation made by the Chairman of the National Traffic Commission as aforesaid, with the modification that the closing of Rizal Avenue to traffic to animal-drawn vehicles be limited to the portion thereof extending from the railroad crossing at Antipolo Street to Azcarraga Street; that on August 10, 1940, the Secretary of Public Works and Communications, in his second indorsement addressed to the Director of Public Works, approved the recommendation of the latter that Rosario Street and Rizal Avenue be closed to traffic of animal-drawn vehicles, between the points and during the hours as above indicated, for a period of one year from the date of the opening of the Colgante Bridge to traffic; that the Mayor of Manila and the Acting Chief of Police of Manila have enforced and caused to be enforced the rules and regulations thus adopted; that as a consequence of such enforcement, all animal-drawn vehicles are not allowed to pass and pick up passengers in the places above-mentioned to the detriment not only of their owners but of the riding public as well." (G.R. No. 47800; December 2, 1940)

In short, Maximo Calalang lost the case. The measure was, as the Supreme Court held, a government action based on police power to promote public convenience. The ponente ended with, "Social justice, therefore, must be founded on the recognition of the necessity of interdependence among divers and diverse units of a society and of the protection that should be equally and evenly extended to all groups as a combined force in our social and economic life, consistent with the fundamental and paramount objective of the state of promoting the health, comfort, and quiet of all persons, and of bringing about the greatest good to the greatest number." (G.R. No. 47800; December 2, 1940)

The bottom line is that this definition of "social justice" was not crafted for those who seek the same before courts of law. It is, in fact, a defense that may be used by the government in its exercise of constitutional and extra-constitutional powers to promote the welfare of the people.

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