Mayor cannot force prostitutes to change residence

Centuries ago Magna Charta decreed that — "No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or be disseized of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we pass upon him nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right." (Magna Charta, 9 Hen., 111, 1225, Cap. 29; 1 Eng. Stat. at Large, 7.) No official, no matter how high, is above the law. The courts are the forum which functionate to safeguard individual liberty and to punish official transgressors. "The law," said Justice Miller, delivering the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States, "is the only supreme power in our system of government, and every man who by accepting office participates in its functions is all the more strongly bound to submit to that supremacy, and to observe the limitations which it imposes upon the exercise of the authority which it gives." (U.S. vs. Lee [1882], 106 U.S., 196, 220.)

"The very idea," said Justice Matthews of the same high tribunal in another case, "that one man may be compelled to hold his life, or the means of living, or any material right essential to the enjoyment of life, at the mere will of another, seems to be intolerable in any country where freedom prevails, as being the essence of slavery itself." (Yick Wo vs. Hopkins [1886], 118 U.S., 356, 370.) All this explains the motive in issuing the writ of habeas corpus, and makes clear why we said in the very beginning that the primary question was whether the courts should permit a government of men or a government of laws to be established in the Philippine Islands.

One hundred and seventy women, who had lived in the segregated district for women of ill repute in the city of Manila, were by orders of the Mayor of the city of Manila and the chief of police of that city isolated from society and then at night, without their consent and without any opportunity to consult with friends or to defend their rights, were forcibly hustled on board steamers for transportation to regions unknown. No law, order, or regulation authorized the Mayor of the city of Manila or the chief of the police of that city to force citizens of the Philippine Islands to change their domicile from Manila to another locality. Held: That the writ of habeas corpus was properly granted, and that the Mayor of the city of Manila who was primarily responsible for the deportation, is in contempt of court for his failure to comply with the order of the court.

These women, despite their being in a sense lepers of society, are nevertheless not chattels, but Philippine citizens protected by the same constitutional guaranties as are other citizens. On the contrary, Philippine penal law specifically punishes any public officer who, not being expressly authorized by law or regulation, compels any person to change his residence. (Villavicencio vs. Lukban; G.R. No. 14639, March 25, 1919)