Baguio traders sue Benguet gov’t over animal quarantine rule

BAGUIO CITY – Meat and fish product dealers in the city have challenged in Court Benguet Province’s Ordinance No. 17-216 imposing animal quarantine regulations including the collection of fees on meat products that pass through checkpoints in the province.

Businessman Rosito Domingo Jr. and the Baguio Fresh Market Unity Development Association which he heads last Thursday filed a case docketed at the Regional Trial Court as Civil Case No. 18-CV-4312 for “injunction and declaration of nullity of (the said measure) with prayer for issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction.”

In the complaint, the plaintiffs said that while the ordinance was adopted in September, 2017 and implemented in February this year supposedly to prevent the entry and spread of diseases, it did not provide procedures for determining if the products were exposed to diseases or for addressing the prevention of spread of said infections.

They questioned the imposition and collection of fees, fines and penalties over goods “merely passing through Benguet en route Baguio City” which they said violates section 133 of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code which prohibits the “exaction of fees, administrative fines and penalties over goods carried into or out of, or passing through, the territorial jurisdiction of Local Government Units.”

They added that the Food Safety Act of 2013 “limits the food safety functions of the LGUs (and) does not include collection of monies in relation to purported inspection of goods merely passing through its boundaries en route another point of destination.”

The same act, they argued, vested various agencies known to have knowledge and expertise with the same regulatory tasks “far removing the Province from its current ‘lone’ venture under Ordinance 17-216 for lack of needed expertise, tools, implements and manpower.”

They said the authority given to the provincial veterinarian through the ordinance to create and hire quarantine officers, designate tasks and operation of quarantine checkpoints, order the payment of fees, fines and penalties without giving the purported violators a day in court and order confiscation of good without the violators being accorded due process of law is without basis.

In pleading for the issuance of a TRO or writ of injunction, the petitioners offered that they have the right to be protected of their businesses and goods being legitimate businessmen.

They said that the ordinance violated their right to conduct lawful business and to due process given the provisions of section 133 of RA 7160, the Food Safety act of 2013 and section 1, Article III of the 1987 Constitution and that “there is an urgent and permanent act and urgent necessity for the writ to prevent serious damage.”

The petitioners also sought an order for the reimbursement of the monies collected and eventually issued an order for a permanent injunction and for the declaration of said ordinance as null and void.

The hearing for the motion of preliminary injunction has been set for Nov. 8 at the RTC Branch 63.

Mayor Mauricio Domogan on Wednesday expressed regret that the provincial board insisted on implementing the ordinance despite questions from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Benguet.

He said a continuing dialogue with the Benguet officials is a must to ensure that the move is rationalized./Aileen P. Refuerzo