On June 7, 1995 Congress enacted Republic Act (R.A.) 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 that, for among other purposes, sets the Government’s policies on overseas employment and establishes a higher standard of protection and promotion of the welfare of migrant workers, their families, and overseas Filipinos in distress. On January 8, 2002 respondents filed a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus with application for temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction against petitioners, the DOLE Secretary, the POEA Administrator, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Secretary-General before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 96. respondents sought to: 1) nullify DOLE Department Order 10 (DOLE DO 10) and POEA Memorandum Circular 15 (POEA MC 15); 2) prohibit the DOLE, POEA, and TESDA from implementing the same and from further issuing rules and regulations that would regulate the recruitment and placement of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs); and 3) also enjoin them to comply with the policy of deregulation mandated under Sections 29 and 30 of Republic Act 8042. The Manila RTC also declared Section 7 unconstitutional on the ground that its sweeping application of the penalties failed to make any distinction as to the seriousness of the act committed for the application of the penalty imposed on such violation. As an example, said the trial court, the mere failure to render a report under Section 6(h) or obstructing the inspection by the Labor Department under Section 6(g) are penalized by imprisonment for six years and one day and a minimum fine of ₱200,000.00 but which could unreasonably go even as high as life imprisonment if committed by at least three persons. Apparently, the Manila RTC did not agree that the law can impose such grave penalties upon what it believed were specific acts that were not as condemnable as the others in the lists. The Manila RTC also invalidated Section 9 of R.A. 8042 on the ground that allowing the offended parties to file the criminal case in their place of residence would negate the general rule on venue of criminal cases which is the place where the crime or any of its essential elements were committed. Venue, said the RTC, is jurisdictional in penal laws and, allowing the filing of criminal actions at the place of residence of the offended parties violates their right to due process. Section 9 provides:
Whether Sections 6, 7, and 9 of Republic Act 8042 valid and constitutional
1) Section 6 is valid and constitutional. “illegal recruitment” as defined in Section 6 is clear and unambiguous and, contrary to the RTC’s finding, actually makes a distinction between licensed and non-licensed recruiters. By its terms, persons who engage in “canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring, or procuring workers” without the appropriate government license or authority are guilty of illegal recruitment whether or not they commit the wrongful acts enumerated in that section. On the other hand, recruiters who engage in the canvassing, enlisting, etc. of OFWs, although with the appropriate government license or authority, are guilty of illegal recruitment only if they commit any of the wrongful acts enumerated in Section 6.
2) Section 7 is valid and constitutional. the RTC did not agree that the law can impose such grave penalties upon what it believed were specific acts that were not as condemnable as the others in the lists. But, in fixing uniform penalties for each of the enumerated acts under Section 6, Congress was within its prerogative to determine what individual acts are equally reprehensible, consistent with the State policy of according full protection to labor, and deserving of the same penalties. It is not within the power of the Court to question the wisdom of this kind of choice. Notably, this legislative policy has been further stressed in July 2010 with the enactment of R.A. 10022 which increased even more the duration of the penalties of imprisonment and the amounts of fine for the commission of the acts listed under Section 7. in fixing such tough penalties, the law considered the unsettling fact that OFWs must work outside the country’s borders and beyond its immediate protection. The law must, therefore, make an effort to somehow protect them from conscienceless individuals within its jurisdiction who, fueled by greed, are willing to ship them out without clear assurance that their contracted principals would treat such OFWs fairly and humanely. The State under its police power “may prescribe such regulations as in its judgment will secure or tend to secure the general welfare of the people, to protect them against the consequence of ignorance and incapacity as well as of deception and fraud.” Police power is “that inherent and plenary power of the State which enables it to prohibit all things hurtful to the comfort, safety, and welfare of society.”
3) Section 9 is valid and constitutional. SEC. 9. states that Venue. – A criminal action arising from illegal recruitment as defined herein shall be filed with the Regional Trial Court of the province or city where the offense was committed or where the offended party actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense: Provided, That the court where the criminal action is first filed shall acquire jurisdiction to the exclusion of other courts: Provided, however, That the aforestated provisions shall also apply to those criminal actions that have already been filed in court at the time of the effectivity of this Act. There is nothing arbitrary or unconstitutional in Congress fixing an alternative venue for violations of Section 6 of R.A. 8042 that differs from the venue established by the Rules on Criminal Procedure. Indeed, Section 15(a), Rule 110 of the latter Rules allows exceptions provided by laws. Thus: SEC. 15. Place where action is to be instituted.— (a) Subject to existing laws, the criminal action shall be instituted and tried in the court of the municipality or territory where the offense was committed or where any of its essential ingredients occurred. (Emphasis supplied). Section 9 of R.A. 8042, as an exception to the rule on venue of criminal actions is, consistent with that law’s declared policy15 of providing a criminal justice system that protects and serves the best interests of the victims of illegal recruitment.
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