GMA orders dismantling of billboards

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has signed a new order spelling out the rules and procedures on the dismantling of billboards along major roads.

Administrative Order 160-A calls for the demolition of billboards that are considered as public nuisance.

Meanwhile, the Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines warned public works officials against indiscriminate dismantling of billboards and said that due process must be observed.

“In a long line of jurisprudence, the cognate United States Supreme Court has held that insofar as an ordinance regulates commercial speech, it may forbid commercial advertising without running afoul the free speech clause of the Constitution where it directly advances governmental interests in traffic safety and aesthetics,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

An earlier directive, AO 160 provided only for the dismantling of billboards that violate certain laws and pose harm to property and life.

The Civil Code defines nuisance as any act, omission, establishment, condition of property or anything else that injures or endangers the health or safety of others; annoys or offends the senses; shocks, defies or disregards decency or morality; constructs or interferes with the free passage of any public highway or street; and hinders or impairs the use of property.

Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. earlier said that his department tore down 42 billboards since Mrs. Arroyo signed Administrative Order 160 Wednesday last week. At least 18 more were in the process of being dismantled.

The department is also checking some 2,000 more billboards in Metro Manila alone for structural integrity to determine which of them poses danger to the public and must be torn down

“At the rate we are going, it will take us about two more months to finish dismantling everything,” Ebdane said.

Milenyo’s wrath

Mrs. Arroyo ordered the public works department to inspect all billboards after several of the giant signages along Edsa and Roxas Boulevard collapsed at the height of typhoon Milenyo.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando said of the 2,000 billboards inspected, 80 percent were substandard and oversized.

He said many of the billboard structures were not coated with zinc, which is supposed to protect the frames from rust and make them last for 30 to 50 years without repainting.

President Arroyo assured members of the Outdoor Advertising Association of the Philippines that her order will not lead to the demise of the billboard industry. “We assure the billboard industry that designated areas will be provided for the safe erection of billboards,” Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.

A task force has also been created to investigate the owners of the billboards that had collapsed and the local government officials who granted the permits to the illegal signages.

Due process

Outdoor Advertising Association chairman Claro Llave said due process must be observed before the billboards are dismantled , insisting that the rights of billboard owners must be respected.

“What we want to emphasize here is that the authorities must first send the concerned owners a notice and a chance to be heard because that is what the law says,” he said.

While the association welcomed the signing of AO 160 which empowers the public works department to regulate the billboard industry, it believes that the agency has no blanket authority to indiscriminately dismantle billboards.

Llave added that before declaring that a billboard structure is unsafe, it would be reasonable if the government would present first a document to confirm the findings that the structure was indeed unsafe.

The association also added that it poses no objection to the tearing down of billboards that pose hazard to the public especially those on the MRT, lampposts, overpass, waiting sheds and those within the roads right of way.

AO 160 tasked the public works department to inspect and determine which billboards pose imminent danger to life and property or which ones violate applicable laws and regulations. Billboards which are found to be substandard based on the National Building Code and the Structural Code of the Philippines will be torn down.

While Llave acknowledged that some billboard owners, not necessarily their member, may be remiss in their social responsibility, the government should not overlook the contribution of the industry in the local economy.

Last year’s record alone showed the billboard industry generated at least P2 billion in revenues as more firms shifted their advertising thrust from the traditional print, radio and television to outdoor ads.