June 16, 2011
THE JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL
Supreme Court of the Philippines
CHIEF JUSTICE RENATO CORONA
SECRETARY LEILA DE LIMA, DOJ
SENATOR FRANCIS ESCUDERO
CONGRESSMAN NIEL TUPAS
JUSTICE REGINO HERMOSISIMA
JUSTICE AURORA LAGMAN
ATTY. JOSE MEJIA
ATTY. MARIA MILAGROS FERNAN-CAYOSA
This is to reiterate our request for the LIVE MEDIA COVERAGE of public interviews of applicants for Ombudsman, scheduled on June 22-29, 2011.
As we pointed out in our letter to the JBC on May 4, live media coverage will not only demystify the JBC process but it will also contribute to raising the level of public discussion on the appointments process to key independent institutions in our system of government.
We would also like to take this opportunity to lift reasoning from the Supreme Court’s decision promulgated on June 14 in allowing LIVE MEDIA COVERAGE of the Ampatuan massacre trial, even if the request for live media coverage is granted PRO HAC VICE. The Supreme Court stated the following:
- “The rationale for an outright total prohibition was shrouded, as it is now, inside the comfortable cocoon of a feared speculation which no scientific study in the Philippine setting confirms, and which fear, if any may be dealt with by safeguards and safety nets under existing rules and exacting regulations.”
- “The impossibility of holding such judicial proceedings in a courtroom that will accommodate all the interested parties XXX What more if the right itself commands that a reasonable number of the general public be allowed to witness the proceeding as it takes place inside the courtroom. Technology tends to provide the only solution to break the inherent limitations of the courtroom, to satisfy the imperative of a transparent, open and public trial.”
- “Indeed, the Court cannot gloss over what advances technology has to offer in distilling the abstract discussion of key constitutional precepts into the workable context. Technology per se has always been neutral. It is the use and regulation thereof that need fine-tuning. Law and technology can work to the advantage and furtherance of the various rights herein involved, within the contours of defined guidelines.”
We have long supported the policy of the JBC to conduct public interviews of candidates. The public nature of the interviews has been firmly established not only by policy but by practice as well. We have attended numerous public interviews conducted by the JBC over the last few years. Allowing live media coverage of the interviews will serve merely to widen the audience for the interviews, beyond the walls of the interview hall. The recent controversies surrounding the office of the Ombudsman have heightened awareness and public interest in this process, and the eventual appointee. Moreover, demystifying the appointment process through live media coverage can help mitigate any perception by the public that the JBC will favor or disfavor certain candidates. Dispelling such doubts about the process can only strengthen it and the JBC.
Certainly, the public interest in the interviews of the candidates for Ombudsman outweighs whatever minor inconveniences live media coverage may entail. Furthermore, live media coverage of the impeachment trial of former president Joseph Estrada is a testament to the fact that such can occur while preserving the solemnity and dignity of the event. Strictly enforced rules and codes of conduct for media coverage can ensure this.
We also reiterate our request, made in our May 4 and previous letters, that the JBC abide by its own decision to publish the voting records of the individual members of the Council. Again, we draw from the wisdom of the Supreme Court in its decision in Sarmiento vs. Morato and MTRCB, decided November 13, 1991. The Supreme Court reiterated Sec. 7, Art. III of the Constitution:
The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions,as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.
The Supreme Court reasons:
- “[T]his constitutional provision is self-executory and supplies "the rules by means of which the right to information may be enjoyed (Cooley, A Treatise on Constitutional Limitations 167 ) by guaranteeing the right and mandating the duty to afford access to sources of information. Hence, the fundamental right therein recognized may be asserted by the people upon the ratification of the constitution without need for any ancillary act of the Legislature (Id. at 165). What may be provided for by the Legislature are reasonable conditions and limitations upon the access to be afforded which must, of necessity, be consistent with the declared State Policy of full public disclosure of all transactions involving public interest (Constitution, Art. II, Sec. 28)." (See also Tañada v. Tuvera, 136 SCRA 27 ; Valmonte v. Belmonte, Jr., 170 SCRA 256 ).”
- Further, the high court says that public officials cannot claim their right to privacy over their individual voting slips. “The right to privacy belongs to the individual acting in his private capacity and not to a governmental agency or officers tasked with, and acting in, the discharge of public duties (See Valmonte v. Belmonte, Jr., supra.)
There can be no invasion of privacy in the case at bar since what is sought to be divulged is a product of action undertaken in the course of performing official functions. To declare otherwise would be to clothe every public official with an impregnable mantle of protection against public scrutiny for their official acts.
Further, the decisions of the Board and the individual voting slips accomplished by the members concerned are acts made pursuant to their official functions, and as such, are neither personal nor private in nature but rather public in character. They are, therefore, public records access to which is guaranteed to the citizenry by no less than the fundamental law of the land. Being a public right, the exercise thereof cannot be made contingent on the discretion, nay, whim and caprice, of the agency charged with the custody of the official records sought to be examined. The constitutional recognition of the citizen's right of access to official records cannot be made dependent upon the consent of the members of the board concerned, otherwise, the said right would be rendered nugatory.”
We hope that the reasoning given by the Supreme Court on the Ampatuan Massacre trial, in the Sarmiento vs. Morato and MTRCB (November 1991), and our own reasoning in all our requests will prevail upon members of the JBC to allow LIVE MEDIA COVERAGE of the public interviews of applicants for Ombudsman to be conducted on June 22-29, 2011, and effect the publication of individual voting records of JBC members in producing the shortlist submitted to the President.
We hope for your favorable response to this request.
(Sgd.) Vincent T. Lazatin
Transparency and Accountability Network
Hon. JOSE MIDAS P. MARQUEZ
Atty. ENRIQUETA ESGUERRA VIDAL
Clerk Of Court
Ex Officio Secretary