Philippines Court Denies Access Sought by Industry

19 May 2016

The constitutional guarantee to information “does not open every door to any and all information but is rather confined to public concern,” according to a 13-page decision by the Supreme Court in the case of Sereno vs Committee on Trade and Related Matters (GR No. 175210).

The court denied a petition for certiorari of the Association of Petrochemical Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. (APMP) which was seeking to compel the Committee on Tariff and Related Matters (CTRM) to release documents, research data and other papers which were used as basis in issuing Executive Order No. 486 in 2006 that lifted the suspension of the tariff reduction on petrochemical resins and other plastic products under the ASEAN Free Trade Area-Common Effective Preferential Tariff (AFTA-CEPT) Scheme.

The Committee said the information sought was classified because it was from a closed-door Cabinet meeting.

The high court said there are two requisites that must be complied with before right to information is granted by mandamus: (1) the information sought must be in relation to matters of public concern or public interest and (2) it must be exempt by law from the operation of the constitutional guarantee, according to an article in The Inquirer and another in The Standard.

The court said the constitutional guarantee of the people’s right to information does not cover national security matters and intelligence information, trade secrets and banking transactions and criminal matters. Equally excluded from coverage of the constitutional guarantee are diplomatic correspondence, closed-door Cabinet meeting and executive session of either house of Congress, as well as the internal deliberations of the Supreme Court, according to the articles.

While the court noted that the industry had a legitimate interest in the information, it wrote:

In case of conflict, there is a need to strike a balance between the right of the people and the interest of the Government to be protected. Here, the need to ensure the protection of the privilege of non-disclosure is necessary to allow the free exchange of ideas among Government officials as well as to guarantee the well-considered recommendation free from interference of the inquisitive public.

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