Freedom of Assembly
The right of peaceful assembly enjoys primacy in the hierarchy of rights.
In relation to other rights, how do you classify or consider the right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances? The Supreme Court in a case said that the right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances is, together with freedom of speech, of expression and of the press, a right that enjoy primacy in the realm of constitutional protection. For these rights constitute the very basis of a functional democratic policy, without which all the other rights would be meaningless and unprotected. As stated in Jacinto vs. CA, 346 SCRA 665 (1997) the right to assembly and petition has been upheld thus:
“There is no question as to the petitioners’ rights to peaceful assembly to petition the government for a redress of grievances and, for that matter, to organize or form associations for purposes not contrary to law, as well as to engage in peaceful concerted activities. These rights are guaranteed by no less than the Constitution. Jurisprudence abounds with hallowed pronouncements defending and promoting the people’s rights. As early as the onset of this country, the Court in U.S. vs. Apurado, already upheld the right to assembly and petition and even went as far as to acknowledge:
‘It is rather to be expected that more or less disorder will mark the public assembly of the people to protest against grievances whether real or imaginary, because eon such occasions feelings is always wrought to a high pitch of excitement, and the greater the grievance and the more intense the feeling, the less perfect, as a rule will be the disciplinary control of the leaders over their irresponsible followers. If instances of disorderly conduct occur on such occasions, the guilty individuals should be sought out and punished therefore, but the utmost discretion must be exercised in drawing the line between an essentially peaceably assembly and a tumultuous uprising.’” (citing U.S. vs. Apurado, 7 Phil. 422; Bayan, Karapatan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), et al. vs. Ermita, et al., G.R. No. 169838, April 25, 2006).
Party List and the Right of Information.
Q — After the accreditation of party-list organizations, the COMELEC refused to reveal the names of the nominees. It based its ruling under Sec. 7, RA 7941 which provides that the names of the party-list nominees shall not be shown on the certified list of party-list groups. A petition for mandamus was filed to compel the COMELEC to reveal the names of the nominees invoking the right to information and free access to documents as guaranteed by the Constitution. Is the petition proper? Why?
ANS: Yes. The last sentence of Section 7 of R.A. 7941 reading: “The names of the party-list nominees shall not be shown on the certified list” is certainly not a justifying card for the COMELEC to deny the requested disclosure. To us, the prohibition imposed on the COMELEC under said Section 7 is limited in scope and duration, meaning, that it extends only to the certified list which the same provision requires to be posted in the polling places on election day. To stretch the coverage of the prohibition to the absolute is to read into the law something that is not intended. As it were, there is absolutely nothing in R.A. No. 7941 that prohibits the COMELEC from disclosing or even publishing through mediums other than the “Certified List” the names of the party-list nominees. The COMELEC obviously misread the limited non-disclosure aspect of the provision as an absolute bar to public disclosure before the May 2007 elections. The interpretation thus given by the COMELEC virtually tacks an unconstitutional dimension on the last sentence of Section 7 of R.A. No. 7941.
Q — State the nature of the right of the people to information. Explain.
ANS: The right to information is a public right where the real parties in interest are the public, or the citizens to be precise. And for every right of the people recognized as fundamental lies a corresponding duty on the part of those who govern to respect and protect that right. This is the essence of the Bill of Rights in a constitutional regime. (Legaspi v. CSC, 150 SCRA 530). Without a government’s acceptance of the limitations upon it by the Constitution in order to uphold individual liberties, without an acknowledgment on its part of those duties exacted by the rights pertaining to the citizens, the Bill of Rights becomes a sophistry.
By weight of jurisprudence, any citizen can challenge any attempt to obstruct the exercise of his right to information and may seek its enforcement by mandamus. (Tañada v. Tuvera, 136 SCRA 27). And since every citizen by the simple fact of his citizenship possesses the right to be informed, objections on ground of locus standi are ordinarily unavailing. (Bantay Republic Act or BA-RA 7941, G.R. No. 177271, May 4, 2007).
Q — Is the rule absolute? Explain.
ANS: No. Like all constitutional guarantees, however, the right to information and its companion right of access to official records are not absolute. As articulated in Legaspi v. CSC, 150 SCRA 530, the people’s right to know is limited to “matters of public concern” and is further subject to such limitation as may be provided by law. Similarly, the policy of full disclosure is confined to transactions involving “public interest” and is subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law. Too, there is also the need of preserving a measure of confidentiality on some matters, such a military, trade, banking and diplomatic secrets or those affecting national security. (Chavez v. PCGG, G.R. No. 130716, December 9, 1998, 299 SCRA 744).