Right to Information
In Valmonte v. Belmonte, Jr., the Supreme Court explicated this way:
An essential element of these freedom is to keep open a continuing dialogue or process of communication between the government and the people. It is in the interest of the State that the channels for free political discussion be maintained to the end that the government may perceive and be responsive to the people’s will. Yet, this open dialogue can be effective only to the extent that the citizenry is informed and thus able to formulate its will intelligently. Only when the participants in the discussion are aware of the issues and have access to information relating thereto can such bear fruit.
Q — What is the rationale behind the right to information? Explain.
ANS: The twin provisions of the Constitution seek to promote transparency in policy-making and in the operations of the government, as well as to provide the people sufficient information to exercise effectively other constitutional rights. These twin provisions are essential to the exercise of freedom of expression. If the government does not disclose its official acts, transactions and decisions to citizens, whatever citizens say, even if expressed without any restraint, will be speculative and amount to nothing. These twin provisions are also essential to hold public officials “at all time x x x accountable to the people,” for unless citizens have the proper information, they cannot hold public officials accountable for anything. Armed with the right information, citizens can participate in public discussions leading to the formulation of government policies and their effective implementation. An informed citizenry is essential to the existence and proper functioning of any democracy. (Chavez v. PEA; Chavez v. NHA, et al., G.R. No. 164527, August 15, 2007).
Q — State the nature of the right of the people to information and exceptions.
ANS: Section 28, Article II compels the State and its agencies to fully disclose “all of its transactions involving public interest”. Thus, the government agencies, without need of demand from anyone, must bring into public view all the steps and negotiations leading to the consummation of the transaction and the contents of the perfected contract. Such information must pertain to “definite propositions of the government”, meaning official recommendations or final positions reached on the different matters subject of negotiation. The government agency, however, need not disclose “intra-agency or inter-agency recommendations or communications during the stage when common assertions are still in the process of being formulated or are in the exploratory stage.” The limitation also covers privileged communication like information on military and diplomatic secrets; information affecting national security; information on investigations of crimes by law enforcement agencies before the prosecution of the accused; information on foreign relations, intelligence, and other classified information. (Chavez v. NHA, et al., G.R. No. 164527, August 15, 2007).
It is unfortunate, however, that after almost twenty (20) years from birth of the 1987 Constitution, there is still no enabling law that provides the mechanics for the compulsory duty of the government agencies to disclose information on government transactions. Hopefully, the desired enabling law will finally see the light of day if and when Congress decides to approve the proposed “Freedom of Access to Information Act”. In the meantime, it would suffice that government agencies post on their bulletin boards the documents incorporating the information on the steps and negotiations that produced the agreements and the agreements themselves, and if finances permit, to upload said information on their respective websites for easy access by interested parties. Without any law or regulation governing the right to disclose information, the NHA or any of the respondents cannot be faulted if they were not able to disclose information relative to the SMDRP to the public in general.
Q — What is the other aspect of the people’s right to know? Explain.
ANS: The other aspect of the people’s right to know apart from the duty to disclose is the duty to allow access to information on matters of public concern under Sec. 7, Art. III of the Constitution. The gateway to information opens to the public the following: (1) official records; (2) documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions; and (3) government research data used as a basis for policy development. (Chavez v. NHA, et al., G.R. No. 164527, August 15, 2007).
Q — Distinguish the duty to disclose information from the duty to permit access to information.
ANS: There is no need to demand from the government agency disclosure of information as this is mandatory under the constitution; failing that, legal remedies are available. On the other hand, the interested party must first request or even demand that he be allowed access to documents and papers in the particular agency. A request or demand is required; otherwise, the government office or agency will not know of the desire of the interested party to gain access to such papers and what papers are needed. The duty to disclose covers only transactions involving public interest, while the duty to allow access has a broader scope of information which embraces not only transactions involving public interest, but any matter contained in official communications and public documents of the government agency. (Chavez v. NHA, et al., G.R. No. 164527, August 15, 2007).