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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sekreto ng Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa), Mananatiling Sekreto!

Minsan hindi mo malaman kung hustisya nga ba ito na ibinibigay sa atin? Bakit kailangang maging sekreto ang mga bagay na ang apektado ay ang lahat ng mamamayan ng bansa at ang kapakanan ng ating bansa? Para sa akin isa itong malaking kalokohan!

PUNO DISSENTS, SAYS RIGHT TO INFORMATION PARAMOUNT

SC upholds executive privilege anew on Jpepa
By Benjamin B. Pulta

The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld for the second time President Arroyo and her officials’ right to invoke executive privilege in concealing information, this time on the details of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa)

The Tribunal, voting 14 to 4 with one abstention, threw out a suit brought by left-wing lawmakers to force the government to reveal confidential details of the free trade agreement.

The ruling stated that the government, invoking executive privilege, has the right not to release details of the Jpepa agreement.

In a 120-page dissenting opinion, however, Chief Justice Reynato Puno said there cannot be a blanket invocation of executive privilege and that executive officials must give a reason in invoking diplomatic negotiation privilege.

Puno likewise stressed that the right of the public to information is guaranteed by the Constitution and that burden is on the Executive Department to show that executive privilege is an exception.

“It cannot be the other way around where the public will show a need. The public has the right. The public need not explain the reason for their right,” said Puno.

Aside from Puno those with dissenting opinions were Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares Santiago, Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna and Associate Justice Alicia Austria-Martinez. Associate Justice Arturo Brion did not take part in the Court’s deliberation as he was then the Labor Secretary when the negotiations for the Jpepa started.

A similar challenge on executive privilege was junked by the SC after the Senate sought former Socio-economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri to reveal the dialog that transpired with President Arroyo on three instances which senators said were vital in determining Mrs. Arroyo’s role in the kickback-laden $329 million National Broadband Network (NBN) deal awarded to Chinese supplier ZTE Corp.

Neri invoked executive privilege in refusing to divulge the exchange he had with Mrs. Arroyo.

The court had said then that legislators failed to present a “strong and sufficient” case.

The Jpepa deal which Mrs. Arroyo said is vital to raising investment from and exports to Japan, a major trading partner of the country has had a rough sailing in the Senate. It remains to be passed despite the deal being struck in 2006.

While the final text may not be kept secret forever, the offers exchanged by the parties during the negotiations continue to be privileged even after the Jpepa is published, the court ruled.

“Disclosing these offers could impair the ability of the Philippines to deal not only with Japan but with other foreign governments in the future negotiations,” it added.

The treaty, Manila’s first bilateral free trade agreement, would immediately remove all tariffs on about 80 percent of Philippine exports to Japan, according to Filipino negotiators.

Local trade groups said the treaty would boost local exports by between $988 million and $1.4 billion yearly, create more than 149,000 jobs and attract between $500 million and $750 million in fresh investments.

In the 51-page majority ruling by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales the Court said the documents being sought by the petitioners were protected by executive privilege, being diplomatic negotiations and that constituted an exception to the right to information and the policy of full public disclosure.

“Diplomatic negotiations have been recognized as privileged in this jurisdiction and the reasons proffered by petitioners have not persuaded the Court,” the Court said.

The Court added that petitioners party-list Akbayan Citizens Action Party, the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan, Alliance of Progressive Labor and private petitioners Vicente Fabe, Angelito Mendoza, Manuel Quiambao, Rose Angeles, and Reps. Lorenzo Tanada III, Mario Aguja, Loreta Rosales, Ana Hontiveros-Baraquel and Joel Villanueva, also failed to present sufficient reason for the full disclosure of the Jpepa negotiations.

“Thus, in the case of petitioners suing in their capacity as private citizens, petitioners-members of the House of Representatives fail to present a “sufficient showing of need” that the information sought is critical to the performance of the functions of Congress, functions that do not include treaty negotiation,” the Court ruled.

The petitioners, in their petition for mandamus, asked the Court to compel the Departments of Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs, Justice and Labor; and the National Economic Development Authority and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita to be furnished with the full text of the Jpepa as well as documents on its negotiations, arguing that government cannot sign the trade agreement with Japan without a full disclosure of its provisions to the public.

However, the respondent government agencies argued that while it recognized the public’s right to information and the policy of full public disclosure as stated in the 1987 Constitution, such rights are not absolute.

The respondents took note of the Court’s ruling on Executive Order 464, which said that while the high tribunal voided several provisions, “it recognized the right to invoke executive privilege in relation to specific categories of information.”

“The categories of information that may be considered privileged includes matters of diplomatic character and under negotiation and review,” the respondents said.

The petitioners argued that Jpepa would remove barriers to trade and facilitate the flow of goods, persons, services, and capital between the two countries. This, Akbayan argued, could include trade in hazardous and toxic waste products like municipal waste, sewage sludge, and clinical waste.

The Court ruled as moot the petitioners’ demand to be furnished with a copy of the full text of the Jpepa as it had already been made public since Sept. 11, 2006.

The Jpepa was first proposed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in January 2002 following the visit of Mrs. Arroyo to Tokyo, but formal negotiations took off only in February 2004.

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