THE Supreme Court (SC) has junked the petition of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s husband, Mario Jose, to compel the Committee on Tariff and Related Matters (CTRM) to provide him a copy of the minutes of its May 23, 2005 meeting.
In its ruling, the SC’s First Division denied the petition for review on certiorari filed by Sereno as it affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasig City in 2006 dismissing his petition for mandamus.
Sereno filed thes petition as a citizen and executive director of the Association of Petrochemical Manufacturers of the Philippines (APMP).
In his petition before the lower court, Sereno sought an order compelling the CTRM to provide him copies of all official records, documents, papers, and government research data which were used as bases for the issuance of Executive Order (EO) No. 486 by then President Gloria Arroyo.
On May 23, 2005, the CTRM, an office under the National Economic Development Authority, held a meeting where its members resolved to recommend to Arroyo the lifting of the suspension of the tariff reduction schedule on petrochemicals and certain plastic products, which reduced the Common Effective Preferential Tariff rates on products covered by EO No. 161 from seven or ten percent to five percent starting July 2005.
The Pasig court however declared that the proceedings of the CTRM are privileged information since the meeting, composed of various department heads or secretaries, are “classified as cabinet meetings” dealing with “inter-agency communications.”
Thus, the trial court held that the records of the communications of the CTRM
“falls under the category of privileged information because of the sensitive subject matter which could seriously affect public interest.”
Sereno brought the case before the SC when he did not get a favorable ruling from the Court of Appeals.
In its decision, the SC opined that “the constitutional guarantee to information does not open every door to any and all information, but is rather confined to matters of public concern. It is subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.”
“The State’s policy of full public disclosure is restricted to transactions involving public interest, and is tempered by reasonable conditions prescribed by law,” the tribunal pointed out.
“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,” the high court said.
The chief justice inhibited herself from sitting as chairperson of the SC’s First Division.