Our inalienable right to know
The refusal of the Duterte administration to immediately show the 29 agreements it signed with China is downright appalling. It goes against the very nature of representative government, and a blatant betrayal of the fundamental principle that public office is a public trust.
A full, detailed and immediate accounting is necessary of what our government committed to China in behalf of the Filipino people.
Even if the government eventually relents and shows the agreements, it’s still outrageous that our leaders have the audacity to think that they can keep the people in the dark on agreements they have entered into with a foreign country, especially one that is most distrusted by our people. In the most recent Social Weather Stations survey, 85 percent of Filipinos rejected the Philippine government’s inaction against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, including in areas that belong to the Philippines.
As of this writing, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has only read in a television interview bits and pieces of one agreement, the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development.
Given our territorial conflict with China, and the many controversies that China has been accused of in its business dealings with numerous countries, the obligation of the Philippine government even goes beyond promptly showing the signed agreements.
Before the signing of the agreements, the drafts should have been disclosed and subjected to public debate. The recognition by our government of “[t]he right of the people to information on matters of public concern,” as clearly written in our Constitution, is of paramount importance given the circumstances of the foreign country involved.
Locsin offered the justification that the consent of China is needed for the Philippine government to disclose the full contents of at least one agreement, because it supposedly contains a confidentiality clause which requires our government to obtain China’s approval before any disclosure is made.
Any “confidentiality clause” in a commercial agreement entered into by our government with a foreign government is totally ridiculous and absolutely unconstitutional.
Where did the Duterte administration obtain the power to surrender to a foreign country the Filipino people’s constitutional right to know what their own government has committed in their own behalf?
Our government’s obligation to disclose agreements it enters into, most especially with foreign countries, is an inalienable right that cannot be contractually bargained away by the President, his Cabinet secretaries, and even by Congress.
Without the fulfillment of this disclosure responsibility by the executive branch, the bedrocks of our system of government are compromised.
First, the people’s rights of free expression, to petition the government and to hold rallies, all for the purpose of influencing the actions of their government, will be worthless if the executive branch withholds information and documents.
Second, the oversight powers of Congress—its conduct of legislative investigations and its delivery of consent or disapproval to certain kinds of international agreements—will be rendered toothless if the executive branch does not disclose the full text of the agreements.
Third, the certiorari powers of the Supreme Court to declare that the executive branch has either abused or exceeded its powers in entering into an agreement with a foreign country will be rendered useless, if the executive branch does not even show the agreements.
Our government’s refusal to show to its people the agreements it committed to China gives compelling credence to two accusations: that we are under a de facto dictatorship because the Duterte administration can do anything it wants regardless of what the Constitution says, and that we have become an outpost of a foreign country with leaders who act like provincial chieftains kowtowing to the sovereignty of China.
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