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CASE DIGEST - AKBAYAN VS.

AQUINO
Facts: The signing of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA)
at the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Summit in Helsinki in September 2006 was hailed
by both Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Philippine President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo as a milestone in the continuing cooperation and collaboration,
setting a new chapter of strategic partnership for mutual opportunity and growth
(for both countries).
JPEPA which has been referred to as a mega treaty is a comprehensive plan for
opening up of markets in goods and services as well as removing barriers and
restrictions on investments. It is a deal that encompasses even our commitments to
the WTO.
The complexity of JPEPA became all the more evident at the Senate hearing
conducted by the Committee on Trade and Commerce last November 2006. The
committee, chaired by Senator Mar Roxas, heard differing views and perspectives
on JPEPA. On one hand the committee heard Governments rosy projections on the
economic benefits of JPEPA and on the other hand the views of environmental and
trade activists who raised there very serious concerns about the country being
turned into Japans toxic waste basket. The discussion in the Senate showed that
JPEPA is not just an issue concerning trade and economic relations with Japan but
one that touches on broader national development concerns.
Issues:
1. Do the therein petitioners have standing to bring this action for mandamus in
their capacity as citizens of the Republic, as taxpayers, and as members of the
Congress
2. Can this Honorable Court exercise primary jurisdiction of this case and take
cognizance of the instant petition.
3. Are the documents and information being requested in relation to the JPEPA
exempted from the general rules on transparency and full public disclosure such
that the Philippine government is justified in denying access thereto.
Rulings:
The Supreme Court en banc promulgated last July 16, 2008 its ruling on the case of
Akbayan Citizens Action Party et al vs. Thomas G. Aquino et al (G.R. No. 170516).
The Highest Tribunal dismissed the Petition for mandamus and prohibition, which
sought to compel respondents Department of Trade Industry (DTI) Undersecretary
Thomas Aquino et al to furnish petitioners the full text of the Japan-Philippines
Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) and the lists of the Philippine and Japanese
offers submitted during the negotiation process and all pertinent attachments and
annexes thereto.
In its Decision, the Court noted that the full text of the JPEPA has been made
accessible to the public since 11 September 2006, and thus the demand to be
furnished with copy of the said document has become moot and academic.
Notwithstanding this, however, the Court lengthily discussed the substatives issues,
insofar as they impinge on petitioners' demand for access to the Philippine and
Japanese offers in the course of the negotiations.

The Court held: Applying the principles adopted in PMPF v. Manglapus, it is clear
that while the final text of the JPEPA may not be kept perpetually confidential since
there should be 'ample opportunity for discussion before [a treaty] is approved'
the offers exchanged by the parties during the negotiations continue to be
privileged even after the JPEPA is published. It is reasonable to conclude that the
Japenese representatives submitted their offers with the understanding that 'historic
confidentiality' would govern the same. Disclosing these offers could impair the
ability of the Philippines to deal not only with Japan but with other foreign
governments in future negotiations.
It also reasoned out that opening for public scrutiny the Philippine offers in treaty
negotiations would discourage future Philippine representatives from frankly
expressing their views during negotiations. The Highest Tribunal recognized that
treaty negotiations normally involve a process of quid pro quo, where negotiators
would willingly grant concessions in an area of lesser importance in order to obtain
more favorable terms in an area of greater national interest.
In the same Decision, the Court took time to address the dissent of Chief Justice
Reynato S. Puno. It said: We are aware that behind the dissent of the Chief Justice
lies a genuine zeal to protect our people's right to information against any abuse of
executive privilege. It is a zeal that We fully share. The Court, however, in its
endeavour to guard against the abuse of executive privilege, should be careful not
to veer towards the opposite extreme, to the point that it would strike down as
invalid even a legitimate exercise thereof.