Philippine Daily Inquirer | 05/25/2006
SC has no jurisdiction over treaties, says Sol-Gen
By Tetch Torres
THE SUPREME Court has no jurisdiction to issue a ruling on a petition filed by party-list group Akbayan seeking to stop the government from signing a bilateral trade pact with Japan without a full disclosure of its provisions to the public.
“The authority to negotiate a treaty with a foreign government is lodged with the political departments of the government,” Solicitor-General Antonio Eduardo Nachura said in a 32-page comment he submitted to the high court.
"The propriety of what may be done in the exercise of this political power is not subject to judicial inquiry or decision," Nachura said.
“The Judiciary can only enter the scene once the treaty or agreement has been concluded and a proper petition is filed in court,” he said.
The Department of Trade and Industry, which has been named respondent in the suit, has declined Akbayan’s request for a public disclosure of the full text of the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).
Nachura said while the government recognized the public’s right to information and the policy of full public disclosure as stated in the 1987 Constitution such rights were not absolute.
Nachura cited the recent high court 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. In this case, the privileged character of the diplomatic negotiations has been categorically invoked and clearly explained by respondents, particularly respondent DTI Senior Undersecretary [Thomas Aquino]," Nachura said.
"The documents on the proposed JPEPA as well as the text which is subject to negotiations and legal review by the parties fall under the exceptions to the right of access to information on matters of public concern and policy of public disclosure. They come within the coverage of the executive privilege," he added.
The group said once concluded, JPEPA would remove barriers to trade and facilitate the flow of goods, persons, services, and capital between the two countries.
Akbayan identified one of these as a proposal to include trade in hazardous and toxic waste products like municipal waste, sewage sludge, and clinical waste.
The group said this was revealed during the Tariff Commission’s hearing on the JPEPA last February.
Akbayan said that "if allowed to be finalized and concluded, this proposal would cause grave and irreparable damage not only to the Philippine economy but also to the health, safety, and security of the Filipinos."
On the other hand, if the Philippines decides to repudiate the agreement later, lawmakers said the country would lose face in the international community since a bilateral pact was binding to both signatories.
The pact was first proposed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in January 2002 following President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s visit to Tokyo, but formal negotiations took off only in February 2004.