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[G. R. No. 140835. August 14, 2000

RAMON A. GONZALES, Petitioner, v. HON. ANDRES R. NARVASA, as Chairman, PREPARATORY COMMISSION ON CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS; HON. RONALDO B. ZAMORA, as Executive Secretary; COMMISSION ON AUDIT; ROBERTO AVENTAJADO, as Presidential Consultant on Council of Economic Advisers/Economic Affairs; ANGELITO C. BANAYO, as Presidential Adviser for/on Political Affairs; VERONICA IGNACIO-JONES, as Presidential Assistant/ Appointment Secretary (In charge of appointments), Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

GONZAGA-REYES, J.: chanrobles virtual law library

In this petition for prohibition and mandamus filed on December 9, 1999, petitioner Ramon A. Gonzales, in his capacity as a citizen and taxpayer, assails the constitutionality of the creation of the Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reform (PCCR) and of the positions of presidential consultants, advisers and assistants. Petitioner asks this Court to enjoin the PCCR and the presidential consultants, advisers and assistants from acting as such, and to enjoin Executive Secretary Ronaldo B. Zamora from enforcing their advice and recommendations. In addition, petitioner seeks to enjoin the Commission on Audit from passing in audit expenditures for the PCCR and the presidential consultants, advisers and assistants. Finally, petitioner prays for an order compelling respondent Zamora to furnish petitioner with information on certain matters. chanrobles virtual law library

On January 28, 2000, respondent Hon. Andres R. Narvasa, impleaded in his capacity as Chairman of the PCCR, filed his Comment to the Petition. The rest of the respondents, who are being represented in this case by the Solicitor General, filed their Comment with this Court on March 7, 2000. Petitioner then filed a Consolidated Reply on April 24, 2000, whereupon this case was considered submitted for decision. chanrobles virtual law library

I. Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reform chanrobles virtual law library

The Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reform (PCCR) was created by President Estrada on November 26, 1998 by virtue of Executive Order No. 43 (E.O. No. 43) in order to study and recommend proposed amendments and/or revisions to the 1987 Constitution, and the manner of implementing the same.[1 Petitioner disputes the constitutionality of the PCCR on two grounds. First, he contends that it is a public office which only the legislature can create by way of a law.[2 Secondly, petitioner asserts that by creating such a body the President is intervening in a process from which he is totally excluded by the Constitution the amendment of the fundamental charter.3 chanrobles virtual law library

It is alleged by respondents that, with respect to the PCCR, this case has become moot and academic. We agree. chanrobles virtual law library

An action is considered moot when it no longer presents a justiciable controversy because the issues involved have become academic or dead.[4 Under E.O. No. 43, the PCCR was instructed to complete its task on or before June 30, 1999.[5 However, on February 19, 1999, the President issued Executive Order No. 70 (E.O. No. 70), which extended the time frame for the completion of the commissions work, viz chanrobles virtual law library

SECTION 6. Section 8 is hereby amended to read as follows: chanrobles virtual law library

Time Frame. The Commission shall commence its work on 01 January 1999 and complete the same on or before 31 December 1999. The Commission shall submit its report and recommendations to the President within fifteen (15) working days from 31 December 1999. chanrobles virtual law library

The PCCR submitted its recommendations to the President on December 20, 1999 and was dissolved by the President on the same day. It had likewise spent the funds allotted to it.[6 Thus, the PCCR has ceased to exist, having lost its raison detre. Subsequent events have overtaken the petition and the Court has nothing left to resolve. chanrobles virtual law library

The staleness of the issue before us is made more manifest by the impossibility of granting the relief prayed for by petitioner. Basically, petitioner asks this Court to enjoin the PCCR from acting as such.7 Clearly, prohibition is an inappropriate remedy since the body sought to be enjoined no longer exists. It is well established that prohibition is a preventive remedy and does not lie to restrain an act that is already fait accompli.[8 At this point, any ruling regarding the PCCR would simply be in the nature of an advisory opinion, which is definitely beyond the permissible scope of judicial power. chanrobles virtual law library

In addition to the mootness of the issue, petitioners lack of standing constitutes another obstacle to the successful invocation of judicial power insofar as the PCCR is concerned. chanrobles virtual law library

The question in standing is whether a party has alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions.[9 In assailing the constitutionality of E.O. Nos. 43 and 70, petitioner asserts his interest as a citizen and taxpayer.10 A citizen acquires standing only if he can establish that he has suffered some actual or threatened injury as a result of the allegedly illegal conduct of the government; the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action; and the injury is likely to be redressed by a favorable action.[11 In Kilosbayan, Incorporated v. Morato,[12 we denied standing to petitioners who were assailing a lease agreement between the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and the Philippine Gaming Management Corporation, stating that, chanrobles virtual law library

in Valmonte v. Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, G.R. No. 78716, Sept. 22, 1987, standing was denied to a petitioner who sought to declare a form of lottery known as Instant Sweepstakes invalid because, as the Court held, chanrobles virtual law library

Valmonte brings the suit as a citizen, lawyer, taxpayer and father of three (3) minor children. But nowhere in his petition does petitioner claim that his rights and privileges as a lawyer or citizen have been directly and personally injured by the operation of the Instant Sweepstakes. The interest of the person assailing the constitutionality of a statute must be direct and personal. He must be able to show, not only that the law is invalid, but also that he has sustained or in immediate danger of sustaining some direct injury as a result of its enforcement, and not merely that he suffers thereby in some indefinite way. It must appear that the person complaining has been or is about to be denied some right or privilege to which he is lawfully entitled or that he is about to be subjected to some burdens or penalties by reason of the statute complained of. chanrobles virtual law library

We apprehend no difference between the petitioner in Valmonte and the present petitioners. Petitioners do not in fact show what particularized interest they have for bringing this suit. It does not detract from the high regard for petitioners as civic leaders to say that their interest falls short of that required to maintain an action under Rule 3, d 2. chanrobles virtual law library

Coming now to the instant case, petitioner has not shown that he has sustained or is in danger of sustaining any personal injury attributable to the creation of the PCCR. If at all, it is only Congress, not petitioner, which can claim any injury in this case since, according to petitioner, the President has encroached upon the legislatures powers to create a public office and to propose amendments to the Charter by forming the PCCR. Petitioner has sustained no direct, or even any indirect, injury. Neither does he claim that his rights or privileges have been or are in danger of being violated, nor that he shall be subjected to any penalties or burdens as a result of the PCCRs activities. Clearly, petitioner has failed to establish his locus standi so as to enable him to seek judicial redress as a citizen. chanrobles virtual law library

A taxpayer is deemed to have the standing to raise a constitutional issue when it is established that public funds have been disbursed in alleged contravention of the law or the Constitution.[13, Thus payers action is properly brought only when there is an exercise by Congress of its taxing or spending power.14 This was our ruling in a recent case wherein petitioners Telecommunications and Broadcast Attorneys of the Philippines (TELEBAP) and GMA Network, Inc. questioned the validity of section 92 of B.P. No. 881 (otherwise knows as the Omnibus Election Code) requiring radio and television stations to give free air time to the Commission on Elections during the campaign period.[15 The Court held that petitioner TELEBAP did not have any interest as a taxpayer since the assailed law did not involve the taxing or spending power of Congress.[16 chanrobles virtual law library

Many other rulings have premised the grant or denial of standing to taxpayers upon whether or not the case involved a disbursement of public funds by the legislature. In Sanidad v. Commission on Elections,[17 the petitioners therein were allowed to bring a taxpayers suit to question several presidential decrees promulgated by then President Marcos in his legislative capacity calling for a national referendum, with the Court explaining that chanrobles virtual law library

...[i]t is now an ancient rule that the valid source of a statute Presidential Decrees are of such nature may be contested by one who will sustain a direct injury as a result of its enforcement. At the instance of taxpayers, laws providing for the disbursement of public funds may be enjoined, upon the theory that the expenditure of public funds by an officer of the State for the purpose of executing an unconstitutional act constitutes a misapplication of such funds. The breadth of Presidential Decree No. 991 carries an appropriation of Five Million Pesos for the effective implementation of its purposes. Presidential Decree No. 1031 appropriates the sum of Eight Million Pesos to carry out its provisions. The interest of the aforenamed petitioners as taxpayers in the lawful expenditure of these amounts of public money sufficiently clothes them with that personality to litigate the validity of the Decrees appropriating said funds. chanrobles virtual law library

In still another case, the Court held that petitioners the Philippine Constitution Association, Inc., a non-profit civic organization - had standing as taxpayers to question the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 3836 insofar as it provides for retirement gratuity and commutation of vacation and sick leaves to Senators and Representatives and to the elective officials of both houses of Congress.[18 And in Pascual v. Secretary of Public Works,[19 the Court allowed petitioner to maintain a taxpayers suit assailing the constitutional soundness of Republic Act No. 920 appropriating P85,000 for the construction, repair and improvement of feeder roads within private property. All these cases involved the disbursement of public funds by means of a law. chanrobles virtual law library

Meanwhile, in Bugnay Construction and Development Corporation v. Laron,[20 the Court declared that the trial court was wrong in allowing respondent Ravanzo to bring an action for injunction in his capacity as a taxpayer in order to question the legality of the contract of lease covering the public market entered into between the City of Dagupan and petitioner. The Court declared that Ravanzo did not possess the requisite standing to bring such taxpayers suit since [o]n its face, and there is no evidence to the contrary, the lease contract entered into between petitioner and the City shows that no public funds have been or will be used in the construction of the market building. chanrobles virtual law library

Coming now to the instant case, it is readily apparent that there is no exercise by Congress of its taxing or spending power. The PCCR was created by the President by virtue of E.O. No. 43, as amended by E.O. No. 70. Under section 7 of E.O. No. 43, the amount of P3 million is appropriated for its operational expenses to be sourced from the funds of the Office of the President. The relevant provision states - chanrobles virtual law library

Appropriations. The initial amount of Three Million Pesos (P3,000,000.00) is hereby appropriated for the operational expenses of the Commission to be sourced from funds of the Office of the President, subject to the usual accounting and auditing rules and regulations. Additional amounts shall be released to the Commission upon submission of requirements for expenditures. chanrobles virtual law library

The appropriations for the PCCR were authorized by the President, not by Congress. In fact, there was no an appropriation at all. In a strict sense, appropriation has been defined as nothing more than the legislative authorization prescribed by the Constitution that money may be paid out of the Treasury, while appropriation made by law refers to the act of the legislature setting apart or assigning to a particular use a certain sum to be used in the payment of debt or dues from the State to its creditors. [21 The funds used for the PCCR were taken from funds intended for the Office of the President, in the exercise of the Chief Executives power to transfer funds pursuant to section 25 (5) of article VI of the Constitution. chanrobles virtual law library

In the final analysis, it must be stressed that the Court retains the power to decide whether or not it will entertain a taxpayers suit.[22 In the case at bar, there being no exercise by Congress of its taxing or spending power, petitioner cannot be allowed to question the creation of the PCCR in his capacity as a taxpayer, but rather, he must establish that he has a personal and substantial interest in the case and that he has sustained or will sustain direct injury as a result of its enforcement.[23 In other words, petitioner must show that he is a real party in interest - that he will stand to be benefited or injured by the judgment or that he will be entitled to the avails of the suit.24 Nowhere in his pleadings does petitioner presume to make such a representation. chanrobles virtual law library

II. Presidential Consultants, Advisers, Assistants chanrobles virtual law library

The second issue raised by petitioner concerns the presidential consultants. Petitioner alleges that in 1995 and 1996, the President created seventy (70) positions in the Office of the President and appointed to said positions twenty (20) presidential consultants, twenty-two (22) presidential advisers, and twenty-eight (28) presidential assistants.[25 Petitioner asserts that, as in the case of the PCCR, the President does not have the power to create these positions.26 chanrobles virtual law library

Consistent with the abovementioned discussion on standing, petitioner does not have the personality to raise this issue before the Court. First of all, he has not proven that he has sustained or is in danger of sustaining any injury as a result of the appointment of such presidential advisers. Secondly, petitioner has not alleged the necessary facts so as to enable the Court to determine if he possesses a taxpayers interest in this particular issue. Unlike the PCCR which was created by virtue of an executive order, petitioner does not allege by what official act, whether it be by means of an executive order, administrative order, memorandum order, or otherwise, the President attempted to create the positions of presidential advisers, consultants and assistants. Thus, it is unclear what act of the President petitioner is assailing. In support of his allegation, petitioner merely annexed a copy of the Philippine Government Directory (Annex C) listing the names and positions of such presidential consultants, advisers and assistants to his petition. However, appointment is obviously not synonymous with creation. It would be improvident for this Court to entertain this issue given the insufficient nature of the allegations in the Petition. chanrobles virtual law library

III. Right to Information chanrobles virtual law library

Finally, petitioner asks us to issue a writ of mandamus ordering Executive Secretary Ronaldo B. Zamora to answer his letter (Annex D) dated October 4, 1999 requesting for the names of executive officials holding multiple positions in government, copies of their appointments, and a list of the recipients of luxury vehicles seized by the Bureau of Customs and turned over to Malacanang.[27 chanrobles virtual law library

The right to information is enshrined in Section 7 of the Bill of Rights which provides that chanrobles virtual law library

The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law. chanrobles virtual law library

Under both the 197328 and 1987 Constitution, this is a self-executory provision which can be invoked by any citizen before the courts. This was our ruling in Legaspi v. Civil Service Commission,[29 wherein the Court classified the right to information as a public right and when a [m]andamus proceeding involves the assertion of a public right, the requirement of personal interest is satisfied by the mere fact that the petitioner is a citizen, and therefore, part of the general public which possesses the right. However, Congress may provide for reasonable conditions upon the access to information. Such limitations were embodied in Republic Act No. 6713, otherwise knows as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which took effect on March 25, 1989. This law provides that, in the performance of their duties, all public officials and employees are obliged to respond to letters sent by the public within fifteen (15) working days from receipt thereof and to ensure the accessibility of all public documents for inspection by the public within reasonable working hours, subject to the reasonable claims of confidentiality.[30 chanrobles virtual law library

Elaborating on the significance of the right to information, the Court said in Baldoza v. Dimaano[31 that [t]he incorporation of this right in the Constitution is a recognition of the fundamental role of free exchange of information in a democracy. There can be no realistic perception by the public of the nations problems, nor a meaningful democratic decisionmaking if they are denied access to information of general interest. Information is needed to enable the members of society to cope with the exigencies of the times. The information to which the public is entitled to are those concerning matters of public concern, a term which embrace[s] a broad spectrum of subjects which the public may want to know, either because these directly affect their lives, or simply because such matters naturally arouse the interest of an ordinary citizen. In the final analysis, it is for the courts to determine in a case by case basis whether the matter at issue is of interest or importance, as it relates to or affects the public.[32 chanrobles virtual law library

Thus, we agree with petitioner that respondent Zamora, in his official capacity as Executive Secretary, has a constitutional and statutory duty to answer petitioners letter dealing with matters which are unquestionably of public concern that is, appointments made to public offices and the utilization of public property. With regard to petitioners request for copies of the appointment papers of certain officials, respondent Zamora is obliged to allow the inspection and copying of the same subject to the reasonable limitations required for the orderly conduct of official business.33 chanrobles virtual law library

WHEREFORE, the petition is dismissed, with the exception that respondent Zamora is ordered to furnish petitioner with the information requested. chanrobles virtual law library

SO ORDERED. chanrobles virtual law library

Davide, Jr., C.J., Melo, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Purisima, Pardo, Buena, Ynares-Santiago, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur. chanrobles virtual law library

Bellosillo, J., abroad, on official business. chanrobles virtual law library

Puno, J., vote to dismiss on the ground that the case is moot.



Endnotes:

1 E.O. No. 43, sec. 1.

2 Petition, 11-18

3 Ibid., 18-22.

4 Santiago v. Court of Appeals, 285 SCRA 16 (1998); Garcia v. Commission on Elections, 258 SCRA 754 (1996).

5 E.O. No. 43, sec. 8.

6 Comment of respondent Narvasa, 7-9.

7 Petition, 29-30.

8 Aguinaldo v. Commission on Elections, 308 SCRA 770 (1998).

9 Kilosbayan, Incorporated v. Morato, 246 SCRA 540 (1995), citing Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 7 L.Ed.2d 633 (1962).

10 Petition, 2.

11 Telecommunications and Broadcast Attorneys of the Philippines, Inc. v. Commission on Elections, 289 SCRA 337 (1998).

12 246 SCRA 540 (1995).

13 The Anti-Graft League of the Philippines, Inc. v. San Juan, 260 SCRA 250 (1996).

14 Flast v. Cohen, 392 US 83, 20 L Ed 2d 947, 88 S Ct 1942.

15 Telecommunications and Broadcast Attorneys of the Philippines, Inc. v. Commission on Elections, 289 SCRA 337 (1998).

16 See also The Anti-Graft League of the Philippines, Inc. vs. San Juan, 260 SCRA 250 (1996); Kilosbayan, Incorporated v. Morato, 246 SCRA 540 (1995); Dumlao v. Comelec, 95 SCRA 392 (1980).

17 73 SCRA 333 (1976).

18 Philippine Constitution Association, Inc. v. Gimenez, 15 SCRA 479 (1965).

19 110 Phil 331 (1960).

20 176 SCRA 251 (1989).

21 Gonzales v. Raquiza, 180 SCRA 254 (1989).

22 Dumlao v. Commission on Elections, 95 SCRA 392 (1980), citing Tan v. Macapagal, 43 SCRA 677(1972); Sanidad v. Commission on Elections, 73 SCRA 333 (1976).

23 People v. Vera, 65 Phil 50 (1937).

24 Rules of Court, Rule 3, sec. 2; Board of Optometry v. Colet, 260 SCRA 88 (1997).

25 Petition, 6.

26 Ibid., 6-7, 22.

27 Ibid., 1-2, 6

28 Sec. 6, Article III, 1973 Constitution, provided - chanrobles virtual law library

The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decision, shall be afforded the citizen subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.

29 150 SCRA 530 (1987).

30 Republic Act No. 6713, sec. 5 (a) and (e); see Rules Implementing the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, Rule IV.

31 71 SCRA 14 (1976). See Echegaray v. Secretary of Justice, 297 SCRA 754 (1998).

32 Legaspi v. Civil Service Commission, 150 SCRA 530 (1987).

33 Lantaco, Sr. v. Llamas, 108 SCRA 502 (1981).




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