DOJ OPINION NO. 124, s. 1989
June 29, 1989
Mr. Benjamin T. Leong
Department of Agrarian Reform
S i r :
This refers to your request for opinion on whether, as Officer-In-Charge, you can release to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) xerox copies of the documents of consummated Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) transactions, the original copies of which are on file with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP).
You state that the Secretary-General of the KMP has, in a letter dated June 22, 1989, requested from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) xerox copies of the records of all agricultural lands offered to DAR under the VOS Program invoking the people's Constitutional right to information on matters of public concern and of access to official records and documents.
You further state that the KMP is immediately interested in the records of the following specific transactions:
Consummated VOS (Already paid by Land Bank of the Philippines)
— Guillermo Villasor Estate
— Erquiaga Estate
— Romeo Santos et al properties
VOS being processed
— Bohol Cattle Development Corporation
— General Renato De Villa's property in San Juan, Batangas
— Hacienda Luisita stock distribution documents
— Del Monte lease-back arrangement
According to you, you have already released copies of the agreements between Hacienda Luisita/Del Monte Corporation and the farmworkers. You have also authorized the KMP representatives to participate in the reappraisal of the VOS of Gen. de Villa and Bohol Cattle Development Corporation. However, you refused to grant the request for copies of, and access to, records of consummated VOS transactions based on the opinion given by your Legal Staff/Consultants that releasing these documents is not within the realm of your authority as DAR OIC.
From all indications, you are not questioning the legality of the request of the KMP for copies of, and access to, official records and documents of VOS transactions on file with the DAR. What you doubt is whether, as DAR OIC, you are authorized to release copies of documents pertaining to consummated VOS transactions, the originals of which are on file with the LBP.
An officer-in-charge takes care of the day-to-day affairs of the office. He enjoys limited powers which are at best confined to the functions of administration and to see to it that the office continues its usual activities. As a rule, an officer-in-charge cannot perform acts that involve the exercise of discretion. (See CSC Resolution No. 1692 dated October 20, 1978)
It is believed that as DAR OIC, it is perfectly within your authority to allow the public access to official records and documents on file with the DAR. The Constitution guarantees the people's right to be informed on all matters of public concern and to make this effective, the Constitution imposes a corresponding duty on the part of the State and its agents to afford the public access to official records, documents, papers and government research data used as basis for policy development, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law. (Art. III, Sec. 7, 1987 Constitution).
It has been held that government agencies are without discretion in refusing disclosure of, or access to information of public concern (Legaspi vs. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 72119, promulgated May 29, 1987, citing the case of Subido vs. Ozaeta, 80 Phil. 383, and Tañada, et al. vs. Tuvera, et al., 136 SCRA 27). The Court said:
"While the manner of examining public records may be subject to reasonable regulation by the government agency in custody thereof, the duty to disclose the information of public concern, and to afford access to public records cannot be discretionary on the part of said agencies. Otherwise, the enjoyment of the constitutional right may be rendered nugatory by any whimsical exercise of agency discretion".
Since agencies are bereft of discretion in allowing the examination of public records, it follows that even a mere caretaker of the office, duly empowered as such, is duty-bound to comply with a legitimate request from the public to have access to, and examine, the official records of the office, subject to such reasonable regulations as the agency may adopt on the manner in which the access is to be afforded "to the end that damage to, or loss of, public records may be avoided, undue interference with the duties of said agencies may be prevented, and more importantly, that the exercise of the same constitutional right by other persons shall be assured. (Legaspi vs. CSC, supra). Accordingly, it is our opinion that as DAR OIC, it is within your authority to afford authorized KMP representatives access to records of VOS transactions, including those pertaining to consummated VOS transactions.
For your guidance, we are quoting hereunder pertinent provisions of R.A. No. 6713 ("Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees") and its implementing rules:
R.A. No. 6713
"SEC. 5. Duties of Public Officials and Employees. — In the performance of their duties, all public officials and employees are under obligations to:
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(e) Make documents accessible to the public. — All public documents must be made accessible to, end readily available for inspection by, the public within reasonable working hours."
Rules Implementing R.A. No. 6713
"RULE IV. TRANSPARENCY OF TRANSACTIONS AND ACCESS TO INFORMATION
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"SEC. 3. Every department, office or agency shall provide official information, records or documents to any requesting public, except if:
(a) such information, record or document must be kept secret in the interest of national defense or security or the conduct of foreign affairs;
(b) such disclosure would put the life and safety of an individual in imminent danger;
(c) the information, record or document sought falls within the concepts of established privilege or recognized exceptions as may be provided by law or settled policy or jurisprudence;
(d) such information, record or document comprises drafts of decisions, orders, rulings, policy decisions, memorandum, etc.;
(e) it would disclose information of a personal nature where disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
(f) it would disclose investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes, or information which if written would be contained in such records, but only to the extent that the production of such records or information would (i) interfere with enforcement proceedings, (ii) deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, (iii) disclose the identity of a confidential source and, in the case of a record compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation, or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, confidential information furnished only by the confidential source, or (iv) unjustifiably disclose investigative techniques and procedures; or
(g) it would disclose information the premature disclosure of which would (i) in the case of a department, office or agency which regulates currencies, securities, commodities, or financial institutions, be likely to lead to significant financial speculation in currencies, securities, or commodities, or significantly endanger the stability of any financial institution; or (ii) in the case of any department, office or agency, be likely or significant to frustrate implementation of a proposed official action, except that subparagraph (f) (ii) shall not apply in any instance where the department, office or agency has already disclosed to the public the content or nature of its proposed action, or where the department, office or agency is required by law to make such disclosure on its own initiative on such proposal."
Very truly yours,
SEDFREY A. ORDOÑEZ
Secretary of Justice