SC Ruling on Garci Tapes supports Article 19 of UDHR

Letter to the Editor

Amnesty International Philippines (AIPh) welcomes the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the right to freedom of opinion and expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) through its decision on the airing of “Hello Garci” tapes. This is one of the good things that happened in our country last week, though seemingly unnoticed, amidst the allegations of big time and high level corruption in the National Broadband Network deal with ZTE and the rigging of the May 2004 elections.

12 versus 5 justices ruled that the warnings against the airing of the Garci tapes by the Department of Justice and the National Telecommunications Commission were unconstitutional and restrictive of the freedom of the press. Chief Justice Reynaldo Puno in his written ruling said that the warnings challenged “the most exalted of all civil rights, the freedom of expression.” The SC said that prior restraint , especially content based, may be exercised by the government only when there is “clear and present danger” to national security and public safety.

The freedom of the press is an essential element for the protection of human rights. A fully functioning free press operates as the “fourth estate” that exposes abuses of power and human rights violations as well as plays a key role in the process of making abusers accountable. The right to information and  freedom of expression are trampled upon and demeaned when journalists are threatened, arbitrarily arrested and killed.

The right to freedom of expression has always been a core part of Amnesty International’s (AI) work in various parts of the world. All peoples, including the Filipino peoples, have the right to seek, obtain and receive information in order to participate meaningfully in decisions affecting their lives as individuals, as peoples and as nations.

The right to information is important in the Philippines to arrive at the truth and resolve issues such as the election cheating in 2004 as well as allegations that government leaders are defrauding peoples of resources while many live in extreme poverty and cannot even access the minimum levels of food, water, education, healthcare and housing. The right to information is essential for other rights including the right to suffrage, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to live with dignity, among others.

On this 60th year since the adoption of the UDHR by the community of nations in Paris, France, it is most apt to recall Article 19 “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Aurora A. Parong, M.D.

Director, Amnesty International Philippines

February 18, 2008