FRANCISCO I. CHAVEZ, petitioner, vs. PUBLIC ESTATES AUTHORITY and AMARI COASTAL BAY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, respondents. [G.R. No. 133250. July 9, 2002].
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Fourth issue: whether petitioner has locus standi to bring this suit
PEA argues that petitioner has no standing to institute mandamus proceedings to enforce his constitutional right to information without a showing that PEA refused to perform an affirmative duty imposed on PEA by the Constitution. PEA also claims that petitioner has not shown that he will suffer any concrete injury because of the signing or implementation of the Amended JVA. Thus, there is no actual controversy requiring the exercise of the power of judicial review.
The petitioner has standing to bring this taxpayers suit because the petition seeks to compel PEA to comply with its constitutional duties. There are two constitutional issues involved here. First is the right of citizens to information on matters of public concern. Second is the application of a constitutional provision intended to insure the equitable distribution of alienable lands of the public domain among Filipino citizens. The thrust of the first issue is to compel PEA to disclose publicly information on the sale of government lands worth billions of pesos, information which the Constitution and statutory law mandate PEA to disclose. The thrust of the second issue is to prevent PEA from alienating hundreds of hectares of alienable lands of the public domain in violation of the Constitution, compelling PEA to comply with a constitutional duty to the nation.
Moreover, the petition raises matters of transcendental importance to the public. In Chavez v. PCGG,[i] the Court upheld the right of a citizen to bring a taxpayers suit on matters of transcendental importance to the public, thus -
Besides, petitioner emphasizes, the matter of recovering the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses is an issue of transcendental importance to the public. He asserts that ordinary taxpayers have a right to initiate and prosecute actions questioning the validity of acts or orders of government agencies or instrumentalities, if the issues raised are of paramount public interest, and if they immediately affect the social, economic and moral well being of the people.
Moreover, the mere fact that he is a citizen satisfies the requirement of personal interest, when the proceeding involves the assertion of a public right, such as in this case. He invokes several decisions of this Court which have set aside the procedural matter of locus standi, when the subject of the case involved public interest.
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In Taada v. Tuvera, the Court asserted that when the issue concerns a public right and the object of mandamus is to obtain the enforcement of a public duty, the people are regarded as the real parties in interest; and because it is sufficient that petitioner is a citizen and as such is interested in the execution of the laws, he need not show that he has any legal or special interest in the result of the action. In the aforesaid case, the petitioners sought to enforce their right to be informed on matters of public concern, a right then recognized in Section 6, Article IV of the 1973 Constitution, in connection with the rule that laws in order to be valid and enforceable must be published in the Official Gazette or otherwise effectively promulgated. In ruling for the petitioners' legal standing, the Court declared that the right they sought to be enforced is a public right recognized by no less than the fundamental law of the land.
Legaspi v. Civil Service Commission, while reiterating Taada, further declared that when a mandamus proceeding involves the assertion of a public right, the requirement of personal interest is satisfied by the mere fact that petitioner is a citizen and, therefore, part of the general 'public' which possesses the right.
Further, in Albano v. Reyes, we said that while expenditure of public funds may not have been involved under the questioned contract for the development, management and operation of the Manila International Container Terminal, public interest [was] definitely involved considering the important role [of the subject contract] . . . in the economic development of the country and the magnitude of the financial consideration involved. We concluded that, as a consequence, the disclosure provision in the Constitution would constitute sufficient authority for upholding the petitioner's standing.
Similarly, the instant petition is anchored on the right of the people to information and access to official records, documents and papers a right guaranteed under Section 7, Article III of the 1987 Constitution. Petitioner, a former solicitor general, is a Filipino citizen. Because of the satisfaction of the two basic requisites laid down by decisional law to sustain petitioner's legal standing, i.e. (1) the enforcement of a public right (2) espoused by a Filipino citizen, we rule that the petition at bar should be allowed.
We rule that since the instant petition, brought by a citizen, involves the enforcement of constitutional rights - to information and to the equitable diffusion of natural resources - matters of transcendental public importance, the petitioner has the requisite locus standi.
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