SC dismisses petition for COVID-19 mass testing
A jeepney passenger wears a face shield over a surgical mask in Ba- guio City on Aug. 5, 2020.
The STAR/Andy Zapata J

SC dismisses petition for COVID-19 mass testing

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - September 16, 2020 - 11:29am

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court dismissed the petition filed by a group from different sectors asking the tribunal to compel the government to conduct mass testing for COVID-19, saying that it cannot dictate a different branch of government on how to do its job.

The SC voted 13-1-1 to dismiss the petition for mandamus as it held that the petitioners failed to show they are entitled to the writ. The court said that while the Constitution enjoins the government to uphold the right to health, “mandamus will not lie to compel them to exercise said protection in a certain way or to a certain degree.”

“The job of the Court is to say what the law is, not dictate how another branch of government should do its job,” the en banc notice from Clerk of Court Edgar Aricheta read.

The petitioners, led by former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, asked the SC to SC to direct the members of the Duterte cabinet to conduct mass testing and release accurate information on the country’s COVID-19 situation. They ran to the SC and said the government had been remiss in complying with its obligations and this violates the Filipino people’s rights to health and right to information.

But the SC that a writ of mandamus can only be issued if there are no more administrative remedies available.

The court noted that the petitioners have recourse to the different agencies of the executive branch. “There is no showing in their Petition that they have exhausted administrative remedies,” it said.

 “Without a demonstration that an official in the executive branch failed to perform a mandatory, nondiscretionary duty, courts have no authority to issue a writ of mandamus, no matter how dire the emergency,” it also said.

The petition was dismissed without requiring the government to file its Comment on the issues the group raised—as with the SC’s outright dismissal, in recent months, of petitions challenging the Bayanihan law and the plea on the release of medical bulletins of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Leonen: Petition warrants Comment from respondents

For Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, lone dissenter in the case, the petition warrants a comment from the respondents.

 “A ruling on these issues will have a significant impact on the social, political, and economic life of the nation. That alone should have prompted this court to at least require respondents to file a comment without necessarily giving due course to the Petition,” he said in his dissenting opinion.

“These issues are important and have far-reaching implications, and this Court should not pass up the opportunity to address them after hearing both parties,” he added.

Leonen was also one of the two justices who dissented in the outright dismissal of the petition involving Duterte’s health.

“After all, that is ‘the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable’ enshrined in our Constitution,” the justice also said.

Leonen also held that the petitioners complied with the requisites for judicial review, as he pointed out that the petitioners are all affected by the pandemic and have legal standing to file the pleading.

Even if they were not qualified, Leonen noted that the case involves a matter of transcendental importance and of public interest.

He added: “[P] etitioners assert a valid right—their right to information—that they say is being breached by respondents. This assertion, as with that of their right to health, only serves to bolster the grounds of their Petition. At the very least, it merits a comment from the respondents.”

NUPL: Ruling dashes hopes for government to uphold people’s right to health

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, who represented the petitioners, lamented the dismissal.  “The Resolution dashes hopes that our inept and negligent government will be compelled to do its constitutional duty to protect and respect the people’s rights to health and information,” they said in a statement.

But they asserted that the petitioners will not be dispirited by the ruling that they said was mainly on technicality.

“We take inspiring consolation though in the erudite, extensive and compelling dissent that prudently recognized the transcendental import and implication of this case on the people, the nation and the justice system,” they added.

National caseload of COVID-19 infections on Tuesday reached 269,407, with death toll recorded at 4,663.

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