Undoubtedly the most fought for, fiercely debated and emotionally laden provisions of our Constitution is the Bill of Rights. It is the safe haven for citizens of any democratic country against an oppressive or excessive exercise of governmental powers. A mantle of protection to safeguard one’s life, liberty or property, the guarantee of due process and equal protection of the law is guaranteed to every citizen because indeed, everyone is created equal.
In reality, the State and its agencies, in its pursuit of public interest and welfare, may transgress individual freedoms through the exercise of its police power, eminent domain and taxation. The Bill of Rights seeks to balance these conflicting interests. So you will find an enumeration of different constitutional rights granted to individuals — political, civil, social and economic rights and the rights of the accused — all critical to the full enjoyment of human rights in an increasing number of authoritarian regimes.
In the Consultative Committee’s proposed changes to Art. III, what impressed me was the categorization of the different rights into 1) civil and political rights; 2) social and economic rights; 3) environmental and ecological rights — precepts embraced by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, International Bill of Rights and other conventions. The incorporation of international law into this portion of our Constitution is an impressive initiative and is a recognition that we are duty-bound to comply even in the international enforcement scene.
My column today will focus on the suggested amendments to the initial sections of Art. III on civil and political rights.
Section 1 is a striking change in the proposed wording by the Consultative Committee, is an insertion of a section that says the rights under Art. 3 are demandable against the state and non-state actors and that enforcement shall be consistent with international standards. A remarkable move because it clearly lays down the framework of enforceable private rights against the government and the use of the word “demandable” sends a message of assurance to the populace that it can question, move and seek concrete redress for these rights.
On the other hand, while the 1987 Constitution enshrines the right of the people to be secured against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature, the new version of Section 2 introduces a clause that the right to privacy shall be inviolable. It goes on to say that without any lawful court order, all interference against personal and domestic relations, correspondence and data shall be proscribed. Why the particular emphasis on privacy? The primordial objective is to prevent covert encroachment upon or slow, creeping diminution of the right of an individual to be left alone in his private sphere, without fear of judgment, persecution or punishment. The insertion of this provision crystallizes the need for the state to be judicious, discerning and conscious about implementing the law in a despotic and unjust fashion.
Further driving the point, the Consultative Committee chose to insert another clause which stipulates that data obtained about a person shall be used and processed only for purposes authorized by law and that no person has the right to inquire from any government office any information that has been obtained or stored about himself. This framework highlights the importance of our local data privacy law, the critical role to be played by the Data Privacy Commission and the necessity of balancing the same with the Freedom of Information law.
The safeguarding of the aforementioned rights is obviously designed to secure enjoyment of one’s private life and to be secured in one’s person. In an era of aggressive social media, fake news, nonstop internet use and other innovative gadgets made for dissemination of information, the individual’s inner sanctum is threatened now more than ever. Thus, this constitutional insertion will definitely get the nod of a wide spectrum of our citizenry.
So far, so good. The amendments appear to be innovative, pioneering and adopts legal developments in other jurisdictions.
More to come in the next issue. But let us not allow a slack in the discussions. Listen and be aware. The basic law of the land is as basic as the air we breathe. We need to be concerned. Now.
Ariel F. Nepomuceno is a management consultant on strategy and investment.