Coming now to the substantive issues, Section 7, Article III of the Constitution enshrines the people’s fundamental right to information, thus:
Sec. 7. The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law. (Emphasis supplied)
In Valmonte v. Belmonte, Jr., the Court explained the rationale of the right to information in this wise:
The cornerstone of this republican system of government is delegation of power by the people to the State. In this system, governmental agencies and institutions operate within the limits of the authority conferred by the people. Denied access to information on the inner workings of government, the citizenry can become prey to the whims and caprices of those to whom the power had been delegated. The postulate of public office is a public trust, institutionalized in the Constitution to protect the people from abuse of governmental power, would certainly be mere empty words if access to such information of public concern is denied x x x.
x x x The right to information goes hand-in-hand with the constitutional policies of full public disclosure and honesty in the public service. It is meant to enhance the widening role of the citizenry in governmental decision-making as well as in checking abuse in government. (Emphasis supplied)
The people’s constitutional right to information is intertwined with the government’s constitutional duty of full public disclosure of all transactions involving public interest. For every right of the people, there is a corresponding duty on the part of those who govern to protect and respect that right. Section 28, Article II of the Constitution succinctly expresses this state policy:
Sec. 28. Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest. (Emphasis supplied)
In Legaspi v. Civil Service Commission, the Court explained that the people’s right to information is limited to matters of public concern. The Court then formulated a broad definition of what constitutes matters of public concern, to wit:
In determining whether or not a particular information is of public concern, there is no rigid test which can be applied. “Public concern” like “public interest” is a term that eludes exact definition. Both terms embrace a broad spectrum of subjects which the public may want to know, either because such matters directly affect their lives, or simply because such matters naturally arouse the interest of an ordinary citizen. In the final analysis, it is for the courts to determine in a case by case basis whether the matter at issue is of interest or importance, as it relates to or affects the public. (Emphasis supplied)
Respondent Comelec cannot shirk its constitutional duty to disclose fully to the public complete details of all information relating to its preparations for the 10 May 2010 elections without violating the Constitution and relevant laws. No less than the Constitution mandates it to enforce and administer election laws. The Comelec chairman and the six commissioners are beholden and accountable to the people they have sworn to serve. This Court, as the last bulwark of democracy in this country, will spare nothing in its constitutionally granted powers to ensure that the fundamental right of the people to information on matters of public concern, especially on matters that directly affect our democratic processes, is fully guaranteed, protected, and implemented.