The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by Automated Election System Watch against the alleged spying by the Commission on Elections on its critics like AES using a P30-million intelligence fund.
At the resumption of its en banc session after a month-long break, the SC resolved to deny the writ of habeas data petition filed by former Comelec Commissioner Augusto “Gus” Lagman, UP law professor Harry Roque Jr. and whistleblower Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr. in July 2013 seeking to stop the poll body’s alleged surveillance operations against them.
The high court affirmed a decision of the Court of Appeals in September last year and last February, which did not find basis for the issuance of the writ. Habeas data is an extraordinary relief issued to protect the image, privacy and freedom of information of a person, which can be used to find out what information is being held about a citizen.
In rejecting the relief sought by the petitioners, the SC disagreed with their assertion that threat alone would suffice for the writ even in the absence of specific overt acts.
“The writ of habeas data is an independent and summary remedy to protect a person’s right to control information regarding oneself, particularly in instances in which such information is being collected through unlawful means in order to achieve unlawful ends. In the case at bench, however, there has been no showing that respondents collected information through unlawful means for an unlawful purpose,” the SC ruled.
The tribunal also sustained the Comelec’s use of intelligence funds, which was also questioned by petitioners.
“The Comelec was given intelligence funds for the purpose of gathering information on suspected election saboteurs, with the objective of filing the necessary cases should the facts warrant the same,” the SC stressed.
Petitioners had alleged that the poll body was conducting surveillance operations against them and other vocal critics of the AES.
They alleged that the “illegally-gathered information are being used to prosecute critics of the PCOS (precinct count optical scan) automated elections technology suite for election sabotage and otherapplicable offenses or crimes.”
The petitioners also questioned the legality of Comelec’s use of intelligence fund, saying it is unconstitutional because it stems from a misalignment of public funds by the Office of the President to asupposedly independent constitutional commission, and that it also violates the right of citizens to free expression and the right to privacy.
Named respondents in the case were former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. and commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, Christian Robert Lim, Luie Tito Guia, Grace Padaca, Al Parreño,Comelec finance director Dulay Mejos, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., and deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.
Petitioners cited as basis of their petition the reported “warning” of Chairman Brillantes that supposedly hints that AES Watch members were being held under surveillance.