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15. Chavez vs.

PEA, GR 133250, 9 July 2002

This is an original Petition for Mandamus with prayer for a writ of preliminary injunction and a temporary
restraining order. The petition seeks to compel the Public Estates Authority ("PEA" for brevity) to disclose
all facts on PEA's then on-going renegotiations with Amari Coastal Bay and Development Corporation
("AMARI" for brevity) to reclaim portions of Manila Bay. The petition further seeks to enjoin PEA from
signing a new agreement with AMARI involving such reclamation.

Facts:

On February 4, 1977, then President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1084 creating
PEA. PD No. 1084 tasked PEA "to reclaim land, including foreshore and submerged areas," and "to
develop, improve, acquire, lease and sell any and all kinds of lands." On the same date, then President
Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1085 transferring to PEA the "lands reclaimed in the foreshore
and offshore of the Manila Bay" under the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road and Reclamation Project
(MCCRRP).

 On January 19, 1988, then President Corazon C. Aquino issued Special Patent No. 3517, granting and
transferring to PEA "the parcels of land so reclaimed under the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road and
Reclamation Project (MCCRRP) containing a total area of one million nine hundred fifteen thousand eight
hundred ninety four (1,915,894) square meters." Subsequently, on April 9, 1988, the Register of Deeds of
the Municipality of Parañaque issued Transfer Certificates of Title Nos. 7309, 7311, and 7312, in the
name of PEA, covering the three reclaimed islands known as the "Freedom Islands" located at the
southern portion of the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road, Parañaque City.

Subsquently, PEA entered into a joint venture agreement (JVA) with AMARI, a Thai-Philippine corporation
to develop the Freedom Islands. Along with another 250 hectares, PEA and AMARI entered the JVA
which would later transfer said lands to AMARI. This caused a stir especially when Sen. Maceda assailed
the agreement, claiming that such lands were part of public domain (famously known as the “mother of all
scams”).

Peitioner Frank J. Chavez filed case as a taxpayer praying for mandamus, a writ of preliminary injunction
and a TRO against the sale of reclaimed lands by PEA to AMARI and from implementing the JVA.
Petitioner contends the government stands to lose billions of pesos in the sale by PEA of the reclaimed
lands to AMARI. Petitioner prays that PEA publicly disclose the terms of any renegotiation of the JVA,
invoking Section 28, Article II, and Section 7, Article III, of the 1987 Constitution on the right of the people
to information on matters of public concern. Petitioner assails the sale to AMARI of lands of the public
domain as a blatant violation of Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution prohibiting the sale of
alienable lands of the public domain to private corporations. Finally, petitioner asserts that he seeks to
enjoin the loss of billions of pesos in properties of the State that are of public dominion.

Following these events, under President Estrada’s admin, PEA and AMARI entered into an Amended JVA
and Mr. Chaves claim that the contract is null and void.Issues:

1. Whether the constitutional right to information includes information on on-going negotiations


BEFORE a final agreement?

2. Whether the stipulations in the amended joint venture agreement for the transfer to AMARI of
certain lands, reclaimed and still to be reclaimed violate the 1987 Constitution; and

3. Whether the Court has jurisdiction over the issue whether the amended JVA is grossly
disadvantageous to the government

Ruling:
1. The Court ruled that the constitutional right to information includes official information on on-going
negotiations before a final contract. The information, however, must constitute definite propositions by the
government and should not cover recognized exceptions like privileged information, military and
diplomatic secrets and similar matters affecting national security and public order.Congress has also
prescribed other limitations on the right to information in several legislations.

The State policy of full transparency in all transactions involving public interest reinforces the people's
right to information on matters of public concern. This State policy is expressed in Section 28, Article II of
the Constitution, thus: “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."

Contrary to AMARI's contention, the commissioners of the 1986 Constitutional Commission understood
that the right to information "contemplates inclusion of negotiations leading to the consummation of the
transaction." Certainly, a consummated contract is not a requirement for the exercise of the right to
information. Otherwise, the people can never exercise the right if no contract is consummated, and if one
is consummated, it may be too late for the public to expose its defects.

Requiring a consummated contract will keep the public in the dark until the contract, which may be
grossly disadvantageous to the government or even illegal, becomes a fait accompli.

However, the right to information does not compel PEA to prepare lists, abstracts, summaries and the like
relating to the renegotiation of the JVA. The right only affords access to records, documents and papers,
which means the opportunity to inspect and copy them. One who exercises the right must copy the
records, documents and papers at his expense. The exercise of the right is also subject to reasonable
regulations to protect the integrity of the public records and to minimize disruption to government
operations, like rules specifying when and how to conduct the inspection and copying.

2. On the issue of Amended JVA as violating the constitution:

a. The 157.84 hectares of reclaimed lands comprising the Freedom Islands, now covered by certificates
of title in the name of PEA, are alienable lands of the public domain. PEA may lease these lands to
private corporations but may not sell or transfer ownership of these lands to private corporations. PEA
may only sell these lands to Philippine citizens, subject to the ownership limitations in the 1987
Constitution and existing laws.

b. The 592.15 hectares of submerged areas of Manila Bay remain inalienable natural resources of the
public domain until classified as alienable or disposable lands open to disposition and declared no longer
needed for public service. The government can make such classification and declaration only after PEA
has reclaimed these submerged areas. Only then can these lands qualify as agricultural lands of the
public domain, which are the only natural resources the government can alienate. In their present state,
the 592.15 hectares of submerged areas are inalienable and outside the commerce of man.

c. Since the Amended JVA seeks to transfer to AMARI, a private corporation, ownership of 77.34
hectares110 of the Freedom Islands, such transfer is void for being contrary to Section 3, Article XII of the
1987 Constitution which prohibits private corporations from acquiring any kind of alienable land of the
public domain.

d. Since the Amended JVA also seeks to transfer to AMARI ownership of 290.156 hectares111 of still
submerged areas of Manila Bay, such transfer is void for being contrary to Section 2, Article XII of the
1987 Constitution which prohibits the alienation of natural resources other than agricultural lands of the
public domain.
PEA may reclaim these submerged areas. Thereafter, the government can classify the reclaimed lands
as alienable or disposable, and further declare them no longer needed for public service. Still, the transfer
of such reclaimed alienable lands of the public domain to AMARI will be void in view of Section 3, Article
XII of the 1987Constitution which prohibits private corporations from acquiring any kind of alienable land
of the public domain.

3. Considering that the Amended JVA is null and void ab initio, there is no necessity to rule on this last
issue. Besides, the Court is not the trier of facts, and this last issue involves a determination of factual
matters.