The president’s right to privacy

Like any normal human being, President Marcos Jr. deserves rest and recreation. He can spend his free time accordingly but in accordance with the law.

While my family and I were vacationing in beautiful Laos over the weekend, the President took a much-deserved break and watched the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Singapore. The political gadflies and internet trolls, as expected, went into overdrive. Maliciously, they called it a junket. I consider it a jaunt and a business trip rolled into one. Some well-meaning administration supporters also expressed concern over the supposed negative optics of the trip.

So what? It has been my reaction to the hullabaloo. Public figures have the right to privacy and family life. Like any normal human being, President Marcos Jr. deserves rest and recreation. He can spend his free time accordingly but in accordance with the law. Of course, the chief executive is expected to render services beyond official working hours, particularly in times of crisis.

Formula 1 diplomacy

The Philippine-Singapore ties have gone from strength to strength in recent years. In 2021, Singapore became the country’s top foreign investor as it infused US$716 million into our pandemic and calamity-hit economy. Last September, the President’s official visit to our wealthy Southeast Asian neighbor yielded US$6.5 billion in investment pledges.

I consider the President’s recent business and pleasure trip as a follow-through. I call it “F1 diplomacy” that only a skilled politician like him can pull off. Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles described the trip as productive. Singaporean Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng, via a Facebook post, confirmed that he met with PBBM and other foreign dignitaries on the sidelines of the F1 race. The discussion centered on boosting our economic relations, energy cooperation, and manpower policy collaboration.

Again, I reiterate that the President is entitled to private life. Not every piece of information about or related to him is for public consumption.

The President has nothing to answer for as long as public funds were not used or wasted on the Singapore trip. How he spends his weekends or private time is none of our business. As I recall, former President Duterte would go home to Davao City on weekends. But it was a non-issue to the media and the general public.

I would like to cite Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home, and his correspondence.” In 2004, the European Court of Human Rights cited this provision in its ruling in the Hannover vs. Germany case. Monaco Princess Caroline von Hannover filed for an injunction before the Court against two German newspapers that wanted to publish old photos of hers wearing a bathing suit.

The Strasbourg Court ruled in favor of Princess Caroline, saying that the publications violated Article 8 of ECHR because they did not reflect any matter of public interest in the accompanying text (Global Expression of Freedom). The Court said that everyone, including people known to the public, had to have a “legitimate expectation” that his or her private life would be protected (Council of Europe).
Therefore, there is a limit to media and public intrusion on the lives of public officials, well-known personalities, and celebrities.

Missing Administrative No. 1?

During my vacation, I also discussed the status of the Office of the Presidential Chief Staff with my social media followers. Last week, retired Supreme Court chief justice Lucas Bersamin took his oath as the new Executive Secretary of PBBM. He replaced Atty. Victor Rodriguez, who was reportedly appointed Presidential Chief of Staff pursuant to Administrative Order No. 1.

To my knowledge, this AO has yet to be officially published. So, now what?

I checked with the Official Gazette, the official journal of the Philippine Republic, and the Office of the National Administrative Register, the official repository of all government-issued implementing rules and regulations. The AO is non-existent on both government websites. What is the legal implication of this?

Under the 1987 Administrative Code: “Laws shall take effect after fifteen (15) days following the completion of their publication in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation unless it is otherwise provided.” On its website, the Gazette states that the publication of any law, resolution, or other official documents shall be prima facie evidence of its authority. Thus, all presidential issuances — from decrees to orders — must be published in full before they become valid and binding.

In the case of Diokno vs Tuvera, petitioners led by the late Senator Lorenzo Tanada sought a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court. This was to compel the respondent public officials to publish presidential decrees, letters of instructions, general orders, proclamations, executive orders, letters of implementation, and administrative orders in the Official Gazette. The High Court ruled that the people have the Constitutional right to be informed on matters of public interest and that presidential issuances of general application, which have not been published, shall have no force and effect.

Therefore, without the published AO, there is no official Presidential Chief of Staff in Malacañang. I also fully agree with Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce-Enrile’s view that it would be counterproductive to resurrect the said position and grant it additional authority. The overlapping of functions between the offices of the executive secretary and chief of staff would only invite a turf war.

But don’t get me wrong. I have nothing personal against Atty. Rodriguez, who formally invited me to run as senator under the UniTeam banner. As a key official of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, he was at the forefront of PBBM’s election campaign. The former ES was on the receiving end of every brick and mud hurled by our political opponents.

As PBBM’s spokesperson, he parried the low blow. He might have committed lapses in judgment as an ES. Given his skill set, however, I hope the administration would give him another opportunity to serve the people in another capacity.

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