I believe that it is best that lawyers explain to us what Neri v. Ermita means. However, that doesn’t – and shouldn’t – deter us mere laymen from perusing the said decision, comprehending what the justices wanted to say (and hide, obfuscate, or justify), understanding what the decision meant, and analyzing its impact on our daily lives and on our country.
I will try to summarize the decision in several posts.
Romulo Neri testified before the Senate Blue Ribbon, Trade, and Defense Committees about the aborted National Broadband Network. He was asked several questions, but refused to answer three questions:
a)Whether the President followed up the (NBN) project?
b)Were you dictated to prioritize the ZTE?
c)Whether the President said to go ahead and approve the project after being told about the alleged bribe?
He refused to answer these questions, citing executive privilege. He then refused to attend subsequent hearings. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita instead sent a letter stating the claim of executive privilege:
Maintaining the confidentiality of conversations of the President is necessary in the exercise of her executive and policy decision making process. The expectation of a President to the confidentiality of her conversations and correspondences, like the value which we accord deference for the privacy of all citizens, is the necessity for protection of the public interest in candid, objective, and even blunt or harsh opinions in Presidential decision-making. Disclosure of conversations of the President will have a chilling effect on the President, and will hamper her in the effective discharge of her duties and responsibilities, if she is not protected by the confidentiality of her conversations.
The context in which executive privilege is being invoked is that the information sought to be disclosed might impair our diplomatic as well as economic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Given the confidential nature in which these information were conveyed to the President, he cannot provide the Committee any further details of these conversations, without disclosing the very thing the privilege is designed to protect.
Because of his refusal to attend the committee hearings, an arrest order was issued against Neri. He then filed a petition to the Supreme Court to stop the Senate from compelling him to answer the three questions, and to revoke the arrest order.
I have converted the decision by Justice de Castro and the dissent by Chief Justice Puno into PDF. You can get them here: