SC dismisses petition seeking mass COVID-19 testing

Published September 16, 2020, 4:47 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed a petition which wanted the government to conduct “proactive and efficient” mass testing for COVID-19 and “release immediately accurate, timely, and complete information” on the drive against the pandemic.


Dismissed was the petition filed by a group led by former Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo through the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

A press release issued by the SC Public Information Office (PIO) stated that the petitioners failed to show that they are entitled to the issuance of a Writ of Mandamus to compel the government to, among others, conduct proactive COVID-19 mass testing.

Mandamus is a special civil action brought by an aggrieved party “against a tribunal, corporation, board, officer, or person unlawfully neglecting the performance of an act which the law specifically requires as a duty resulting from an office, trust, or station.”

Quoting from the SC resolution, a copy of which was not immediately available, the PIO said:

“In an En Banc resolution promulgated last Sept. 1 in G.R. No. 252556 (Taguiwalo, et al. v. Sec. Duque, et al.), the High Court held that courts have no authority to issue a Writ of Mandamus, no matter how dire the emergency, without a demonstration that an official in the executive branch failed to perform a mandatory, nondiscretionary duty.

“The job of the Court is to say what the law is and not to dictate how another branch of government should do its job.

“Mandamus, is an appropriate remedy only where the law prescribes and defines the duty to be performed with such precision and certainty as to leave nothing to the exercise of discretion or judgment.”

In its petition, Taguiwalo’s group told the SC that “it is the obligation and duty of the government, through its agencies, instrumentalities, and agents such as herein respondents, to protect the Filipinos’ right to health which is necessary to one’s fundamental right to life.”

“The omission of proactive and efficient mass testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a systematic and normalized violation of the right to health engenders the impairment of other human rights and liberties, such as the rights to travel, livelihood or work, education, and access to justice,” the group said.

On the release of “accurate, timely, and complete information” on COVID-19, the group said:

“Without accurate and timely information on the extent of community transmission of COVID-19, the government lacks proper grounds for any policy pronouncement. These irregularities lessen the confidence of the public in the ability of the Department of Health (and the government in general) to deal with the pandemic with transparency and integrity.”

In dismissing the petition, the PIO said the SC “held that petitioners failed to exhaust administrative remedies since they have recourse to the government offices which respondents represent.”

It pointed out that the SC found “there was no showing in their petition that they have exhausted administrative remedies.”

The PIO also said:

“A plain and speedy remedy exists. Petitioners may avail of the plain and speedy remedy of requesting for particular information under Executive Order No. 2, s. 2016 which operationalizes the people’s right to information and implements the Constitutional policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest, subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, in the Executive Branch.

“While the Court may direct the release of information when there is ministerial duty to do so, mandamus will not lie to compel the Executive Branch to provide such information in a certain manner.”