SC dismisses petition seeking to compel gov’t to hold mass testing for COVID-19

(Eagle News) — The Supreme Court has dismissed the petition seeking to compel the government to, among others, conduct mass testing for COVID-19.

In junking the petition filed by the Citizens Urgent Response to End COVID-19 led by former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, the en banc noted that courts had no authority to issue a writ of mandamus without a demonstration that an official in the executive branch failed to perform his or her mandatory, non-discretionary duty.

According to the en banc, 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 of judgment.

Further, the SC said the petitioners failed to exhaust all administrative remedies, noting that they still had recourse to government offices which the respondents represent before going to the SC.

Named as respondents in the petition were Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, National Task Force on COVID-19 head Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, NTF vice chair Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Inter-Agency Task Force members Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III; and Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the country’s COVID-19 action plan.

The SC added a plain and speedy remedy existed, which was to request for particular information under Executive Order No. 2 s. 2016 which operationalizes the right to information and implements the Constitutional policy of full public disclosure of all government transactions involving public interest.

The SC said there was, however, no showing in the group’s petition that they indeed exhausted all administrative remedies before seeking the High Court’s intervention.

Apart from mass testing for COVID-19, the petitioners asked the SC to compel the government to conduct efficient contact tracing and isolation, and effective treatment of positive cases.