By Francis Allan L. Angelo

WHAT’S wrong with taking photographs of a public official’s property?

A legal luminary and former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said Tara Yap, photojournalist of The Daily Guardian, did not violate any law when she went near  the mansion of Iloilo Gov. Niel D. Tupas Sr. in MV Hechanova, Jaro, Iloilo City.

Atty. Hans Sayno said Yap did not violate Tupas’ privacy as she was outside the governor’s multimillion peso mansion while working on an investigative report assignment.

The Daily Guardian assigned Yap to check reports that a new structure was being constructed beside Tupas’ mansion. The building is believed to be the house of Nielette “Tweety” Tupas-Balleza, the governor’s only daughter, who works as an executive assistant at the Office of the Governor.

Sayno said the Constitution guarantees the people’s right to information, particularly the conduct and lifestyle of public officials and employees such as Gov. Tupas and Tupas-Balleza.

Sayno said if Yap took pictures of the Tupas residence outside its gates, “I don’t think she violated the privacy of the household.”

“Taking pictures of a house is just like looking at the building. In the case of a camera, the image is registered in the memory chip of the instrument. There is nothing wrong if you take pictures of a house, especially that of a public official,” Sayno said over Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo.

Sayno said the extent of the right to privacy of a public official is less compared to a private individual.

“The penumbra of a public official’s right to privacy is lower than that of a private person. Public officials should expect public scrutiny of their lifestyle and conduct. In the case of Tara Yap, she is a media practitioner and the Constitution guarantees her right to expression and press freedom,” Sayno said.

Sayno said Yap could have intruded the governor’s privacy if she went inside parts of the house which are normally not considered public.

“If Ms. Yap went to the bathroom of Gov. Tupas’ house and took pictures of his toothbrush and how he brushes his teeth, there might have been invasion of property. But if she was situated outside the house, she did not intrude the privacy of the house,” he added.

Atty. Dennis Ventilacion, legal counsel of The Daily Guardian, said Yap was working as a journalist when she went to the vicinity of Tupas’ mansion.

Ventilacion said public officials are subject to scrutiny, particularly their lifestyle, and must allow the public to look into their wealth as mandated by Republic Act No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).

RA 6713 also mandates that “public officials and employees and their families shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income. They shall not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”

Ventilacion said the acts of Tupas’ caretakers to grab Yap’s belongings and bring her inside the mansion against her will can be considered theft and illegal detention.

“If you restrain a person in a certain area against her will, that is illegal detention. If you grab her personal things without her permission, that is theft,” said Ventilacion who is a member of the IBP board of directors.

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