Respect the Philippine Constitution

Published February 11, 2021, 12:42 AM

by Senator Francis Tolentino

Senator Francis N. Tolentino

(On February 8, 2021, Senator Francis N. Tolentino spoke on the Senate floor as he voted no to Senate Bill No. 1886.)

I vote NO, not because I am against Senate Bill No. 1866, which seeks to further expand the jurisdiction of the first-level and second-level courts. I vote NO because of my unsettling feeling that we are violating the Constitution when we allow the Supreme Court to determine the jurisdiction of the courts by giving it additional legislative power to set its own threshold amounts, thereby going beyond the supreme law of the land, our Constitution.

The language of the Constitution is clear. Article VIII, Section 2, provides that “Congress shall have the power to define, prescribe, and apportion the jurisdiction of the various courts but may not deprive the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction over cases enumerated in Sec. 5 hereof.” Thus, Article VIII, Sec. 5 of the Constitution provides: “[t]he Supreme Court shall have the following powers: (1) Exercise original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus; (2) Review, revise, reverse, modify, or affirm on appeal or certiorari, as the law or the Rules of Court may provide, final judgments and orders of lower courts in: (a) All cases in which the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation is in question; (b) All cases involving the legality of any tax, impost, assessment, or toll, or any penalty imposed in relation thereto; (c) All cases in which the jurisdiction of any lower court is in issue; (d) All criminal cases in which the penalty imposed is reclusion perpetua or higher; (e) All cases in which only an error or question of law is involved; (3) Assign temporarily judges of lower courts to other stations as public interest may require. Such temporary assignment shall not exceed six months without the consent of the judge concerned; (4) Order a change of venue or place of trial to avoid a miscarriage of justice; (5) Promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the Integrated Bar, and legal assistance to the underprivileged. Such rules shall provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases, shall be uniform for all courts of the same grade, and shall not diminish, increase, or modify substantive rights. Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court; (6) Appoint all officials and employees of the Judiciary in accordance with the Civil Service Law.”

I searched and re-read, over and over again, our Constitution. Simply stated, the Constitution does not allow a re-allocation of powers. Only the Constitution can do that. We should always refer to the language and text of the Constitution itself. Thus, in the 18 articles of the Philippine Constitution, nowhere was Congress allowed to surrender or delegate a portion or any of its allocated power in favor of the Supreme Court.

The legal maxim “delegatus non potest delegare,” which can be alternatively stated as “potestas delegata non delegari potest,” means “what has been delegated cannot be delegated.” It is based on the ethical principle that such delegated power constitutes not only a right but a duty to be performed by the delegate through the instrumentality of his own judgment and not through the intervening mind of another. When the Filipino people delegated the power to define, prescribe, and apportion the jurisdiction of the various courts to the Congress, what they gave is not just power but also a duty together with their trust and confidence that the Congress will not shrink from this duty.

Senate Bill No. 1886, insofar as it grants the power to the Supreme Court to change the jurisdictions of first-level courts and second-level courts, is unconstitutional as it entails the delegation of the congressional power to enact, amend, and repeal laws, a clear legislative function of Congress. This is contrary to the clear allocation of powers by the will of the people, through the Constitution, among the three co-equal branches of the government. I have yet to encounter a text within the Constitution, empowering any of the three branches of the government to allocate powers given to them by the Constitution. With this bill, we are, in effect, amending the Constitution in an improper manner not found in the Constitution. We cannot do so. We are not allowed to do so as the Constitution forbids the same!

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states that “[t]he Philippines is a democratic and republican state.” One of the embodiments of republicanism is the separation of powers among the three co-equal branches of government, namely the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The principle of separation of powers is fundamentally important in every republic as this provides for the system of checks and balances – making sure that none of the three branches would gain too much power – which may lead to tyranny and the death of our democracy.

In Pangasinan Transportation Co. v. Public Service Commission, the Supreme Court recognized that “[t]he separation of powers constitutes one of the most important principles of a contemporary liberal democracy and the rule of law. It requires the allocation of governmental authority to separate institutions consisting of, at least in principle, separate individuals. Each institution may then serve as a check on the actions of the other institutions.”

In Biraogo v. Philippine Truth Commission of 2010, the Highest Tribunal pronounced that “[t]he separation of powers is a fundamental principle in our system of government.  This principle is one of the cornerstones of our constitutional democracy and it cannot be eroded without endangering our government. The Constitution divides governmental power into three co-equal branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. It delineates the powers of the three branches: the legislature is generally limited to the enactment of laws, the executive department to the enforcement of laws, and the judiciary to their interpretation and application to cases and controversies. Each branch is independent and supreme within its own sphere and the encroachment by one branch on another is to be avoided at all costs.”

This long line of jurisprudence reminds us that we should not go beyond the text of the Constitution. What is written there should be observed as sacred as the fundamental law of the land. The Constitution is the text and the language of the people and the embodiment of their aspirations. The Constitution should be adhered to not because it is descriptive. The Constitution should be followed not because it is normative. Rather, the Constitution should be observed because it is operative.

The Constitution should be obeyed because it is the fundamental and paramount law of the Republic of the Philippines. In fact, the Constitution is the supreme law. Thus, when it gave the Congress the power to make laws, only the Constitution can take it away or allocate said power or a portion thereof to another branch. This doctrine is firmly rooted in the text, history, and structure of the Constitution itself. The Constitution, enacted by the sovereign Filipino people, is superior to all statutes the Congress may enact and can only be amended in a manner provided for by the text of the Constitution itself.

The Constitution is our textual democratic center. We should respect the Constitution. It is its text and language we should be reading, and our interpretation should always make reference to the language of the Constitution. The Constitution, a document coming from the People, is authoritative.

Mr. President, I reiterate my vote against Senate Bill No. 1866 because like the members of the Executive, when they took their oath of office; like the members of the Judiciary when they assumed office as judges and justices; and like the members of the Congress – congressmen and senators – when we assumed office, we swore to uphold, defend, and protect the Philippine Constitution. I vote NO, Mr. President because I am defending and protecting the Philippine Constitution. It is my sacred duty.