Can Supreme Court compel Congress to pass anti-dynasty law?



At the inaugural of the Kapihan sa Manila Prince Hotel we hosted last week with former Press Secretary Sonny Coloma, the topic focused on the issue of political dynasties that has dominated our political landscape in the past 37 years despite being banned by the 1987 Constitution.

The guests at the first-ever newsmakers’ forum at the Manila Prince Hotel, a luxury hotel in the heart of the business district of the nation’s capital, were top legal luminaries: Atty. Rico V. Domingo, former president of the Philippine Bar Association, and former Supreme Court Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna.

The two gave invaluable insights on Article 2, Section 26 of the Philippine Constitution which provides: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Our discussion focused mainly on these questions: Is Congress duty-bound to pass a law prohibiting political dynasties? Considering that Congress has not done so for more than three decades, can the Supreme Court, in an appropriate case, intervene and order Congress to pass an anti-dynasty law as stated in the 1987 Constitution. 

Let me first give a backgrounder. In 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed two petitions asking to compel Congress to pass a law that would make effective the constitutional ban on political dynasties. The SC said it cannot do so because that would “violate the principle of separation of powers among the three branches of government.”

But the legal luminaries at Kapihan sa Manila Prince Hotel thought otherwise, and their views supported the idea that there would be no violation of the separation of powers, and that both the Supreme Court and Congress could even be deemed to be remiss in their duties for not making effective the constitutional provision. In other words, both Congress and the Supreme Court are duty-bound to follow what the highest law of the land says.

Justice Ascuna said the mere fact that such provision banning political dynasties is stated in Article 2, the Declaration of Principles and State Policies — and not in other Articles that describe the functions and duties of each of the three branches of government — means the provision is directed to the entire State, to all branches of government.

“Under our system on separation of powers, enactment of laws is a prerogative of Congress under Article 6 of the Constitution, execution of laws is the prerogative of the President (Executive Branch) under Article 7, and interpretation of laws is prerogative of the Judiciary under Article 8… But the provision we are talking about is neither stated in the said Articles, but in Article 2 — the very basic and fundamental policies that should govern the entire State,” he explained.

Citing jurisprudence (Angara vs. Comelec), Justice Ascuna further explained: “When the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution and decides the allocation of power between or among the different branches of government, it is not because the Supreme Court or Judiciary is superior to Congress or the President. Rather, it is because the Constitution is superior to all of them and the Supreme Court is only interpreting and applying the Constitution.”

Some argue that the phrase “may be defined by law” in the Constitution could mean Congress is not obligated—because it may or may not do so. To this, here’s what Justice Ascuna said: “Since the definition (of what political dynasties are) is a necessary part of effective prohibition, it can be argued that definition is equally a mandated duty under the provision even though it says ‘as may be defined by law.’”

Atty. Domingo, who filed last March a petition for mandamus with the High Court “to address the nagging questions on justiciability and separation of powers,” explained that the issue on separation of powers “would not be pertinent because this is actually a duty that Congress has to undertake.”

Explaining the crux of his petition, he said: “The Supreme Court itself has a constitutional duty under Article 8 to act. What is the action? To compel Congress to do its constitutional duty to pass a law prohibiting political dynasties and defining what they are.”

Atty. Domingo stressed: “The duty is upon the Supreme Court now to compel Congress to do a mandatory ministerial duty which is actually required by the Constitution itself, so it’s a constitutional issue, and therefore the Supreme Court, with all due respect, has the duty to adjudicate this issue right now.”

He said waiting for another 37 years for Congress to act on the anti-dynasty law can be so frustrating. Thus, the Supreme Court needs to do its part.

A study of political dynasties by Ronald Mendoza, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, which analyzed the composition of Congress and local officials elected in 2013 revealed that “75 percent of district representatives, 85 percent of governors, and 66.67 percent of mayors could be considered as dynastic; that political dynasties tend to dominate the major political parties; and that candidates from political dynasties register larger winning ratios compared to non-dynastic candidates.”

Other studies show that the proliferation of political families holding political power in simultaneous, successive, or overlapping terms can be synonymous with massive poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, bad governance and many other ills. Thus, making effective the constitutional ban on political dynasties is of utmost necessity. ([email protected]