Verba legis & the Constitution

To determine the merits of the issues raised in the instant petitions, the Supreme Court has, necessarily, turned to the Constitution itself and has employed well-settled principles of constitutional construction. They are the following:

[1] Verba legis;
[2] Ratio legis est anima; and
[3] Ut magis valeat quam pereat.
Verba legis, that is, wherever possible, the words used in the Constitution must be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed. Thus, in J.M. Tuason & Co., Inc. v. Land Tenure Administration, the Court, speaking through Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, declared:

We look to the language of the document itself in our search for its meaning. We do not of course stop there, but that is where we begin. It is to be assumed that the words in which constitutional provisions are couched express the objective sought to be attained. They are to be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed in which case the significance thus attached to them prevails.

As the Constitution is not primarily a lawyer's document, it being essential for the rule of law to obtain that it should ever be present in the people's consciousness, its language as much as possible should be understood in the sense they have in common use. What it says according to the text of the provision to be construed compels acceptance and negates the power of the courts to alter it, based on the postulate that the framers and the people mean what they say. Thus these are the cases where the need for construction is reduced to a minimum. (Francisco vs. House of Representatives; G.R. No. 160261; November 10, 2003)

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