Notes on Separation of Powers


Here are notes you may find useful in your study of "separation of powers," a concept in political law (Constitutional Law 1).

[1] The general rule is separation of powers. Every branch of government has exclusive prerogative and jurisdiction within its own sphere. Other branches cannot encroach upon its powers and discretion. Basically, "Huwag mo akong pakialaman. Powers ko 'to."

[2] This principle applies not only to the Three Great Branches but also to all bodies created by the Constitution such as the Commission on Election (COMELEC), the Commission on Audit (COA), the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Office of the Ombudsman, among others.

[3] Reading Angara v. Electoral Commission alone is sufficient to understands the basics of this principle. However, it must be noted that there are cases in which the Supreme Court declared the validity or invalidity of government actions, invoking separation of powers, to the great surprise of some legal experts. One such case is Estipona v. Judge Lobrigo.

[4] In Estipona, the Supreme Court held a provision in RA 9165 unconstitutional for violating the principle of separation of powers. The Court said that rule-making power is within the exclusive function of the Judiciary and the provision in said law banning plea-bargaining is unconstitutional. In short, the rule on plea-bargaining is purely procedural in nature and only the Supreme Court can promulgate rules as to who can or cannot avail thereof.

[5] Let us go back to Angara v. Electoral Commission. According to this case, the separation of powers is a fundamental principle in our system of government. It obtains not through express provision but by actual division in our Constitution. Each department of the government has exclusive cognizance of matters within its jurisdiction, and is supreme within its own sphere.

[6] However, it does not follow from the fact that the three powers are to be kept so separate and distinct that the Constitution intended them to be absolutely unrestrained and independent of each other. Exceptions to this principle are: [a] checks and balances; [b] delegation of powers; and [c] commingling or blending of powers.

[7] An example of checks and balances is this. The Chief Executive checks Congress in its enactment of laws by vetoing it. There is blending of powers, on the other hand, if the President signs the bill so it becomes a law.

[8] Despite the President's veto powers, Congress can check him/her. The bill may still become a law despite the President's refusal to approve it, by an overriding vote.

[9] Congress operates as a check on the Executive in the sense that its consent through its Commission on Appointments is necessary in the appointments of certain officers; and the concurrence of a majority of all its members is essential to the conclusion of treaties.

[10] Congress, to a certain extent, checks the Judiciary. It has the power to determine what courts other than the Supreme Court shall be established, to define their jurisdiction and to appropriate funds for their support.

[11] Congress also exercises the judicial power of trying impeachments.

[12] The Judiciary, in turn, with the Supreme Court as the final arbiter, effectively checks the other departments in the exercise of its power to determine the law, and hence to declare executive and legislative acts void if violative of the Constitution.

THE SUPREME COURT DETERMINES
WHETHER THERE IS VIOLATION OF THE
PRINCIPLE OF SEPARATION OF POWERS

[13] Is there such thing as judicial supremacy? The answer is no. It must be remembered that, whenever the Supreme Court declares a government action invalid for being contrary to constitutional provisions or principles, it does not assert its supremacy over other branches of government. It is still equal with the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. It simply asserts its duty to insist upon the supremacy of the Constitution.

[14] The Constitution is a definition of the powers of government. Who is to determine the nature, scope and extent of such powers? The Constitution itself has provided for the instrumentality of the judiciary as the rational way. And when the judiciary mediates to allocate constitutional boundaries, it does not assert any superiority over the other departments; it does not in reality nullify or invalidate an act of the legislature, but only asserts the solemn and sacred obligation assigned to it by the Constitution to determine conflicting claims of authority under the Constitution and to establish for the parties in an actual controversy the rights which the Constitution secures and guarantees to them.

COMELEC AND OTHER CONSTITUTIONAL
BODIES ENJOY THE BENEFITS
OF SEPARATION OF POWERS

[15] Here's a summary of the conclusions of the Supreme Court in the Angara case:

[a] That the government established by the Constitution follows fundamentally the theory of separation of power into the legislative, the executive and the judicial.
[b] That the system of checks and balances and the overlapping of functions and duties often makes difficult the delimitation of the powers granted.
[c] That in cases of conflict between the several departments and among the agencies thereof, the judiciary, with the Supreme Court as the final arbiter, is the only constitutional mechanism devised finally to resolve the conflict and allocate constitutional boundaries.
[d] That judicial supremacy is but the power of judicial review in actual and appropriate cases and controversies, and is the power and duty to see that no one branch or agency of the government transcends the Constitution, which is the source of all authority.
[e] That the Electoral Commission (now COMELEC) is an independent constitutional creation with specific powers and functions to execute and perform, closer for purposes of classification to the legislative than to any of the other two departments of the governments. In short, the Supreme Court held that Congress cannot enact laws that will encroach upon the prerogatives and proceedings of COMELEC.

LEGISLATIVE VETO IS
UNCONSTITUTIONAL

[16] From the moment the law becomes effective, any provision of law that empowers Congress or any of its members to play any role in the implementation or enforcement of the law violates the principle of separation of powers and is thus unconstitutional. Under this principle, a provision that requires Congress or its members to approve the implementing rules of a law after it has already taken effect shall be unconstitutional, as is a provision that allows Congress or its members to overturn any directive or ruling made by the members of the executive branch charged with the implementation of the law. (Abakada Guro Party List v. Hon. Cesar V. Purisima; August 14, 2008)

[17] Any action or step beyond that will undermine the separation of powers guaranteed by the Constitution. Legislative vetoes fall in this class. Legislative veto is a statutory provision requiring the President or an administrative agency to present the proposed implementing rules and regulations of a law to Congress which, by itself or through a committee formed by it, retains a "right" or "power" to approve or disapprove such regulations before they take effect.

[18] Legislative vetoes are a violation of the principle of separation of powers because, the moment Congress passes a law, its work is done. It is up to the Executive Branch to implement the same. Hence, a law requiring the President to submit to Congress, for approval, any proposed implementing rules, shall be invalid to that extent.

THE POWER TO TRANSFER FUNDS
WITHIN THE EXECUTIVE IS OKAY BUT
SOME ASPECTS OF DAP VIOLATE THE
PRINCIPLE OF SEPARATION OF POWERS

[19] Araullo v. Aquino (G.R. No. 209287, February 3, 2015) is the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) case under President Noynoy. By allowing to the heads of offices some power to transfer funds within their respective offices, the Constitution itself ensures the fiscal autonomy of their offices, and at the same time maintains the separation of powers among the three main branches of the Government. The Court has recognized this, and emphasized so in Bengzon v. Drilon, viz: The Judiciary, the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman must have the independence and flexibility needed in the discharge of their constitutional duties. The imposition of restrictions and constraints on the manner the independent constitutional offices allocate and utilize the funds appropriated for their operations is anathema to fiscal autonomy and violative not only of the express mandate of the Constitution but especially as regards the Supreme Court, of the independence and separation of powers upon which the entire fabric of our constitutional system is based.

[20] In the Araullo case, the Supreme Court declared the following aspects of DAP unconstitutional:

[a] The withdrawal of unobligated allotments from the implementing agencies, and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the General Appropriations Acts;
[b] The cross-border transfers of the savings of the Executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the Executive; and
[c] The funding of projects, activities and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the General Appropriations Act.

[21] What you should remember is that the power of the purse (to decide budget) is within the power of Congress. For the Executive to deviate from the budget law (General Appropriations Act) would be a violation of the principle of separation of powers. What the President should spend on should be covered by the budget law.

PORK BARREL IS
UNCONSTITUTIONAL

[22] Pork barrel is a system where legislators are allotted budget they can use to launch projects (bridges, schools, etc.) in their respective districts. This system or practice was declared unconstitutional for violating the principle of separation of powers in the case of Belgica v. Ochoa, Jr. (710 SCRA 1; 2013).

[23] Remember that Congress creates laws. For example, via a law, it decides the budget of the government for a year and it is up to the President to implement the law by using said allotted budget. However, the defining feature of all forms of Congressional Pork Barrel would be the authority of legislators to participate in the post-enactment phases of project implementation.

[24] After enacting the budget law, legislators should have their hands off project implementations. This is the job of the President.

[25] Congress or any of its members to play any role in the implementation or enforcement of the law violates the principle of separation of powers and is thus unconstitutional. That the said authority is treated as merely recommendatory in nature does not alter its unconstitutional tenor since the prohibition, to repeat, covers any role in the implementation or enforcement of the law.

JUDICIAL QUESTIONS AND
POLITICAL QUESTIONS

[26] Judicial questions are those issues and controversies that can be brought to court for adjudication.

[27] Political questions are those issues and controversies that are left to the discretion and sound judgment of the political branches of government: the Executive and the Legislative. Courts shy away from resolving or passing upon political questions because they are discretionary unless there has been grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.

[28] In short, "Hangga't di umaabuso ang Presidente at ang Kongreso, hindi makikialam ang Korte Suprema sa mga political questions."

[29] An example of a political question is the enactment of a law. Only Congress can decide whether or not to submit a bill to the President for approval. Also, only the President can decide whether to sign or veto a bill. Hence, the Supreme Court cannot interfere with these decisions. If it does, there would be a violation of the principle of separation of powers.

[30] Whether to prosecute a person is the prerogative of the President via the Department of Justice (DOJ). This is discretionary. Courts cannot compel a prosecutor to prosecute. However, courts can compel him to exercise his discretion (whether or not to prosecute) if he fails to exercise. In short, it is as if the Supreme Court saying, "Fiscal, 'di kita puwedeng pilitin kung isasampa mo ba 'yang kaso o hindi. Pero, puwede kitang apurahin na mag-desisyon kung kukupadkupad ka."

[31] In Casibang v. Aquino (92 SCRA 642), the Supreme Court held, "political questions should refer to such as would under the Constitution be decided by the people in their sovereign capacity or in regard to which full discretionary authority is vested either in the President or Congress. It is thus beyond the competence of the judiciary to pass upon." Hence, in said case, the Court said that determining who won in an election dispute is a judicial question, not a political question.

[32] Despite the Casibang case, note that, under the 1987 Constitution, electoral tribunals exist. We have the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) for the President and the Vice-President. We have the SET for the Senate and the HRET for the House of Representatives. Hence, electoral protests in cases of senators, congressmen, the President and the Vice-President are initially not judicial questions in the sense that these issues are not to be resolved by courts. But then again, if there is grave abuse of discretion, courts can always be resorted to.

WHETHER AN ISSUE IS POLITICAL OR
JUDICIAL IS A MATTER OF JURISDICTION

[33] If an issue is political in nature, courts cannot and will not take cognizance of the case as a form of respect. This respect is mandated by the principle of separation of powers.

[34] In Daza v. Singson (180 SCRA 496), the Supreme Court held: "The term political question connotes, in legal parlance, what it means in ordinary parlance, namely, a question of policy. In other words, ... it refers to those questions which, under the Constitution, are to be decided by the people in their sovereign capacity, or in regard to which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the Legislature or executive branch of the Government. It is concerned with issues dependent upon the wisdom, not legality, of a particular measure."

[35] An exception to this rule is under Article VIII. "Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government."

[36] Another exception is the doctrine of transcendental importance. This is applicable when the case involves "transcendental importance to the public of these cases demands that they be settled promptly and definitely brushing aside, if we must, technicalities of procedure"

[37] In the Daza case, Daza wanted to question Singson's right to sit as a member of the Commission on Appointments. It was argued that this is a political question, dealing as it does with the wisdom or discretion of the House in the choice of its representatives. However, the Supreme Court treated the case as a petition for quo warranto because of the grave-abuse-of-discretion rule and the transcendental importance doctrine.
THE PRINCIPLE OF SEPARATION OF POWERS
CANNOT BE INVOKED IN CASES OF QUESTIONS
OF CONSTITUTIONALITY OF LAWS

[38] In Demetria v. Alba (148 SCRA 208, 1987), the principle of separation of powers was used by the government to defend an unconstitutional law. The Supreme Court said that the principle cannot be relied upon in this case.

[39] Indeed, where the legislature or the executive branch is acting within the limits of its authority, the judiciary cannot and ought not to interfere with the former. But where the legislature or the executive acts beyond the scope of its constitutional powers, it becomes the duty of the judiciary to declare what the other branches of the government had assumed to do as void.

[40] Public respondents are being enjoined from acting under a provision of law which has earlier been declared to be constitutionally infirm. The general principle relied upon cannot therefore accord them the protection sought as they are not acting within their "sphere of responsibility" but outside of it.

[41] The Demetria case also touched upon delegation of powers. "Paragraph 1 of Section 44 of P.D. No. 1177 unduly over extends the privilege granted under said Section 16[5]. It empowers the President to indiscriminately transfer funds from one department, bureau, office or agency of the Executive Department to any program, project or activity of any department, bureau or office included in the General Appropriations Act or approved after its enactment, without regard as to whether or not the funds to be transferred are actually savings in the item from which the same are to be taken, or whether or not the transfer is for the purpose of augmenting the item to which said transfer is to be made. It does not only completely disregard the standards set in the fundamental law, thereby amounting to an undue delegation of legislative powers, but likewise goes beyond the tenor thereof. Indeed, such constitutional infirmities render the provision in question null and void."

THE PRINCIPLE OF SEPARATION
OF POWERS PREVENTS TYRANNY

[42] It is said that, when all powers of government are concentrated in one person or one department, there is tyranny.

[43] The reason for the doctrine of separation of powers is to assure liberty, no one branch being enabled to arrogate unto itself the whole power to govern and thus in a position to impose its unfettered will. If it were so, the rights of the individual could with impunity be disregarded; he could be placed at its mercy. The three departments are coordinate and co-equal, each having exclusive cognizance of matters within its jurisdiction and supreme in its own sphere. That is to guarantee independence, no interference being allowed on matters left to the exclusive concern of each. Much less is control by only one of the three departments of any or both of the others permissible. (A.M. No. 198-J May 31, 1971; FERNANDO, J., concurring)

[44] Judges should stay away from administrative work within the Executive or the Legislative Branch. They should remain within the judicial machinery. (Garcia v. Macaraig, 39 SCRA 106)

JUDGES CANNOT ASSUME
NON-JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS

[45] While the doctrine of separation of powers is a relative theory not to be enforced with pedantic rigor, the practical demands of government precluding its doctrinaire application, it cannot justify a member of the judiciary being required to assume a position or perform a duty non-judicial in character. That is implicit in the principle. Otherwise there is a plain departure from its command. The essence of the trust reposed in him is to decide. Only a higher court, as was emphasized by Justice Barredo, can pass on his actuation. He is not a subordinate of an executive or legislative official, however eminent. It is indispensable that there be no exception to the rigidity of such a norm if he is, as expected, to be confined to the task of adjudication. Fidelity to his sworn responsibility no less than the maintenance of respect for the judiciary can be satisfied with nothing less. (In Re: Manzano, 166 SCRA 246, 1988)

COURTS CANNOT ALTER THE PENALTY FOR A CRIME BUT CAN INCREASE OR DECREASE CIVIL INDEMNITY

[46] Verily, the primordial duty of the Court is merely to apply the law in such a way that it shall not usurp legislative powers by judicial legislation and that in the course of such application or construction, it should not make or supervise legislation, or under the guise of interpretation, modify, revise, amend, distort, remodel, or rewrite the law, or give the law a construction which is repugnant to its terms. The Court should apply the law in a manner that would give effect to their letter and spirit, especially when the law is clear as to its intent and purpose. Succinctly put, the Court should shy away from encroaching upon the primary function of a co-equal branch of the Government; otherwise, this would lead to an inexcusable breach of the doctrine of separation of powers by means of judicial legislation.

[47] Moreover, it is to be noted that civil indemnity is, technically, not a penalty or a Fine; hence, it can be increased by the Court when appropriate. (Lito Corpuz v. People; G.R. No. 180016, April 29, 2014)

COURTS CANNOT DISCIPLINE
CIVIL REGISTRARS

[48] The Local Government Code (RA 7160) gives the power of administrative supervision over civil registrars to the municipal and city mayors of the respective local government units. Under the “faithful execution clause” embodied in Section 455(b)(1)(x) and Section 444(b)(1)(x) of the Local Government Code, in relation to Section 479 under Article IX, Title V of the same Code, the municipal and city mayors of the respective local government units, in addition to their power to appoint city or municipal civil registrars are also given ample authority to exercise administrative supervision over civil registrars. (Mamiscal v. Abdullah; 761 SCRA 39, 2015; A.M. No. SCC-13-18-J)

COURTS CANNOT AMEND THE LAW

[49] The Court cannot amplify the scope of RA No. 9903 on the ground of equal protection, and acquit the petitioner and other delinquent employers like him; it would in essence be an amendment of RA No. 9903, an act of judicial legislation abjured by the trias politica principle. (Mendoza v. People; 659 SCRA 68, 2011)

[50] "Trias politica principle" refers to the doctrine of separation of powers.

PROSECUTION OF CRIMINALS
IS NOT A JUDICIAL FUNCTION

[51] Under the doctrine of separation of powers, the courts have no right to directly decide matters over which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the Executive Branch of the Government, or to substitute their own judgments for that of the Executive Branch, represented in this case by the Department of Justice. The settled policy is that the courts will not interfere with the executive determination of probable cause for the purpose of filing an information, in the absence of grave abuse of discretion. That abuse of discretion must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law or to act at all in contemplation of law, such as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or hostility. For instance, in Balanganan v. Court of Appeals, Special Nineteenth Division, Cebu City, the Court ruled that the Secretary of Justice exceeded his jurisdiction when he required "hard facts and solid evidence" in order to hold the defendant liable for criminal prosecution when such requirement should have been left to the court after the conduct of a trial. (Metrobank v. Tobias; GR No. 177730, January 25, 2012)

THE COA HAS COMPLETE DISCRETION;
LIKE THE COMELEC, IT BENEFITS FROM
THE PRINCIPLE OF SEPARATION OF POWERS

[52] The COA is generally accorded complete discretion in the exercise of its constitutional duty and responsibility to examine and audit expenditures of public funds, particularly those which are perceptibly beyond what is sanctioned by law. Verily, the Court has sustained the decisions of administrative authorities like the COA as a matter of general policy, not only on the basis of the doctrine of separation of powers but also upon the recognition that such administrative authorities held the expertise as to the laws they are entrusted to enforce. The Court has accorded not only respect but also finality to their findings especially when their decisions are not tainted with unfairness or arbitrariness that would amount to grave abuse of discretion. (Nazareth v. Villar; GR No. 188635, January 29, 2013)

THE SUPREME COURT HAS
DISCIPLINARY POWERS
OVER COURT EMPLOYEES
AND PERSONNEL

[53] However, the legislative policy as embodied in Republic Act No. 9165 in deterring dangerous drug use by resort to sustainable programs of rehabilitation and treatment must be considered in light of this Courts constitutional power of administrative supervision over courts and court personnel. The legislative power imposing policies through laws is not unlimited and is subject to the substantive and constitutional limitations that set parameters both in the exercise of the power itself and the allowable subjects of legislation. As such, it cannot limit the Courts power to impose disciplinary actions against erring justices, judges and court personnel. Neither should such policy be used to restrict the Courts power to preserve and maintain the Judiciary's honor, dignity and integrity and public confidence that can only be achieved by imposing strict and rigid standards of decency and propriety governing the conduct of justices, judges and court employees. (Office of the Court Administrator v. Reyes; A.M. No. P-08-2535, 23 June 2010)

THE SUPREME COURT IS
NOT PRECLUDED FROM QUESTIONING
THE PRESIDENT'S ACT IF ITS VALIDITY
OR CONSTITUTIONALITY IS AN ISSUE

[54] The classical separation of governmental powers, whether viewed in the light of the political philosophy of Aristotle, Locke, or Montesquieu, or of the postulations of Mabini, Madison, or Jefferson, is a relative theory of government There is more truism and actuality in interdependence than in independence and separation of powers, for as observed by Justice Holmes in a case of Philippine origin, we cannot lay down "with mathematical precision and divide the branches into watertight compartments" not only because "the great ordinances of the Constitution not establish and divide fields of black and white" but also because "even the more specific of them are found to terminate in a penumbra shading gradually from one extreme to the other." (Springer v. Government [1928], 277 U. S., 189; 72 Law. ed., 846, 852; Planas v. Gil, 67 Phil 62)

[55] It must be conceded that the acts of the Chief Executive performed within the limits of his jurisdiction are his official acts and courts will neither direct nor restrain executive action in such cases. The rule is non-interference. But from this legal premise, it does not necessarily follow that we are precluded from making an inquiry into the validity or constitutionality of his acts when these are properly challenged in an appropriate legal proceeding. The classical separation of governmental powers, whether viewed in the light of the political philosophy of Aristotle, Locke, or contesquieu, or of the postulations of Mabini, Madison, or Jefferson, is a relative theory of government. There is more truism and actuality in interdependence than in independence and separation of powers, for as observed by Justice Holmes in a case of Philippine origin, we cannot lay down "with mathematical precision and divide the branches into watertight compartments" not only because "the great ordinances of the Constitution do not establish and divide fields of black and white" but also because "even the more specific of them are found to terminate in a penumbra shading gradually from one extreme to the other." (Springer vs Government [1928], 277 U. S., 189; 72 Law. ed., 845, 852.)

[56] As far as the judicially is concerned, while it holds ’neither the sword nor the purse" it is by constitutional placement the organ called upon to allocate constitutional boundaries, and to the Supreme court is entrusted expressly or by necessary implication the obligation of determining in appropriate cases the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, law, ordinance, or executive order or regulation. (Sec. 2 [1], Art. VIII, Constitution of the Philippines.) In this sense and to this extent, the judiciary restrains the other departments of the government and this result is one of the necessary corollaries of the "system of checks and balances" of the government established.

THE DETERMINATION OF JUST
COMPENSATION IN CASE OF EXPROPRIATION
IS A JUDICIAL FUNCTION; NEVERTHELESS,
THERE CAN BE EXECUTIVE OR LEGISLATIVE
INITIAL DETERMINATION

[57] The determination of just compensation is judicial in nature. (Heirs of Lorenzo v. Land Bank; G.R. No. 166461, April 30, 2010; Republic v. Gingoyon, 478 SCRA 474, 2005)

WHETHER OR NOT AMENDMENTS
OR REVISIONS FOLLOW PROPER
PROCEDURE IS A JUSTICIABLE QUESTION

[58] Political questions are neatly associated with the wisdom, of the legality of a particular act. Where the vortex of the controversy refers to the legality or validity of the contested act, that matter is definitely justiciable or non-political. What is in the heels of the Court is not the wisdom of the act of the incumbent President in proposing amendments to the Constitution, but his constitutional authority to perform such act or to assume the power of a constituent assembly.

[59] Whether the amending process confers on the President that power to propose amendments is therefore a downright justiciable question. Should the contrary be found, the actuation of the President would merely be a brutum fulmen. If the Constitution provides how it may be amended, the judiciary as the interpreter of that Constitution, can declare whether the procedure followed or the authority assumed was valid or not. (Sanidad v. Comelec, 73 SCRA 333)

[60] In short, the President cannot amend or revise the Constitution if such power is not granted to him by the Great Document. The Judicial Branch can always step in to question the President's act and he cannot invoke separation of powers.

COURTS CANNOT INTERFERE
WITH THE SENATE'S POWER
TO SUBPOENA IN AID OF 
LEGISTATION

[61] The principle of separation of powers essentially means that legislation belongs to Congress, execution to the Executive, and settlement of legal controversies to the Judiciary. Each is prevented from invading the domain of the others. When the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee served subpoena on respondent Flaviano to appear and testify before it in connection with its investigation of the alleged misuse and mismanagement of the AFP-RSBS funds, it did so pursuant to its authority to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation. This is clearly provided in Article VI, Section 21 of the Constitution, thus: "The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected."  (Senate Blue Ribbon Committee v. Majaducon; G.R. No. 13670, July 29, 2003)

QUESTION HOUR v.
INQUIRY IN AID OF
LEGISLATION

[62] A distinction was thus made between inquiries in aid of legislation and the question hour. While attendance is  meant to be discretionary in the question hour, it is compulsory in inquiries in aid of legislation. (Senate of the Philippines v. Ermita, 488 SCRA 1, 2006)

[63] That department heads may not be required to appear in a question hour does not, however, mean that the legislature is rendered powerless to elicit information from them in all circumstances. In fact, in light of the absence of a mandatory question period, the need to enforce Congress’ right to executive information in the performance of its legislative function becomes more imperative.

[64] Sections 21 and 22 of Article VI of the Constitution, therefore, while closely related and complementary to each other, should not be considered as pertaining to the same power of Congress. One specifically relates to the power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation, the aim of which is to elicit information that may be used for legislation, while the other pertains to the power to conduct a question hour, the objective of which is to obtain information in pursuit of Congress’ oversight function.

[65] President Arroyo issued an Executive Order (EO) which requires her approval in case her department heads are called by Congress to appear and testify. The requirement  to secure presidential consent under Section 1, limited as it is only to appearances in the question hour, is valid on its face. For under Section 22, Article VI of the Constitution, the appearance of department heads in the question hour is discretionary on their part.

[66] However, the requirement to secure presidential consent is void when it comes to appearances in inquiries in aid of legislation.

[67] When Congress exercises its power of inquiry, the only way for department heads to exempt themselves therefrom is by a valid claim of privilege. They are not exempt by the mere fact that they are department heads. Only one executive official may be exempted from this power — the President on whom executive power is vested, hence, beyond the reach of Congress except through the power of impeachment. It is based on her being the highest official of the executive branch, and the due respect accorded to a co-equal branch of government which is sanctioned by a long-standing custom.

[68] By the same token, members of the Supreme Court are also exempt from this power of inquiry. Unlike the Presidency, judicial power is vested in a collegial body; hence, each member thereof is exempt on the basis not only of separation of powers but also on the fiscal autonomy and the constitutional independence of the judiciary.

[69] To the extent that investigations in aid of legislation are generally conducted in public, however, any executive issuance tending to unduly limit disclosures of information in such investigations necessarily deprives the people of information which, being presumed to be in aid of legislation, is presumed to be a matter of public concern. The citizens are thereby denied access to information which they can use in formulating their own opinions on the matter before Congress — opinions which they can then communicate to their representatives and other government officials through the various legal means allowed by their freedom of expression.

COURTS CANNOT GRANT
CHANGE FROM ONE SEX
TO ANOTHER WITHOUT LAW
ALLOWING THE SAME

[70] When words are not defined in a statute they are to be given their common and ordinary meaning in the absence of a contrary legislative intent. The words "sex," "male" and "female" as used in the Civil Register Law and laws concerning the civil registry (and even all other laws) should therefore be understood in their common and ordinary usage, there being no legislative intent to the contrary. In this connection, sex is defined as "the sum of peculiarities of structure and function that distinguish a male from a female" or "the distinction between male and female."

[71] For these reasons, while petitioner may have succeeded in altering his body and appearance through the intervention of modern surgery, no law authorizes the change of entry as to sex in the civil registry for that reason. Thus, there is no legal basis for his petition for the correction or change of the entries in his birth certificate. (Silverio v. Republic, 537 SCRA 373, 2007)

IF THE APPOINTMENT OF
AN OFFICER VIOLATES CONSTITUTIONAL
MANDATES, IT IS NOT A POLITICAL QUESTION

[72] The term "political question" connotes, in legal parlance, what it means in ordinary parlance, namely, a question of policy. In other words, in the language of Corpus Juris Secundum (supra), it refers to "those questions which, under the Constitution, are to be decided by the people in their sovereign capacity, or in regard to which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the Legislature or executive branch of the Government." It is concerned with issues dependent upon the wisdom, not legality, of a particular measure.

[73] In Tanada v. Cuenco (103 Phil. 1051), the Supreme Court was called upon to decide whether the election of Senators Cuenco and Delgado, by the Senate, as members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal, upon nomination by Senator Primicias - a member and spokesman of the party having the largest number of votes in the Senate - on behalf of its Committee on Rules, contravenes the constitutional mandate that said members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal shall be chosen "upon nomination... of the party having the second largest number of votes" in the Senate, and hence, is null and void. This is not a political question. The Senate is not clothed with "full discretionary authority" in the choice of members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal. The exercise of its power thereon is subject to constitutional limitations which are claimed to be mandatory in nature. It is clearly within the legitimate prove of the judicial department to pass upon the validity the proceedings in connection therewith.

FOREIGN POLICY IS NOT
A JUDICIAL QUESTION

[74] The foreign policy prerogatives of the Executive Branch are unlimited.

[75] The Executive must be given ample discretion to assess the foreign policy considerations of espousing a claim against Japan. (Vinuya v. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 162230, August 13, 2014)

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