Umali v. JBC (G.R. No. 228628. July 25, 2017)


CASE DIGEST: [G.R. No. 228628, July 25, 2017]. REP. REYNALDO V. UMALI, IN HIS CAPACITY AS CHAIRMAN OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE AND EX OFFICIO MEMBER OF THE JBC, PETITIONER, VS. THE JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL, CHAIRED BY THE HON. MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO, CHIEF JUSTICE AND EX OFFICIO CHAIRPERSON, RESPONDENT.

FACTS: Rep. Reynaldo V. Umali, current Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice, impugns the present-day practice of six-month rotational representation of Congress in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) for it unfairly deprives both Houses of Congress of their full participation in the said body. The aforementioned practice was adopted by the JBC in light of the ruling in Chavez v. Judicial and Bar Council.

As an overview, in Chavez, the constitutionality of the practice of having two representatives from both houses of Congress with one vote each in the JBC, thus, increasing its membership from seven to eight, was challenged. With that, the Court examined the constitutional provision that states the composition of the JBC, that is, Section 8(1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, which reads:
SECTION 8. (1) A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the Supreme Court composed of the Chief Justice as ex officio Chairman, the Secretary of Justice, and a representative of the Congress as ex officio Members, a representative of the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, a retired Member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector. (Emphasis supplied.)
Following a painstaking analysis, the Court, in a Decision dated July 17, 2012, declared the said practice of having two representatives from Congress with one vote each in the JBC unconstitutional. The Court enunciated that the use of the singular letter "a" preceding "representative of the Congress" in the aforequoted provision is unequivocal and leaves no room for any other construction or interpretation. The same is indicative of the Framers' intent that Congress may designate only one representative to the JBC.

In light of Chavez, both Houses of Congress agreed on a six-month rotational representation in the JBC, wherein the House of Representatives will represent Congress from January to June and the Senate from July to December. This is now the current practice in the JBC.

ISSUE: Is this six-month rotational representation in the JBC constitutional? Does it weaken Congress itself as a bicameral department?

HELD: It is not unconstitutional. It does NOT weaken Congress. WHEREFORE, the instant Petition is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit.

Before delving into the above-stated issues, the Court noted that the Petition was primarily filed because of the non-counting of the petitioner's votes in the JBC En Banc deliberations last December 2 and 9, 2016 held for the purpose of determining, among others, who will be the possible successors of the then retiring Associate Justices of the Supreme Court Perez and Brion, whose retirements were set on December 14 and 29, 2016, respectively.

As a rule, courts do not entertain moot questions. Nevertheless, considering that all the arguments herein once again boil down to the proper interpretation of the 1987 Constitution on congressional representation in the JBC, mootness cannot stop the Petition.

Having said that, this Court shall now resolve the issues in seriatim.

On petitioner's locus standi. The legal standing of each member of Congress was also upheld in Philippine Constitution Association v. Enriquez. It is clear therefrom that each member of Congress has a legal standing to sue even without an enabling resolution for that purpose so long as the questioned acts invade the powers, prerogatives and privileges of Congress.On the application of Chavez as stare decisis in this case. Stare decisis et non quieta movere. This principle of adherence to precedents has not lost its luster and continues to guide the bench in keeping with the need to maintain stability in the law. The doctrine is based on the principle that once a question of law has been examined and decided, it should be deemed settled and closed to further argument.

Here, the facts are exactly the same as in Chavez, where this Court has already settled the issue of interpretation of Section 8(1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution. Truly, such ruling may not be unanimous, but it is undoubtedly a reflection of the wisdom of the majority of members of this Court on that matter. Chavez cannot simply be regarded as an erroneous application of the questioned constitutional provision for it merely applies the clear mandate of the law, that is, Congress is entitled to only one representative in the JBC in the same way that its co-equal branches are.

As the Court declared in Chavez, Section 8(1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution is clear, categorical and unambiguous. Thus, it needs no further construction or interpretation. Time and time again, it has been repeatedly declared by this Court that where the law speaks in clear and categorical language, there is no room for interpretation, only application.

SUGGESTED READINGS:

[1] Tala Realty Services Corp. v. Banco Filipino Savings and Mortgage Bank, G.R. No. 132051, June 25, 2001, 359 SCRA 469.
[2] G.R. No. 202242, July 17, 2012, 676 SCRA 579
[3] Chavez v. Judicial and Bar Council, G.R. No. 202242, April 16, 2013, 696 SCRA 496.
[4] Lu v. Lu YM, Sr., G.R. Nos. 153690, 157381 & 170889, August 26, 2008, 563 SCRA 254, 273.
[5] Imbong v. Ochoa, Jr., G.R. Nos. 204819, 204934, 204957, et al., April 8, 2014, 721 SCRA 146, 283.
[6] Lozano v. Nograles, G.R. Nos. 187883 & 187910, June 16, 2009, 589 SCRA 356, 360.
[7] G.R. Nos. 160261-160263, et al., November 10, 2003, 415 SCRA 44, 136-137.
[8] G.R. Nos. 113105, 113174, 113766, et al., August 19, 994, 235 SCRA 506.
[9] G.R. No. 161596, February 20, 2013, 691 SCRA 269, 286.
[10] Yee v. Bernabe, G.R. No. 141393, April 19, 2006, 487 SCRA 385, 394.
[11] G.R. No. 205728, January 21, 2015, 747 SCRA 1.
[12] G.R. No. 187094, February 15, 2017.
[13] The Diocese of Bacohd v. Commission on Elections.
[14] Araullo v. Aquino III, G.R. Nos. 209287, 209135-209136, et al., July 1, 2014, 728 SCRA 1, 72.
[15] Bordomeo v. Court of Appeals.
[16] Araullo v. Aquino III.
[17] Villanueva v. Judicial and Bar Council, G.R. No. 211833, April 7, 2015, 755 SCRA 182, 198.
[18] Partido ng Manggagawa v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 164702, March 15, 2006, 484 SCRA 671, 684.
[19] Mallari v. Banco Filipino Savings and Mortgage, G.R. No. 157660, August 29, 2008, 563 SCRA 664, 671.
[20] Villanueva v. Judicial and Bar Council.
[21] Lazatin v. Desierto, G.R. No. 147097, June 5, 2009, 588 SCRA 285, 293-295.
[22] Barcellano v. BaƱas, G.R. No. 165287, September 14, 2011, 657 SCRA 545, 554.
[23] Chavez v. Judicial and Bar Council.

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