Article 8 on judicial decisions as part of the legal system

Under Article 8 of the New Civil Code, "Judicial decisions applying or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system of the Philippines."

The above provision addresses the age-old issue as to whether the President is mandated by the Constitution to follow the decisions of the Supreme Court or of the lower courts. After the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Dred Scott v. Standford which held, among others, that freeing slaves would be deprivation of the property of slaveowners without due process of law, then President Abraham Lincoln interposed a strong opposition emphasizing on his being a "co-equal branch of the government" and that there are three elements of a judicial decision to be mandatory for the President to follow:
  1. The decision must be constitutional;
  2. The holding must have been repeated in other cases so it can be considered a doctrine; and
  3. The principle laid down must be consistent with other branches of government.
Obviously, these three elements can cause a constitutional crisis because such a view can lead to the political branches, especially the President, ignoring the Supreme Court's interpretation of the law.

To remedy the above, Article 8 exists to mandate the President to enforce the decision of the Highest Court. Since the President's function is to implement the law and there is no provision in the Constitution that mandates the President to follow Supreme Court rulings, Congress, in enacting the Civil Code, sought it necessary to codify the unwritten rule that such rulings form part of the legal system and, therefore, such rulings must be implemented by the President and his subordinates as a matter of legal duty.

Decisions of the Supreme Court, although in themselves not laws, are nevertheless evidence of what the laws mean, and this is the reason why under, Article 8 of the New Civil Code, "Judicial decisions applying or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system."

The interpretation upon a law attaches from (or retroacts to) its enactment and effectivity because the High Court's construction or interpretation merely establishes the contemporaneous legislative intent that the law thus construed intends to effectuate. Even if the legislative intent absolutely cannot be determined or identified, the judicial interpretation of the law establishes what the law should mean in view of the Constitution which is read into each law.

The settled rule supported by numerous authorities is a restatement of the legal maxim "legis interpretatio legis vim obtinet" which means "the interpretation placed upon the written law by a competent court has the force of law."

Therefore, in the case of People v. Jabinal, the Supreme Court said that the doctrine laid down in People v. Macarandang (1959) and People v. Lucero (1958) was part of the jurisprudence. Hence, such was part of the law of the land at the time appellant was found in possession of the firearm in question and when he was arraigned by the trial court. It is true that the doctrine was overruled in the People v. Mapa case in 1967, but when a doctrine of the Court is overruled and a different view is adopted, the new doctrine should be applied prospectively, and should not apply to parties who had relied on the old doctrine and acted on the faith thereof.  This is specially true in the construction and application of criminal laws, where it is necessary that the punishability of an act be reasonably foreseen for the guidance of society.

Article 8 also supports the principle of stare decisis which states that similar factual backdrops should be decided with similar cases decided in the past. Since previous jurisprudence forms part of the legal system, the Supreme Court is generally bound to apply the same ruling or conclusion upon cases with the same facts. In other words, the answer to issues raised in a case must refer to answers previously given in other cases. This is consistent with the equal protection clause of the 1987 Constitution.

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