Civil Code enables democracy (Article 32)

The 1987 Constitution has self-executing provisions and those which are not. Those which are not self-executing require an enabling law.
Although provisions under the Bill of Rights are self-executing (not requiring enabling laws), they are only enforceable against the Government, the Constitution being a contract against the Sovereign Filipino People and the Government of the Philippine Islands. Nevertheless, the New Civil Code of the Philippines (Republic Act No. 386) upholds many of the provisions of the Bill of Rights even in private law.

According to the Code Commission, democracy is upheld under the New Civil Code. "It may at first sight seem strange that a civil code should concern itself with democracy, which it may be argued, is properly a matter for a political code. But democracy being more than a mere form of government, affecting as it does, the very foundations of human life and happiness, cannot be overlooked by an integral civil code, particularly since the last two world wars which showed all too tragically that democracy as a way of life must be inculcated into the hearts and minds of men and women." (Report of the Code Commission, p. 28)

Guided by the explanation above, the Commission wrote Article 32, thus:
Any public officer or employee, or any private individual, who directly or indirectly obstructs, defeats, violates or in any manner impedes or impairs any of the following rights and liberties of another person shall be liable to the latter for damages:

(1) Freedom of religion; [NOTE: Thus, any person who physically prohibits another from the free exercise of the latter's religious beliefs or religious speech shall be liable not only criminally but also civilly.]

(2) Freedom of speech;

(3) Freedom to write for the press or to maintain a periodical publication;

(4) Freedom from arbitrary or illegal detention;

(5) Freedom of suffrage;

(6) The right against deprivation of property without due process of law;

(7) The right to a just compensation when private property is taken for public use;

(8) The right to the equal protection of the laws;

(9) The right to be secure in one's person, house, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures;

(10) The liberty of abode and of changing the same;

(11) The privacy of communication and correspondence;

(12) The right to become a member of associations or societies for purposes not contrary to law;

(13) The right to take part in a peaceable assembly to petition the Government for redress of grievances;

(14) The right to be a free from involuntary servitude in any form;

(15) The right of the accused against excessive bail;

(16) The right of the accused to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to have a speedy and public trial, to meet the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witness in his behalf;

(17) Freedom from being compelled to be a witness against one's self, or from being forced to confess guilt, or from being induced by a promise of immunity or reward to make such confession, except when the person confessing becomes a State witness;

(18) Freedom from excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment, unless the same is imposed or inflicted in accordance with a statute which has not been judicially declared unconstitutional; and

(19) Freedom of access to the courts.

In any of the cases referred to in under Article 32, whether or not the defendant's act or omission constitutes a criminal offense, the aggrieved party has a right to commence an entirely separate and distinct civil action for damages, and for other relief. Such civil action shall proceed independently of any criminal prosecution (if the latter be instituted), and may be proved by a preponderance of evidence. The indemnity shall include moral damages. Exemplary damages may also be adjudicated. The responsibility herein set forth is not demandable from a judge unless his act or omission constitutes a violation of the Revised Penal Code or other penal statutes.

It is obvious that the purpose of Article 32 is to provide a protection to the deeply cherished rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and to impose a penalty for violation thereof. Its message is clear; no man may seek to violate those sacred rights with impunity. In times of great upheaval or of social and political stress, when the temptation is strongest to yield — borrowing the words of Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee — to the law of force rather than the force of law, it is necessary to remind ourselves that certain basic rights and liberties are immutable and cannot be sacrificed to the transient needs or imperious demands of the ruling power. (Aberca v. Ver, G.R. No. L-69866, April 15, 1988)

The rule of law must prevail, or else liberty will perish. Our commitment to democratic principles and to the rule of law compels us to reject the view which reduces law to nothing but the expression of the will of the predominant power in the community. "Democracy cannot be a reign of progress, of liberty, of justice, unless the law is respected by him who makes it and by him for whom it is made. Now this respect implies a maximum of faith, a minimum of Idealism. On going to the bottom of the matter, we discover that life demands of us a certain residuum of sentiment which is not derived from reason, but which reason nevertheless controls. (Aberca v. Ver, G.R. No. L-69866, April 15, 1988, citing Joseph Charmont, French Legal Philosophy, Mcmillan Co., New York, 1921, pp. 72-73)

The Code Commission deemed it necessary to hold not only public officers but also private individuals civilly liable for violation of the rights enumerated in Article 32 of the Civil Code. It is not necessary that the defendant under this Article should have acted with malice or bad faith, otherwise, it would defeat its main purpose, which is the effective protection of individual rights. It suffices that there is a violation of the constitutional right of the plaintiff. (G.R. NO. 141309, June 19, 2007)

Article 32 was patterned after the concept of "tort" in American law. A tort is a wrong, a tortious act which has been defined as the commission or omission of an act by one, without right, whereby another receives some injury, directly or indirectly, in person, property, or reputation. There are cases in which it has been stated that civil liability in tort is determined by the conduct and not by the mental state of the tortfeasor, and there are circumstances under which the motive of the defendant has been rendered immaterial. The reason sometimes given for the rule is that otherwise, the mental attitude of the alleged wrongdoer, and not the act itself, would determine whether the act was wrongful. Presence of good motive, or rather, the absence of an evil motive, does not render lawful an act which is otherwise an invasion of another’s legal right; that is, liability in tort is not precluded by the fact that defendant acted without evil intent. (G.R. NO. 141309, June 19, 2007)

The clear intention therefore of the legislature was to create a distinct cause of action in the nature of tort for violation of constitutional rights, irrespective of the motive or intent of the defendant. This is a fundamental innovation in the Civil Code, and in enacting the Administrative Code of 1987 (Executive Order No. [EO] 292) pursuant to the exercise of legislative powers, then President Corazon C. Aquino could not have intended to obliterate this constitutional protection on civil liberties. (G.R. NO. 141309, June 19, 2007)

Sections 38 and 39, Book I of the Administrative Code provide:

Section 38. Liability of Superior Officers. -

(1) A public officer shall not be civilly liable for acts done in the performance of his official duties, unless there is a clear showing of bad faith, malice or gross negligence.

(2) Any public officer who, without just cause, neglects to perform a duty within a period fixed by law or regulation, or within a reasonable period if none is fixed, shall be liable for damages to the private party concerned without prejudice to such other liability as may be prescribed by law.

(3) A head of a department or a superior officer shall not be civilly liable for the wrongful acts, omissions of duty, negligence, or misfeasance of his subordinates, unless he has actually authorized by written order the specific act or misconduct complained of.

Section 39. Liability of Subordinate Officers. -No subordinate officer or employee shall be civilly liable for acts done by him in good faith in the performance of his duties. However, he shall be liable for willful or negligent acts done by him which are contrary to law, morals, public policy and good customs even if he acted under orders or instructions of his superiors.

In Aberca v. Ver (G.R. No. L-69866, April 15, 1988), it was held that with the enactment of Article 32, the principle of accountability of public officials under the Constitution acquires added meaning and assumes a larger dimension. No longer may a superior official relax his vigilance or abdicate his duty to supervise his subordinates, secure in the thought that he does not have to answer for the transgressions committed by the latter against the constitutionally protected rights and liberties of the citizen. Part of the factors that propelled people power in February 1986 was the widely held perception that the government was callous or indifferent to, if not actually responsible for, the rampant violations of human rights. While it would certainly be too naive to expect that violators of human rights would easily be deterred by the prospect of facing damage suits, it should nonetheless be made clear in no uncertain terms that Article 32 of the Civil Code makes the persons who are directly, as well as indirectly, responsible for the transgression, joint tortfeasors. (G.R. NO. 141309, June 19, 2007)

On the other hand, Sections 38 and 39, Book I of the Administrative Code, laid down the rule on the civil liability of superior and subordinate public officers for acts done in the performance of their duties. For both superior and subordinate public officers, the presence of bad faith, malice, and negligence are vital elements that will make them liable for damages. Note that while said provisions deal in particular with the liability of government officials, the subject thereof is general, i.e., "acts" done in the performance of official duties, without specifying the action or omission that may give rise to a civil suit against the official concerned. (G.R. NO. 141309, June 19, 2007)

On the contrary, Article 32 of the Civil Code specifies in clear and unequivocal terms a particular specie of an "act" that may give rise to an action for damages against a public officer, and that is, a tort for impairment of rights and liberties. Indeed, Article 32 is the special provision that deals specifically with violation of constitutional rights by public officers. All other actionable acts of public officers are governed by Sections 38 and 39 of the Administrative Code. While the Civil Code, specifically, the Chapter on Human Relations is a general law, Article 32 of the same Chapter is a special and specific provision that holds a public officer liable for and allows redress from a particular class of wrongful acts that may be committed by public officers. Section 38 of the Administrative Code broadly deals with civil liability arising from errors in the performance of duties while Article 32 of the Civil Code is more specific. (G.R. NO. 141309, June 19, 2007)

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