CURRENT SOCIAL CONCERNS
Elpidio V. Peria
27 October 2012
National newspapers yesterday carried reports of another group filing a mandamus suit against the Senate and the House of Representatives and as reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “requiring them to enact a law prohibiting and defining political dynasties as mandated by Article II, sec. 26 of the Philippine Constitution”, and the petitioners were well-known personalities led by ex-Vice-President Teofisto Guingona.
This suit follows another suit filed the previous week by a certain Luis Biraogo which sought to compel the COMELEC to implement the same Constitutional provision.
This piece will only look at whether the Supreme Court can compel a co-equal branch to pass a law which is called for by the Constitution.
For a clearer perspective, the Constitutional provision in question reads as follows : “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
First thing that must be noted in this provision is that what is declared state policy is the guarantee of equal access to opportunities for public service and the prohibition of political dynasties, and its definition including the operationalization of the said provision is left for Congress to enact.
Second thing about this provision is the word “may” which precedes “be defined by law” indicating that Congress can choose not to do anything about it as it is not really mandatory for it to act on this mandate.
Compelling Congress to pass the anti-dynasty law is quite a tall order considering that even petitioner ex-VP Guingona cited a study which said that of the identified 584 public officials from 1946 to 1963, they came from 169 prominent families. These include producing seven Presidents, two Vice-presidents, 42 senators, and 147 congressmen.
Surely, the heavy presence of political dynasties in the legislature would ensure these people will not do something against their own self-interest, public service be damned.
Even Constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas in his Commentary on the 1987 Constitution (1996 edition) noted that “But since Congress is the principal playground of political dynasties, the realization of the dream of Commissioner Sarmiento, that the provision on political dynasties would widen access to political opportunities, will very probably be exhaustingly long in coming.”
Philippine Supreme Court decisions dating back from 1924 in the famous case of Alejandrino v. Quezon (yes, the first Commonwealth President) states that :
Mandamus will not lie against the legislative body, its members, or its officers, to compel the performance of duties purely legislative in their character which therefore pertain to their legislative, functions and over which they have exclusive control. The courts cannot dictate action in this respect without a gross usurpation of power.
In the more recent case of Antoniette V.C. Montesclaros, et.al. v. COMELEC, et.al. (G.R. No. 152295, July 2, 2002) the Supreme Court further elaborated on what the separation of powers between the Supreme Court and the Philippine Congress would mean:
Under the separation of powers, the Court cannot restrain Congress from passing any law, or from setting into motion the legislative mill according to its internal rules. Thus, the following acts of Congress in the exercise of its legislative powers are not subject to judicial restraint: the filing of bills by members of Congress, the approval of bills by each chamber of Congress, the reconciliation by the Bicameral Committee of approved bills, and the eventual approval into law of the reconciled bills by each chamber of Congress. Absent a clear violation of specific constitutional limitations or of constitutional rights of private parties, the Court cannot exercise its power of judicial review over the internal processes or procedures of Congress.23
The Court has also no power to dictate to Congress the object or subject of bills that Congress should enact into law. The judicial power to review the constitutionality of laws does not include the power to prescribe to Congress what laws to enact.
In this case, the Supreme Court resisted a similar mandamus petition to enact a law allowing petitioners, regardless of their age, to vote and be voted for in the July 15, 2002 SK elections. The Supreme Court explained why :
To do so would destroy the delicate system of checks and balances finely crafted by the Constitution for the three co-equal, coordinate and independent branches of government.
All these recent petitions before the Supreme Court would most likely be dismissed, given these precedents from previous Supreme Court cases on the same issue, unless the petitioners would present a novel argument that has not been confronted by the Supreme Court before.
COMELEC Commissioner Sarmiento, who authored the anti-dynasty provision when he was then a member of the Constitutional Commission, suggested a people’s initiative under Republic Act 6735, which requires, according to him, as reported in The Daily Tribune, a petition that must first be drafted by any NGOs or accredited people’s organization and signed by at least 10 percent of the total number the registered voters in every legislative district.
If there will be no NGO or people’s organization that will initiate this petition now, perhaps it will take forever for this Constitutional provision to become real. If this is so, the people should just not vote candidates who come from known families and vote instead for unknowns.
Can this be done? Pinoys are well-known to be parochial when abroad, what’s a vote between friends and relatives, isn’t that a mere affirmation of our closeness to each other?