Deep-seated rules on “locus standi” or legal standing

The OSG attacks the legal personality of the petitioners-legislators to file their petition for failure to demonstrate their personal stake in the outcome of the case.  It argues that the petitioners have not shown that they have sustained or are in danger of sustaining any personal injury attributable to the creation of the PTC. Not claiming to be the subject of the commission’s investigations, petitioners will not sustain injury in its creation or as a result of its proceedings.[20]

The Court disagrees with the OSG in questioning the legal standing of the petitioners-legislators to assail Executive Order No. 1. Evidently, their petition primarily invokes usurpation of the power of the Congress as a body to which they belong as members.  This certainly justifies their resolve to take the cudgels for Congress as an institution and present the complaints on the usurpation of their power and rights as members of the legislature before the Court. As held in Philippine Constitution Association v. Enriquez,[21]

To the extent the powers of Congress are impaired, so is the power of each member thereof, since his office confers a right to participate in the exercise of the powers of that institution.

An act of the Executive which injures the institution of Congress causes a derivative but nonetheless substantial injury, which can be questioned by a member of Congress.  In such a case, any member of Congress can have a resort to the courts.

Indeed, legislators have a legal standing to see to it that the prerogative, powers and privileges vested by the Constitution in their office remain inviolate.  Thus, they are allowed to question the validity of any official action which, to their mind, infringes on their prerogatives as legislators.[22]

With regard to Biraogo, the OSG argues that, as a taxpayer, he has no standing to question the creation of the PTC and the budget for its operations.[23]  It emphasizes that the funds to be used for the creation and operation of the commission are to be taken from those funds already appropriated by Congress. Thus, the allocation and disbursement of funds for the commission will not entail congressional action but will simply be an exercise of the President’s power over contingent funds.

As correctly pointed out by the OSG, Biraogo has not shown that he sustained, or is in danger of sustaining, any personal and direct injury attributable to the implementation of Executive Order No. 1. Nowhere in his petition is an assertion of a clear right that may justify his clamor for the Court to exercise judicial power and to wield the axe over presidential issuances in defense of the Constitution.  The case of David v. Arroyo[24] explained the deep-seated rules on locus standi. Thus:

Locus standi is defined as “a right of appearance in a court of justice on a given question.”  In private suits, standing is governed by the “real-parties-in interest” rule as contained in Section 2, Rule 3 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended. It provides that “every action must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party in interest.”  Accordingly, the “real-party-in interest” is “the party who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit or the party entitled to the avails of the suit.” Succinctly put, the plaintiff’s standing is based on his own right to the relief sought.

The difficulty of determining locus standi arises in public suits. Here, the plaintiff who asserts a “public right” in assailing an allegedly illegal official action, does so as a representative of the general public.   He may be a person who is affected no differently from any other person.  He could be suing as a “stranger,” or in the category of a “citizen,” or ‘taxpayer.”  In either case, he has to adequately show that he is entitled to seek judicial protection.   In other words, he has to make out a sufficient interest in the vindication of the public order and the securing of relief as a “citizen” or “taxpayer.

Case law in most jurisdictions now allows both “citizen” and “taxpayer” standing in public actions.   The distinction was first laid down in Beauchamp v. Silk, where it was held that the plaintiff in a taxpayer’s suit is in a different category from the plaintiff in a citizen’s suit.  In the former, the plaintiff is affected by the expenditure of public funds, while in the latter, he is but the mere instrument of the public concern.   As held by the New York Supreme Court in People ex rel Case v. Collins: “In matter of mere public right, however…the people are the real parties…It is at least the right, if not the duty, of every citizen to interfere and see that a public offence be properly pursued and punished, and that a public grievance be remedied.”   With respect to taxpayer’s suits, Terr v. Jordan held that “the right of a citizen and a taxpayer to maintain an action in courts to restrain the unlawful use of public funds to his injury cannot be denied.”

However, to prevent just about any person from seeking judicial interference in any official policy or act with which he disagreed with, and thus hinders the activities of governmental agencies engaged in public service, the United State Supreme Court laid down the more stringent “direct injurytest in Ex Parte Levitt, later reaffirmed in Tileston v. Ullman. The same Court ruled that for a private individual to invoke the judicial power to determine the validity of an executive or legislative action, he must show that he has sustained a direct injury as a result of that action, and it is not sufficient that he has a general interest common to all members of the public.

This Court adopted the “direct injury” test in our jurisdiction.   In People v. Vera, it held that the person who impugns the validity of a statute must have “a personal and substantial interest in the case such that he has sustained, or will sustain direct injury as a result.”  The Vera doctrine was upheld in a litany of cases, such as, Custodio v. President of the Senate, Manila Race Horse Trainers’ Association v. De la FuentePascual v. Secretary of Public Works and Anti-Chinese League of the Philippines v. Felix. [Emphases included. Citations omitted]

Notwithstanding, the Court leans on the doctrine that “the rule on standing is a matter of procedure, hence, can be relaxed for nontraditional plaintiffs like ordinary citizens, taxpayers, and legislators when the public interest so requires, such as when the matter is of transcendental importance, of overreaching significance to society, or of paramount public interest.”[25]

Thus, in Coconut Oil Refiners Association, Inc. v. Torres,[26] the Court held that in cases of paramount importance where serious constitutional questions are involved, the standing requirements may be relaxed and a suit may be allowed to prosper even where there is no direct injury to the party claiming the right of judicial review.  In the first Emergency Powers Cases,[27] ordinary citizens and taxpayers were allowed to question the constitutionality of several executive orders although they had only an indirect and general interest shared in common with the public.

The OSG claims that the determinants of transcendental importance[28] laid down in CREBA v. ERC and Meralco[29] are non-existent in this case.  The Court, however, finds reason in Biraogo’s assertion that the petition covers matters of transcendental importance to justify the exercise of jurisdiction by the Court.  There are constitutional issues in the petition which deserve the attention of this Court in view of their seriousness, novelty and weight as precedents. Where the issues are of transcendental and paramount importance not only to the public but also to the Bench and the Bar, they should be resolved for the guidance of all.[30] Undoubtedly, the Filipino people are more than interested to know the status of the President’s first effort to bring about a promised change to the country.  The Court takes cognizance of the petition not due to overwhelming political undertones that clothe the issue in the eyes of the public, but because the Court stands firm in its oath to perform its constitutional duty to settle legal controversies with overreaching significance to society.

About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
This entry was posted in Definitions, Legal Standing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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