Before proceeding to resolve the issue of the constitutionality of Executive Order No. 1, the Court needs to ascertain whether the requisites for a valid exercise of its power of judicial review are present.
Like almost all powers conferred by the Constitution, the power of judicial review is subject to limitations, to wit: (1) there must be an actual case or controversy calling for the exercise of judicial power; (2) the person challenging the act must have the standing to question the validity of the subject act or issuance; otherwise stated, he must have a personal and substantial interest in the case such that he has sustained, or will sustain, direct injury as a result of its enforcement; (3) the question of constitutionality must be raised at the earliest opportunity; and (4) the issue of constitutionality must be the very lis mota of the case.
A final word
The issue that seems to take center stage at present is – whether or not the Supreme Court, in the exercise of its constitutionally mandated power of Judicial Review with respect to recent initiatives of the legislature and the executive department, is exercising undue interference. Is the Highest Tribunal, which is expected to be the protector of the Constitution, itself guilty of violating fundamental tenets like the doctrine of separation of powers? Time and again, this issue has been addressed by the Court, but it seems that the present political situation calls for it to once again explain the legal basis of its action lest it continually be accused of being a hindrance to the nation’s thrust to progress.
The Philippine Supreme Court, according to Article VIII, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, is vested with Judicial Power that “includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave of abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.”
Furthermore, in Section 4(2) thereof, it is vested with the power of judicial review which is the power to declare a treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation unconstitutional. This power also includes the duty to rule on the constitutionality of the application, or operation of presidential decrees, proclamations, orders, instructions, ordinances, and other regulations. These provisions, however, have been fertile grounds of conflict between the Supreme Court, on one hand, and the two co-equal bodies of government, on the other. Many times the Court has been accused of asserting superiority over the other departments.
To answer this accusation, the words of Justice Laurel would be a good source of enlightenment, to wit: “And when the judiciary mediates to allocate constitutional boundaries, it does not assert any superiority over the other departments; it does not in reality nullify or invalidate an act of the legislature, but only asserts the solemn and sacred obligation assigned to it by the Constitution to determine conflicting claims of authority under the Constitution and to establish for the parties in an actual controversy the rights which that instrument secures and guarantees to them.”
Thus, the Court, in exercising its power of judicial review, is not imposing its own will upon a co-equal body but rather simply making sure that any act of government is done in consonance with the authorities and rights allocated to it by the Constitution. And, if after said review, the Court finds no constitutional violations of any sort, then, it has no more authority of proscribing the actions under review. Otherwise, the Court will not be deterred to pronounce said act as void and unconstitutional.
It cannot be denied that most government actions are inspired with noble intentions, all geared towards the betterment of the nation and its people. But then again, it is important to remember this ethical principle: “The end does not justify the means.” No matter how noble and worthy of admiration the purpose of an act, but if the means to be employed in accomplishing it is simply irreconcilable with constitutional parameters, then it cannot still be allowed. The Court cannot just turn a blind eye and simply let it pass. It will continue to uphold the Constitution and its enshrined principles.
“The Constitution must ever remain supreme. All must bow to the mandate of this law. Expediency must not be allowed to sap its strength nor greed for power debase its rectitude.”
Lest it be misunderstood, this is not the death knell for a truth commission as nobly envisioned by the present administration. Perhaps a revision of the executive issuance so as to include the earlier past administrations would allow it to pass the test of reasonableness and not be an affront to the Constitution. Of all the branches of the government, it is the judiciary which is the most interested in knowing the truth and so it will not allow itself to be a hindrance or obstacle to its attainment. It must, however, be emphasized that the search for the truth must be within constitutional bounds for “ours is still a government of laws and not of men.”
WHEREFORE, the petitions are GRANTED. Executive Order No. 1 is hereby declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL insofar as it is violative of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
As also prayed for, the respondents are hereby ordered to cease and desist from carrying out the provisions of Executive Order No. 1.