Truth Commission Violates Separation of Powers

Power of the President to Create the Truth Commission

In his memorandum in G.R. No. 192935, Biraogo asserts that the Truth Commission is a public office and not merely an adjunct body of the Office of the President.[31] Thus, in order that the President may create a public office he must be empowered by the Constitution, a statute or an authorization vested in him by law. According to petitioner, such power cannot be presumed[32] since there is no provision in the Constitution or any specific law that authorizes the President to create a truth commission.[33] He adds that Section 31 of the Administrative Code of 1987, granting the President the continuing authority to reorganize his office, cannot serve as basis for the creation of a truth commission considering the aforesaid provision merely uses verbs such as “reorganize,” “transfer,” “consolidate,” “merge,” and “abolish.”[34] Insofar as it vests in the President the plenary power to reorganize the Office of the President to the extent of creating a public office, Section 31 is inconsistent with the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution and must be deemed repealed upon the effectivity thereof.[35]

Similarly, in G.R. No. 193036, petitioners-legislators argue that the creation of a public office lies within the province of Congress and not with the executive branch of government.  They maintain that the delegated authority of the President to reorganize under Section 31 of the Revised Administrative Code: 1) does not permit the President to create a public office, much less a truth commission; 2) is limited to the reorganization of the administrative structure of the Office of the President; 3) is limited to the restructuring of the internal organs of the Office of the President Proper, transfer of functions and transfer of agencies; and 4) only to achieve simplicity, economy and efficiency.[36] Such continuing authority of the President to reorganize his office is limited, and by issuing Executive Order No. 1, the President overstepped the limits of this delegated authority.

The OSG counters that there is nothing exclusively legislative about the creation by the President of a fact-finding body such as a truth commission. Pointing to numerous offices created by past presidents, it argues that the authority of the President to create public offices within the Office of the President Proper has long been recognized.[37] According to the OSG, the Executive, just like the other two branches of government, possesses the inherent authority to create fact-finding committees to assist it in the performance of its constitutionally mandated functions and in the exercise of its administrative functions.[38] This power, as the OSG explains it, is but an adjunct of the plenary powers wielded by the President under Section 1 and his power of control under Section 17, both of Article VII of the Constitution.[39]

It contends that the President is necessarily vested with the power to conduct fact-finding investigations, pursuant to his duty to ensure that all laws are enforced by public officials and employees of his department and in the exercise of his authority to assume directly the functions of the executive department, bureau and office, or interfere with the discretion of his officials.[40] The power of the President to investigate is not limited to the exercise of his power of control over his subordinates in the executive branch, but extends further in the exercise of his other powers, such as his power to discipline subordinates,[41] his power for rule making, adjudication and licensing purposes[42] and in order to be informed on matters which he is entitled to know.[43]

The OSG also cites the recent case of Banda v. Ermita,[44] where it was held that the President has the power to reorganize the offices and agencies in the executive department in line with his constitutionally granted power of control and by virtue of a valid delegation of the legislative power to reorganize executive offices under existing statutes.

Thus, the OSG concludes that the power of control necessarily includes the power to create offices. For the OSG, the President may create the PTC in order to, among others, put a closure to the reported large scale graft and corruption in the government.[45]

The question, therefore, before the Court is this:  Does the creation of the PTC fall within the ambit of the power to reorganize as expressed in Section 31 of the Revised Administrative Code? Section 31 contemplates “reorganization” as limited by the following functional and structural lines: (1) restructuring the internal organization of the Office of the President Proper by abolishing, consolidating or merging units thereof or transferring functions from one unit to another; (2) transferring any function under the Office of the President to any other Department/Agency or vice versa; or (3) transferring any agency under the Office of the President to any other Department/Agency or vice versa.  Clearly, the provision refers to reduction of personnel, consolidation of offices, or abolition thereof by reason of economy or redundancy of functions.   These point to situations where a body or an office is already existent but a modification or alteration thereof has to be effected.  The creation of an office is nowhere mentioned, much less envisioned in said provision. Accordingly, the answer to the question is in the negative.

To say that the PTC is borne out of a restructuring of the Office of the President under Section 31 is a misplaced supposition, even in the plainest meaning attributable to the term “restructure”– an “alteration of an existing structure.”  Evidently, the PTC was not part of the structure of the Office of the President prior to the enactment of Executive Order No. 1. As held in Buklod ng Kawaning EIIB v. Hon. Executive Secretary,[46]

But of course, the list of legal basis authorizing the President to reorganize any department or agency in the executive branch does not have to end here. We must not lose sight of the very source of the power – that which constitutes an express grant of power. Under Section 31, Book III of Executive Order No. 292 (otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987), “the President, subject to the policy in the Executive Office and in order to achieve simplicity, economy and efficiency, shall have the continuing authority to reorganize the administrative structure of the Office of the President.” For this purpose, he may transfer the functions of other Departments or Agencies to the Office of the President. In Canonizado v. Aguirre [323 SCRA 312 (2000)], we ruled that reorganization “involves the reduction of personnel, consolidation of offices, or abolition thereof by reason of economy or redundancy of functions.” It takes place when there is an alteration of the existing structure of government offices or units therein, including the lines of control, authority and responsibility between them. The EIIB is a bureau attached to the Department of Finance. It falls under the Office of the President. Hence, it is subject to the President’s continuing authority to reorganize. [Emphasis Supplied]

In the same vein, the creation of the PTC is not justified by the President’s power of control. Control is essentially the power to alter or modify or nullify or set aside what a subordinate officer had done in the performance of his duties and to substitute the judgment of the former with that of the latter.[47]  Clearly, the power of control is entirely different from the power to create public offices. The former is inherent in the Executive, while the latter finds basis from either a valid delegation from Congress, or his inherent duty to faithfully execute the laws.

The question is this, is there a valid delegation of power from Congress, empowering the President to create a public office?

According to the OSG, the power to create a truth commission pursuant to the above provision finds statutory basis under P.D. 1416, as amended by P.D. No. 1772.[48] The said law granted the President the continuing authority to reorganize the national government, including the power to group, consolidate bureaus and agencies, to abolish offices, to transfer functions, to create and classify functions, services and activities, transfer appropriations, and to standardize salaries and materials.  This decree, in relation to Section 20, Title I, Book III of E.O. 292 has been invoked in several cases such as Larin v. Executive Secretary.[49]

The Court, however, declines to recognize P.D. No. 1416 as a justification for the President to create a public office.  Said decree is already stale, anachronistic and inoperable. P.D. No. 1416 was a delegation to then President Marcos of the authority to reorganize the administrative structure of the national government including the power to create offices and transfer appropriations pursuant to one of the purposes of the decree, embodied in its last “Whereas” clause:

WHEREAS, the transition towards the parliamentary form of government will necessitate flexibility in the organization of the national government.

Clearly, as it was only for the purpose of providing manageability and resiliency during the interim, P.D. No. 1416, as amended by P.D. No. 1772,   became functus oficio upon the convening of the First Congress, as expressly provided in Section 6, Article XVIII of the 1987 Constitution.  In fact, even the Solicitor General agrees with this view. Thus:

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE CARPIO: Because P.D. 1416 was enacted was the last whereas clause of P.D. 1416 says “it was enacted to prepare the transition from presidential to parliamentary. Now, in a parliamentary form of government, the legislative and executive powers are fused, correct?


ASSOCIATE JUSTICE CARPIO:       That is why, that P.D. 1416 was issued. Now would you agree with me that P.D. 1416 should not be considered effective anymore upon the promulgation, adoption, ratification of the 1987 Constitution.

SOLICITOR GENERAL CADIZ:       Not the whole of P.D. [No.] 1416, Your Honor.

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE CARPIO:       The power of the President to reorganize the entire National Government is deemed repealed, at least, upon the adoption of the 1987 Constitution, correct.

SOLICITOR GENERAL CADIZ:       Yes, Your Honor.[50]

         While the power to create a truth commission cannot pass muster on the basis of P.D. No. 1416 as amended by P.D. No. 1772, the creation of the PTC finds justification under Section 17, Article VII of the Constitution, imposing upon the President the duty to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. Section 17 reads:

Section 17. The President shall have control of all the executive departments, bureaus, and offices. He shall ensure that the laws be faithfully executed. (Emphasis supplied).

As correctly pointed out by the respondents, the allocation of power in the three principal branches of government is a grant of all powers inherent in them. The President’s power to conduct investigations to aid him in ensuring the faithful execution of laws – in this case, fundamental laws on public accountability and transparency – is inherent in the President’s powers as the Chief Executive. That the authority of the President to conduct investigations and to create bodies to execute this power is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution or in statutes does not mean that he is bereft of such authority.[51] As explained in the landmark case of Marcos v. Manglapus:[52]

x x x. The 1987 Constitution, however, brought back the presidential system of government and restored the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers by their actual distribution among three distinct branches of government with provision for checks and balances.

It would not be accurate, however, to state that “executive power” is the power to enforce the laws, for the President is head of state as well as head of government and whatever powers inhere in such positions pertain to the office unless the Constitution itself withholds it.  Furthermore, the Constitution itself provides that the execution of the laws is only one of the powers of the President.  It also grants the President other powers that do not involve the execution of any provision of law, e.g., his power over the country’s foreign relations.

On these premises, we hold the view that although the 1987 Constitution imposes limitations on the exercise of specific powers of the President, it maintains intact what is traditionally considered as within the scope of “executive power.”  Corollarily, the powers of the President cannot be said to be limited only to the specific powers enumerated in the Constitution.  In other words, executive power is more than the sum of specific powers so enumerated.

It has been advanced that whatever power inherent in the government that is neither legislative nor judicial has to be executive. x x x.

         Indeed, the Executive is given much leeway in ensuring that our laws are faithfully executed. As stated above, the powers of the President are not limited to those specific powers under the Constitution.[53] One of the recognized powers of the President granted pursuant to this constitutionally-mandated duty is the power to create ad hoc committees. This flows from the obvious need to ascertain facts and determine if laws have been faithfully executed. Thus, in Department of Health v. Camposano,[54] the authority of the President to issue Administrative Order No. 298, creating an investigative committee to look into the administrative charges filed against the employees of the Department of Health for the anomalous purchase of medicines was upheld. In said case, it was ruled:

            The Chief Executive’s power to create the Ad hoc Investigating Committee cannot be doubted.  Having been constitutionally granted full control of the Executive Department, to which respondents belong, the President has the obligation to ensure that all executive officials and employees faithfully comply with the law.  With AO 298 as mandate, the legality of the investigation is sustained.  Such validity is not affected by the fact that the investigating team and the PCAGC had the same composition, or that the former used the offices and facilities of the latter in conducting the inquiry. [Emphasis supplied]

It should be stressed that the purpose of allowing ad hoc investigating bodies to exist is to allow an inquiry into matters which the President is entitled to know so that he can be properly advised and guided in the performance of his duties relative to the execution and enforcement of the laws of the land. And if history is to be revisited, this was also the objective of the investigative bodies created in the past like the PCAC, PCAPE, PARGO, the Feliciano Commission, the Melo Commission and the Zenarosa Commission. There being no changes in the government structure, the Court is not inclined to declare such executive power as non-existent just because the direction of the political winds have changed.

On the charge that Executive Order No. 1 transgresses the power of Congress to appropriate funds for the operation of a public office, suffice it to say that there will be no appropriation but only an allotment or allocations of existing funds already appropriated.  Accordingly, there is no usurpation on the part of the Executive of the power of Congress to appropriate funds. Further, there is no need to specify the amount to be earmarked for the operation of the commission because, in the words of the Solicitor General, “whatever funds the Congress has provided for the Office of the President will be the very source of the funds for the commission.”[55]  Moreover, since the amount that would be allocated to the PTC shall be subject to existing auditing rules and regulations, there is no impropriety in the funding.

Power of the Truth Commission to Investigate

          The President’s power to conduct investigations to ensure that laws are faithfully executed is well recognized.  It flows from the faithful-execution clause of the Constitution under Article VII, Section 17 thereof.[56]  As the Chief Executive, the president represents the government as a whole and sees to it that all laws are enforced by the officials and employees of his department.  He has the authority to directly assume the functions of the executive department.[57]

         Invoking this authority, the President constituted the PTC to primarily investigate reports of graft and corruption and to recommend the appropriate action.  As previously stated, no quasi-judicial powers have been vested in the said body as it cannot adjudicate rights of persons who come before it. It has been said that “Quasi-judicial powers involve the power to hear and determine questions of fact to which the legislative policy is to apply and to decide in accordance with the standards laid down by law itself in enforcing and administering the same law.”[58] In simpler terms, judicial discretion is involved in the exercise of these quasi-judicial power, such that it is exclusively vested in the judiciary and must be clearly authorized by the legislature in the case of administrative agencies.

The distinction between the power to investigate and the power to adjudicate was delineated by the Court in Cariño v. Commission on Human Rights.[59] Thus:

“Investigate,” commonly understood, means to examine, explore, inquire or delve or probe into, research on, study. The dictionary definition of “investigate” is “to observe or study closely: inquire into systematically: “to search or inquire into: x x to subject to an official probe x x: to conduct an official inquiry.” The purpose of investigation, of course, is to discover, to find out, to learn, obtain information. Nowhere included or intimated is the notion of settling, deciding or resolving a controversy involved in the facts inquired into by application of the law to the facts established by the inquiry.

The legal meaning of “investigate” is essentially the same: “(t)o follow up step by step by patient inquiry or observation. To trace or track; to search into; to examine and inquire into with care and accuracy; to find out by careful inquisition; examination; the taking of evidence; a legal inquiry;” “to inquire; to make an investigation,” “investigation” being in turn described as “(a)n administrative function, the exercise of which ordinarily does not require a hearing. 2 Am J2d Adm L Sec. 257; x x an inquiry, judicial or otherwise, for the discovery and collection of facts concerning a certain matter or matters.”

“Adjudicate,” commonly or popularly understood, means to adjudge, arbitrate, judge, decide, determine, resolve, rule on, settle. The dictionary defines the term as “to settle finally (the rights and duties of the parties to a court case) on the merits of issues raised: x x to pass judgment on: settle judicially: x x act as judge.” And “adjudge” means “to decide or rule upon as a judge or with judicial or quasi-judicial powers: x x to award or grant judicially in a case of controversy x x.”

In the legal sense, “adjudicate” means: “To settle in the exercise of judicial authority. To determine finally. Synonymous with adjudge in its strictest sense;” and “adjudge” means: “To pass on judicially, to decide, settle or decree, or to sentence or condemn. x x. Implies a judicial determination of a fact, and the entry of a judgment.” [Italics included. Citations Omitted]

Fact-finding is not adjudication and it cannot be likened to the judicial function of a court of justice, or even a quasi-judicial agency or office. The function of receiving evidence and ascertaining therefrom the facts of a controversy is not a judicial function. To be considered as such, the act of receiving evidence and arriving at factual conclusions in a controversy must be accompanied by the authority of applying the law to the factual conclusions to the end that the controversy may be decided or resolved authoritatively, finally and definitively, subject to appeals or modes of review as may be provided by law.[60] Even respondents themselves admit that the commission is bereft of any quasi-judicial power.[61]

         Contrary to petitioners’ apprehension, the PTC will not supplant the Ombudsman or the DOJ or erode their respective powers.  If at all, the investigative function of the commission will complement those of the two offices.  As pointed out by the Solicitor General, the recommendation to prosecute is but a consequence of the overall task of the commission to conduct a fact-finding investigation.”[62]  The actual prosecution of suspected offenders, much less adjudication on the merits of the charges against them,[63] is certainly not a function given to the commission.  The phrase, “when in the course of its investigation,” under Section 2(g), highlights this fact and gives credence to a contrary interpretation from that of the petitioners.  The function of determining probable cause for the filing of the appropriate complaints before the courts remains to be with the DOJ and the Ombudsman.[64]

         At any rate, the Ombudsman’s power to investigate under R.A. No. 6770 is not exclusive but is shared with other similarly authorized government agencies. Thus, in the case of Ombudsman v. Galicia,[65] it was written:

            This power of investigation granted to the Ombudsman by the 1987 Constitution and The Ombudsman Act is not exclusive but is shared with other similarly authorized government agencies such as the PCGG and judges of municipal trial courts and municipal circuit trial courts.  The power to conduct preliminary investigation on charges against public employees and officials is likewise concurrently shared with the Department of Justice. Despite the passage of the Local Government Code in 1991, the Ombudsman retains concurrent jurisdiction with the Office of the President and the local Sanggunians to investigate complaints against local elective officials. [Emphasis supplied].

         Also, Executive Order No. 1 cannot contravene the power of the Ombudsman to investigate criminal cases under Section 15 (1) of R.A. No. 6770, which states:

(1) Investigate and prosecute on its own or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient. It has primary jurisdiction over cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan and, in the exercise of its primary jurisdiction, it may take over, at any stage, from any investigatory agency of government, the investigation of such cases. [Emphases supplied]

The act of investigation by the Ombudsman as enunciated above contemplates the conduct of a preliminary investigation or the determination of the existence of probable cause.  This is categorically out of the PTC’s sphere of functions.  Its power to investigate is limited to obtaining facts so that it can advise and guide the President in the performance of his duties relative to the execution and enforcement of the laws of the land. In this regard, the PTC commits no act of usurpation of the Ombudsman’s primordial duties.

         The same holds true with respect to the DOJ.  Its authority under Section 3 (2), Chapter 1, Title III, Book IV in the Revised Administrative Code is by no means exclusive and, thus, can be shared with a body likewise tasked to investigate the commission of crimes.

         Finally, nowhere in Executive Order No. 1 can it be inferred that the findings of the PTC are to be accorded conclusiveness. Much like its predecessors, the Davide Commission, the Feliciano Commission and the Zenarosa Commission, its findings would, at best, be recommendatory in nature. And being so, the Ombudsman and the DOJ have a wider degree of latitude to decide whether or not to reject the recommendation. These offices, therefore, are not deprived of their mandated duties but will instead be aided by the reports of the PTC for possible indictments for violations of graft laws.

About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
This entry was posted in President, Separations of Powers, Truth Commission and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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