Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Consti 101

The Imperatives of a living Constitution

Let us now discuss the importance of a constitution not only in terms of its legal implications but as well as its ramifications in any given society. A constitution in ordinary parlance, is the supreme law of the land and as such all laws must bow to its mandate. Laws to be valid must be in harmony with the provisions of the fundamental law otherwise it should be struck down for being unconstitutional. In defining the exact definition of a constitution and as accepted in Philippine constitutional law, Justice Miller of the American Supreme court has this to say, “ A constitution is a written instrument by which the fundamental powers of government are established, limited, defined, and by which these powers are distributed among several departments, for their safe and useful exercise, for the benefit of the body politic.”[1] This definition explains that the primary purpose of a constitution is both a grant and a limitation of government authority. It prescribes the permanent framework of a system of government, and in doing so, every branch of government has its own respective powers and duties to be performed based on established fixed principles on which government is founded. A more comprehensive definition is that of Justice Cooley, which defines a constitution as “that body of rules and maxims in accordance with which the powers of sovereignty are habitually exercised.”[2] Both definitions are essential for no matter how complex the concept of constitutionalism is it helps us understand the basic rudiments of the term. But one may ask, what is exactly the role of the people in enacting a constitution? Certainly, they are the creators of this written instrument. In the landmark case of Marcos v. Manglapus[3] the Supreme Court had the occasion to enunciate that, “ The constitution, aside from being an allocation of power is also a social contract whereby the people have surrendered the sovereign powers of the state for the common good. Hence, lest the officers of the government exercising the powers delegated by the people forget and the servants of the people become rulers, the Constitution reminds everyone that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” On this premise, it must be borne in mind that that in a representative government the people are declared supreme and every citizen is an individual repository of sovereignty. The court speaking through the eminent constitutionalist Justice Laurel,” An enfranchised citizen is a particle of popular sovereignty and is the ultimate source of established authority.”[4] In other words, every citizen of this country plays a vital role in our democratic society. Whether he is a peasant or a millionaire in his mansion, his existence and participation in the affairs of the state is an indispensable element to insure the survival of a democratic polity.
The constitution being the supreme and fundamental law of the land, acts of congress particularly the enactment of laws, must be always in consonance with the provisions enshrined in the fundamental law. (Commonly known as Statutes) In a word, the Constitution is a kind of higher law. Although the provisions of the Constitution are like statutes in that they are written, contained in a document and do not come into being by way of custom or court decisions, they are not statutes in being enacted or subject to nullification by legislatures alone. The provision of the Constitution, are the law for the lawmakers so to speak, or, more broadly, a law for those who govern.[5] In the same vein, the judiciary is tasked not only to interpret the law but more so, to defend the Constitution against any possible violation of its sacrosanct provisions. This can be done by virtue of the power of judicial review. Through this power, the judiciary can declare a treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance or regulation unconstitutional.[6] Such function of the judiciary does not imply superiority over other departments of the government; in fact in Angara v. Electoral Commission the Supreme court ruled that, “ 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.”[7] This sacred and solemn duty refers to the inevitable task of the Judiciary to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution at all times. The Doctrine of Constitutional Supremacy comes into play when a law or contract violates any norm of the Constitution, that law or contract, whether promulgated by the legislative or the executive branch or entered into by private persons for private purpose, is null and void and without any force and effect. Thus, since the Constitution is the fundamental, paramount and supreme law of the nation, it is deemed written in every statute and contract.[8] Moreover, in the words of Justice Isagani A. Cruz, “ The Constitution is the basic and paramount law to which all other laws must conform and to which all persons, including the highest officials of the land, must defer.” Then he proceeded to say,” No act shall be valid, however noble its intention, if it conflicts with the Constitution, the Constitution must ever remain supreme.”[9]

[1] Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary (Manila: Rex, 2003)
[2] Isagani A. Cruz, Constitutional Law (Manila: Central Lawbook Publishing Co., Inc.,2003)
[3] 177 SCRA 668 (1989)
[4] Moya v. Del Fierro, 69 Phil.199.
[5] Clarence B. Carson, Basic American Government, 1993 ed., p.56
[6] Sec. II (2), Art. VIII of the 1987 Constitution
[7] 63 Phil. 139 ( 1936 )
[8] Manila Prince Hotel v. GSIS 267 SCRA 408 ( 1997 )
[9] Ibid.