The Supreme Court recently dismissed petitions to nullify House Resolution No. 1109, entitled “A Resolution Calling upon the Members of Congress to Convene for the Purpose of Considering Proposals to Amend or Revise the Constitution, Upon a Three-fourths Vote of All the Members of Congress”.
(By way of background, House Resolution No. 1109 itself states that there is now a justiciable controversy, although this portion is not touched upon by the Supreme Court, maybe because any branch of the State or instrumentality of the government could not unilaterally declare the existence of a justiciable controversy. Only the courts could make such determination.)
The petitions (G.R. No. 187883, entitled Oliver Lozano vs. Speaker Prospero Nograles, and G.R. No. 187910, entitled Louis “Barok” Biraogo vs. Speaker Prospero Nograles) seek to trigger a justiciable controversy that would call for an interpretation by the Supreme Court of Section 1, Article XVII, of the Constitution.
(The House of Representatives, through House Resolution 1109, insists that an amendment or revision of the Constitution could be done through a vote of three-fourths of all the Members of Congress together, and not 3/4 of each House voting separately as argued by the opposition.)
The Supreme Court, through Chief Justice Puno as ponencia, dismissed the petitions. Here’s a digest of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The Supreme Court “shall not shirk its bounden duty to wield its judicial power to settle ‘actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to a lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.'”
It is the duty of the judiciary to say what the law is. The determination of the nature, scope and extent of the powers of government is the exclusive province of the judiciary, such that any mediation on the part of the latter for the allocation of constitutional boundaries would amount, not to its supremacy, but to its mere fulfillment of its “solemn and sacred obligation” under the Constitution.
Actual case or controversy
The Supreme Court’s power of review is limited to actual cases and controversies dealing with parties having adversely legal claims, to be exercised after full opportunity of argument by the parties, and limited further to the constitutional question raised or the very lis mota presented. The “case-or-controversy” requirement bans the Supreme Court from deciding “abstract, hypothetical or contingent questions,” lest the court give opinions in the nature of advice concerning legislative or executive action.
An aspect of the “case-or-controversy” requirement is the requisite of “ripeness.” In our jurisdiction, the issue of ripeness is generally treated in terms of actual injury to the plaintiff. Hence, a question is ripe for adjudication when the act being challenged has had a direct adverse effect on the individual challenging it. An alternative road to review similarly taken would be to determine whether an action has already been accomplished or performed by a branch of government before the courts may step in.
In the present case: (1) Petitioners have not sufficiently proven any adverse injury or hardship from the act complained of; (2) House Resolution No. 1109 only resolved that the House of Representatives shall convene at a future time for the purpose of proposing amendments or revisions to the Constitution. No actual convention has yet transpired and no rules of procedure have yet been adopted; and (3) No proposal has yet been made, and hence, no usurpation of power or gross abuse of discretion has yet taken place.
Standing to sue
Another requisite rooted in the very nature of judicial power is locus standi or standing to sue. Thus, generally, a party will be allowed to litigate only when he can demonstrate that:
- He has personally suffered some actual or threatened injury because of the allegedly illegal conduct of the government;
- The injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action; and
- The injury is likely to be redressed by the remedy being sought.
Locus standi requires a personal stake in the outcome of a controversy for significant reasons. It assures adverseness and sharpens the presentation of issues for the illumination of the Court in resolving difficult constitutional questions.
Petitioners in this case have not shown the elemental injury in fact. The lack of petitioners’ personal stake in this case is no more evident than in Lozano’s three-page petition that is devoid of any legal or jurisprudential basis.
Taxpayers and concerned citizens suit
Neither can the lack of locus standi be cured by the claim of petitioners that they are instituting the cases at bar as taxpayers and concerned citizens. A taxpayer’s suit requires that the act complained of directly involves the illegal disbursement of public funds derived from taxation. It is undisputed that there has been no allocation or disbursement of public funds in this case as of yet. To be sure, standing as a citizen has been upheld by the Supreme Court in cases where a petitioner is able to craft an issue of transcendental importance or when paramount public interest is involved. While the Court recognizes the potential far-reaching implications of the issue at hand, the possible consequence of House Resolution No. 1109 is yet unrealized and does not infuse petitioners with locus standi under the “transcendental importance” doctrine.
The rule on locus standi is not a plain procedural rule but a constitutional requirement derived from Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution, which mandates courts of justice to settle only “actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable.” As stated in a case, it is intended “to assure a vigorous adversary presentation of the case, and, perhaps more importantly to warrant the judiciary’s overruling the determination of a coordinate, democratically elected organ of government.”
A lesser but not insignificant reason for screening the standing of persons who desire to litigate constitutional issues is economic in character. Given the sparseness of our resources, the capacity of courts to render efficient judicial service to our people is severely limited. For courts to indiscriminately open their doors to all types of suits and suitors is for them to unduly overburden their dockets, and ultimately render themselves ineffective dispensers of justice. To be sure, this is an evil that clearly confronts our judiciary today.
Moreover, while the Court has taken an increasingly liberal approach to the rule of locus standi, evolving from the stringent requirements of “personal injury” to the broader “transcendental importance” doctrine, such liberality is not to be abused. It is not an open invitation for the ignorant and the ignoble to file petitions that prove nothing but their cerebral deficit.