Case Digests
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Case Digest: De la Llana v. Alba, G.R. No. 57883, 12 March 1982

De la Llana v. Alba, G.R. No. 57883, 12 March 1982

Topic: Interpreting the Constitution


This Court, pursuant to its grave responsibility of passing upon the validity of any executive or legislative act in an appropriate cases, has to resolve the crucial issue of the constitutionality of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, entitled “An act reorganizing the Judiciary, Appropriating Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes.” The task of judicial review, aptly characterized as exacting and delicate, is never more so than when a conceded legislative power, that of judicial reorganization,

  1. may possibly collide with the time-honored principle of the independence of the judiciary
  2. as protected and safeguarded by this constitutional provision: “The Members of the Supreme Court and judges of inferior courts shall hold office during good behavior until they reach the age of seventy years or become incapacitated to discharge the duties of their office. The Supreme Court shall have the power to discipline judges of inferior courts and, by a vote of at least eight Members, order their dismissal.”
  3. For the assailed legislation mandates that Justices and judges of inferior courts from the Court of Appeals to municipal circuit courts, except the occupants of the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals, unless appointed to the inferior courts established by such Act, would be considered separated from the judiciary. It is the termination of their incumbency that for petitioners justifies a suit of this character, it being alleged that thereby the security of tenure provision of the Constitution has been ignored and disregarded,

That is the fundamental issue raised in this proceeding, erroneously entitled Petition for Declaratory Relief and/or for Prohibition

  1. considered by this Court as an action for prohibited petition, seeking to enjoin respondent Minister of the Budget, respondent Chairman of the Commission on Audit, and respondent Minister of Justice from taking any action implementing Batas Pambansa Blg. 129. Petitioners
  2. sought to bolster their claim by imputing lack of good faith in its enactment and characterizing as an undue delegation of legislative power to the President his authority to fix the compensation and allowances of the Justices and judges thereafter appointed and the determination of the date when the reorganization shall be deemed completed. In the very comprehensive and scholarly Answer of Solicitor General Estelito P. Mendoza,
  3. it was pointed out that there is no valid justification for the attack on the constitutionality of this statute, it being a legitimate exercise of the power vested in the Batasang Pambansa to reorganize the judiciary, the allegations of absence of good faith as well as the attack on the independence of the judiciary being unwarranted and devoid of any support in law. A Supplemental Answer was likewise filed on October 8, 1981, followed by a Reply of petitioners on October 13. After the hearing in the morning and afternoon of October 15, in which not only petitioners and respondents were heard through counsel but also the amici curiae,
  4. and thereafter submission of the minutes of the proceeding on the debate on Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, this petition was deemed submitted for decision.


  1. WON Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 is unconstitutional  for colliding with the security of tenure enjoyed by justices and judges.
  2. WON there is undue delegation of legislative power to the President the grant of authority to fix the compensation and the allowances of the Justices and judges thereafter appointed.


  1. To be more specific, petitioners contend that the abolition of the existing inferior courts collides with the security of tenure enjoyed by incumbent Justices and judges under Article X, Section 7 of the Constitution. There was a similar provision in the 1935 Constitution. It did not, however, go as far as conferring on this Tribunal the power to supervise administratively inferio courts.  Moreover, this Court is em powered “to discipline judges of inferior courts and, by a vote of at least eight members order their dismissal.”  Thus it possesses the competence to remove judges. Under the Judiciary Act, it was the President who was vested with such power. Removal is, of course, to be distinguished from termination by virtue of the abolition of the office. There can be no tenure to a non-existent office. After the abolition, there is in law no occupant. In case of removal, there is an office with an occupant who would thereby lose his position. It is in that sense that from the standpoint of strict law, the question of any impairment of security of tenure does not arise. Nonetheless, for the incumbents of inferior courts abolished, the effect is one of separation. As to its effect, no distinction exists between removal and the abolition of the office.

Realistically, it is devoid of significance. He ceases to be a member of the judiciary. In the implementation of the assailed legislation, therefore, it would be in accordance with accepted principles of constitutional construction that as far as incumbent justices and judges are concerned, this Court be consulted and that its view be accorded the fullest consideration. No fear need be entertained that there is a failure to accord respect to the basic principle that this Court does not render advisory opinions. No question of law is involved. If such were the case, certainly this Court could not have its say prior to the action taken by either of the two departments. Even then, it could do so but only by way of deciding a case where the matter has been put in issue. Neither is there any intrusion into who shall be appointed to the vacant positions created by the reorganization. That remains in the hands of the Executive to whom it properly belongs. There is no departure therefore from the tried and tested ways of judicial power, Rather what is sought to be achieved by this liberal interpretation is to preclude any plausibility to the charge that in the exercise of the conceded power of reorganizing tulle inferior courts, the power of removal of the present incumbents vested in this Tribunal is ignored or disregarded. The challenged Act would thus be free from any unconstitutional taint, even one not readily discernidble except to those predisposed to view it with distrust.

Moreover, such a construction would be in accordance with the basic principle that in the choice of alternatives between one which would save and another which would invalidate a statute, the former is to be preferred. There is an obvious way to do so. The principle that the Constitution enters into and forms part of every act to avoid any constitutional taint must be applied Nuñez v. Sandiganbayan, promulgated last January, has this relevant excerpt: “It is true that other Sections of the Decree could have been so worded as to avoid any constitutional objection. As of now, however, no ruling is called for. The view is given expression in the concurring and dissenting opinion of Justice Makasiar that in such a case to save the Decree from the direct fate of invalidity, they must be construed in such a way as to preclude any possible erosion on the powers vested in this Court by the Constitution. That is a proposition too plain to be committed. It commends itself for approval.”

Nor would such a step be unprecedented. The Presidential Decree constituting Municipal Courts into Municipal Circuit Courts, specifically provides: “The Supreme Court shall carry out the provisions of this Decree through implementing orders, on a province-to-province basis.” It is true there is no such provision in this Act, but the spirit that informs it should not be ignored in the Executive Order contemplated under its Section 44. Thus Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 could stand the most rigorous test of constitutionality.

Nor is there anything novel in the concept that this Court is called upon to reconcile or harmonize constitutional provisions. To be specific, the Batasang Pambansa is expressly vested with the authority to reorganize inferior courts and in the process to abolish existing ones. As noted in the preceding paragraph, the termination of office of their occupants, as a necessary consequence of such abolition, is hardly distinguishable from the practical standpoint from removal, a power that is now vested in this Tribunal. It is of the essence of constitutionalism to assure that neither agency is precluded from acting within the boundaries of its conceded competence. That is why it has long been well-settled under the constitutional system we have adopted that this Court cannot, whenever appropriate, avoid the task of reconciliation. As Justice Laurel put it so well in the previously cited Angara decision, while in the main, “the Constitution has blocked out with deft strokes and in bold lines, allotment of power to the executive, the legislative and the judicial departments of the government, the overlapping and interlacing of functions and duties between the several departments, however, sometimes makes it hard to say just where the one leaves off and the other begins.” It is well to recall another classic utterance from the same jurist, even more emphatic in its affirmation of such a view, moreover buttressed by one of those insights for which Holmes was so famous “The classical separation of government powers, whether viewed in the light of the political philosophy of Aristotle, Locke, or Motesquieu or of the postulations of Mabini, Madison, or Jefferson, is a relative theory of government.

There is more truism and actuality in interdependence than in independence and separation of powers, for as observed by Justice Holmes in a case of Philippine origin, we cannot lay down ‘with mathematical precision and divide the branches into water-tight compartments’ not only because ‘the great ordinances of the Constitution do not establish and divide fields of black and white but also because ‘even the more specific of them are found to terminate in a penumbra shading gradually from one extreme to the other.'” This too from Justice Tuazon, likewise expressing with force and clarity why the need for reconciliation or balancing is well-nigh unavodiable under the fundamental principle of separation of powers: “The constitutional structure is a complicated system, and overlappings of governmental functions are recognized, unavoidable, and inherent necessities of governmental coordination.”  In the same way that the academe has noted the existence in constitutional litigation of right versus right, there are instances, and this is one of them, where, without this attempt at harmonizing the provisions in question, there could be a case of power against power. That we should avoid.

  1. There are other objections raised but they pose no difficulty. Petitioners would characterize as an undue delegation of legislative power to the President the grant of authority to fix the compensation and the allowances of the Justices and judges thereafter appointed. A more careful reading of the challenged Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 ought to have cautioned them against raising such an issue. The language of the statute is quite clear. The questioned provisions reads as follows: “Intermediate Appellate Justices, Regional Trial Judges, Metropolitan Tria Judges, municipal Trial Judges, and Municipal Circuit Trial Judges shall receive such receive such compensation and allowances as may be authorized by the President along the guidelines set forth in Letter of Implementation No 93 pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 985, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1597.”  The existence of a standard is thus clear. The basic postulate that underlies the doctrine of non-delegation is that it is the legislative body which is entrusted with the competence to make laws and to alter and repeal them, the test being the completeness of the statue in all its terms and provisions when enacted. As pointed out in Edu v. Ericta: 88 “To avoid the taint of unlawful delegation, there must be a standard, which implies at the very least that the legislature itself determines matters of principle and lays down fundamental policy. Otherwise, the charge of complete abdication may be hard to repel. A standard thus defines legislative policy, marks its limits, maps out its boundaries and specifies the public agency to apply it. It indicates the circumstances under which the legislative command is to be effected. It is the criterion by which legislative purpose may be carried out.

Thereafter, the executive or administrative office designated may in pursuance of the above guidelines promulgate supplemental rules and regulations. The standard may be either express or implied. If the former, the non-delegation objection is easily met. The standard though does not have to be spelled out specifically. It could be implied from the policy and purpose of the act considered as a whole.” 89 The undeniably strong links that bind the executive and legislative departments under the amended Constitution assure that the framing of policies as well as their implementation can be accomplished with unity, promptitude, and efficiency. There is accuracy, therefore, to this observation in the Free Telephone Workers Union decision: “There is accordingly more receptivity to laws leaving to administrative and executive agencies the adoption of such means as may be necessary to effectuate a valid legislative purpose. It is worth noting that a highlyrespected legal scholar, Professor Jaffe, as early as 1947, could speak of delegation as the ‘dynamo of modern government.'” He warned against a “restrictive approach” which could be “a deterrent factor to much-needed legislation.”

Further on this point from the same opinion” “The spectre of the non-delegation concept need not haunt, therefore, party caucuses, cabinet sessions or legislative chambers.”  Another objection based on the absence in the statue of what petitioners refer to as a “definite time frame limitation” is equally bereft of merit. They ignore the categorical language of this provision: “The Supreme Court shall submit to the President, within thirty (30) days from the date of the effectivity of this act, a staffing pattern for all courts constituted pursuant to this Act which shall be the basis of the implementing order to be issued by the President in accordance with the immediately succeeding section.”  The first sentence of the next section is even more categorical: “The provisions of this Act shall be immediately carried out in accordance with an Executive Order to be issued by the President.”  Certainly petitioners cannot be heard to argue that the President is insensible to his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.  In the meanwhile, the existing inferior courts affected continue functioning as before, “until the completion of the reorganization provided in this Act as declared by the President.

Upon such declaration, the said courts shall be deemed automatically abolished and the incumbents thereof shall cease to hold office.”  There is no ambiguity. The incumbents of the courts thus automatically abolished “shall cease to hold office.” No fear need be entertained by incumbents whose length of service, quality of performance, and clean record justify their being named anew,  in legal contemplation without any interruption in the continuity of their service.  It is equally reasonable to assume that from the ranks of lawyers, either in the government service, private practice, or law professors will come the new appointees. In the event that in certain cases a little more time is necessary in the appraisal of whether or not certain incumbents deserve reappointment, it is not from their standpoint undesirable. Rather, it would be a reaffirmation of the good faith that will characterize its implementation by the Executive. There is pertinence to this observation of Justice Holmes that even acceptance of the generalization that courts ordinarily should not supply omissions in a law, a generalization qualified as earlier shown by the principle that to save a statute that could be done, “there is no canon against using common sense in construing laws as saying what they obviously mean.”  Where then is the unconstitutional flaw?

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