Case Digests
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Case Digest: Francisco v. House Speaker, G.R. No. 160261, 10 November 2003

Francisco v. House Speaker, G.R. No. 160261,  10 November 2003

TOPIC: Interpreting the Constitution


On July 22, 2002, the House of Representatives adopted a Resolution, sponsored by Representative Felix William D. Fuentebella, which directed the Committee on Justice “to conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, on the manner of disbursements and expenditures by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF).”

On June 2, 2003, former President Joseph E. Estrada filed an impeachment complaint (first impeachment complaint) against Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. and seven Associate Justices of this Court for “culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of the public trust and other high crimes.” The complaint was endorsed by Representatives Rolex T. Suplico, Ronaldo B. Zamora and Didagen Piang Dilangalen, and was referred to theHouse Committee on Justice on August 5, 2003 in accordance with Section 3(2) of Article XI of the Constitution which reads:

Section 3(2)  A verified complaint for impeachment may be filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution of endorsement by any Member thereof, which shall be included in the Order of Business within ten session days, and referred to the proper Committee within three session days thereafter. The Committee, after hearing, and by a majority vote of all its Members, shall submit its report to the House within sixty session days from such referral, together with the corresponding resolution. The resolution shall be calendared for consideration by the House within ten session days from receipt thereof.

The House Committee on Justice ruled on October 13, 2003 that the first impeachment complaint was “sufficient in form,” but voted to dismiss the same on October 22, 2003 for being insufficient in substance. To date, the Committee Report to this effect has not yet been sent to the House in plenary in accordance with the said Section 3(2) of Article XI of the Constitution.

Four months and three weeks since the filing on June 2, 2003 of the first complaint or on October 23, 2003, a day after the House Committee on Justice voted to dismiss it, the second impeachment complaint was filed with the Secretary General of the House by Representatives Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. (First District, Tarlac) and Felix William B. Fuentebella (Third District, Camarines Sur) against Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., founded on the alleged results of the legislative inquiry initiated by above-mentioned House Resolution. This second impeachment complaint was accompanied by a “Resolution of Endorsement/Impeachment” signed by at least one-third (1/3) of all the Members of the House of Representatives.

Thus arose the instant petitions against the House of Representatives, et. al., most of which petitions contend that the filing of the second impeachment complaint is unconstitutional as it violates the provision of Section 5 of Article XI of the Constitution that “[n]o impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.”


WON double impeachment within a year is a violation of the constitution


To determine the merits of the issues raised in the instant petitions, this Court must necessarily turn to the Constitution itself which employs the well-settled principles of constitutional construction.

First, verba legis, that is, wherever possible, the words used in the Constitution must be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed. Thus, in J.M. Tuason & Co., Inc. v. Land Tenure Administration, this Court, speaking through Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, declared:

We look to the language of the document itself in our search for its meaning. We do not of course stop there, but that is where we begin. It is to be assumed that the words in which constitutional provisions are couched express the objective sought to be attained. They are to be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed in which case the significance thus attached to them prevails. As the Constitution is not primarily a lawyer’s document, it being essential for the rule of law to obtain that it should ever be present in the people’s consciousness, its language as much as possible should be understood in the sense they have in common use. What it says according to the text of the provision to be construed compels acceptance and negates the power of the courts to alter it, based on the postulate that the framers and the people mean what they say. Thus these are the cases where the need for construction is reduced to a minimum. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Second, where there is ambiguity, ratio legis est anima. The words of the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with the intent of its framers. And so did this Court apply this principle in Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary in this wise:

A foolproof yardstick in constitutional construction is the intention underlying the provision under consideration. Thus, it has been held that the Court in construing a Constitution should bear in mind the object sought to be accomplished by its adoption, and the evils, if any, sought to be prevented or remedied. A doubtful provision will be examined in the light of the history of the times, and the condition and circumstances under which the Constitution was framed. The object is to ascertain the reason which induced the framers of the Constitution to enact the particular provision and the purpose sought to be accomplished thereby, in order to construe the whole as to make the words consonant to that reason and calculated to effect that purpose. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

As it did in Nitafan v. Commissioner on Internal Revenue where, speaking through Madame Justice Amuerfina A. Melencio-Herrera, it declared:

x x x The ascertainment of that intent is but in keeping with the fundamental principle of constitutional construction that the intent of the framers of the organic law and of the people adopting it should be given effect. The primary task in constitutional construction is to ascertain and thereafter assure the realization of the purpose of the framers and of the people in the adoption of the Constitution. It may also be safely assumed that the people in ratifying the Constitution were guided mainly by the explanation offered by the framers. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Finally, ut magis valeat quam pereat. The Constitution is to be interpreted as a whole. Thus, in Chiongbian v. De Leon, this Court, through Chief Justice Manuel Moran declared:

x x x [T]he members of the Constitutional Convention could not have dedicated a provision of our Constitution merely for the benefit of one person without considering that it could also affect others. When they adopted subsection 2, they permitted, if not willed, that said provision should function to the full extent of its substance and its terms, not by itself alone, but in conjunction with all other provisions of that great document.43 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Likewise, still in Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary this Court affirmed that:

It is a well-established rule in constitutional construction that no one provision of the Constitution is to be separated from all the others, to be considered alone, but that all the provisions bearing upon a particular subject are to be brought into view and to be so interpreted as to effectuate the great purposes of the instrument. Sections bearing on a particular subject should be considered and interpreted together as to effectuate the whole purpose of the Constitution and one section is not to be allowed to defeat another, if by any reasonable construction, the two can be made to stand


In other words, the court must harmonize them, if practicable, and must lean in favor of a construction which will render every word operative, rather than one which may make the words idle and nugatory.(Emphasis supplied)

If, however, the plain meaning of the word is not found to be clear, resort to other aids is available. In still the same case of Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary, this Court expounded:

While it is permissible in this jurisdiction to consult the debates and proceedings of the constitutional convention in order to arrive at the reason and purpose of the resulting Constitution, resort thereto may be had only when other guides fail as said proceedings are powerless to vary the terms of the Constitution when the meaning is clear. Debates in the constitutional convention “are of value as showing the views of the individual members, and as indicating the reasons for their votes, but they give us no light as to the views of the large majority who did not talk, much less of the mass of our fellow citizens whose votes at the polls gave that instrument the force of fundamental law. We think it safer to construe the constitution from what appears upon its face.” The proper interpretation therefore depends more on how it was understood by the people adopting it than in the framers’s understanding thereof. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

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