Case Digests
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Case Digest: Santiago v. Guingona, G.R. No. 134577, 18 November 1998

Santiago v. Guingona, G.R. No. 134577, 18  November 1998

TOPIC: Political Question or Justiciable Controversy


On July 31, 1998, Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Francisco S. Tatad instituted an original petition for quo warranto under Rule 66, Section 5, Rules of Court, seeking the ouster of Senator Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr. as minority leader of the Senate and the declaration of Senator Tatad as the rightful minority leader.

“In the regular course, the regional trial courts and this Court have concurrent jurisdiction1 to hear and decide petitions for quo warranto (as well as certiorari, prohibition and mandamus), and a basic deference to the hierarchy of courts impels a filing of such petitions in the lower tribunals. However, for special an important reasons or for exceptional and compelling circumstances, as in the present case, this Court has allowed exceptions to this doctrine. In fact, original petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus and quo warranto assailing acts of legislative officers like the Senate President4 and the Speaker of the House  have been recognized as exceptions to this rule.”

On the agenda for the day was the election of officers. Nominated by Sen. Blas F. Ople to the position of Senate President was Sen. Marcelo B. Fernan. Sen. Francisco S. Tatad was also nominated to the same position by Sen. Miriam Defenser Santiago. By a vote of 20 to 2, 8 Senator Fernan was declared the duly elected President of the Senate.

The following were likewise elected: Senator Ople as president pro tempore, and Sen. Franklin M. Drilon as majority leader.

Senator Tatad thereafter manifested that, with the agreement of Senator Santiago, allegedly the only other member of the minority, he was assuming the position of minority leader. He explained that those who had voted for Senator Fernan comprised the “majority,” while only those who had voted for him, the losing nominee, belonged to the “minority.”

During the discussion on who should constitute the Senate “minority,” Sen. Juan M. Flavier manifested that the senators belonging to the Lakas-NUCD-UMDP Party — numbering seven (7) and, thus, also a minority — had chosen Senator Guingona as the minority leader. No consensus on the matter was arrived at. The following session day, the debate on the question continued, with Senators Santiago and Tatad delivering privilege speeches. On the third session day, the Senate met in caucus, but still failed to resolve the issue.

On July 30, 1998, the majority leader informed the body chat he was in receipt of a letter signed by the seven Lakas-NUCD-UMDP senators,9 stating that they had elected Senator Guingona as the minority leader. By virtue thereof, the Senate President formally recognized Senator Guingona as the minority leader of the Senate.

The following day, Senators Santiago and Tatad filed before this Court the subject petition for quo warranto, alleging in the main that Senator Guingona had been usurping, unlawfully holding and exercising the position of Senate minority leader, a position that, according to them, rightfully belonged to Senator Tatad.


  1. Does the Court have jurisdiction over the petition?
  2. WON there was a violation of the constitution.


  1. No, the court does not have jurisdiction over the petition.

To resolve the issue of jurisdiction, this Court carefully reviewed and deliberated on the various important cases involving this very important and basic question, which it has ruled upon in the past. The early case Avelino v. Cuenco cautiously tackled the scope of the Court’s power of judicial review; that is, questions involving an interpretation or application of a provision of the Constitution or the law, including the rules of either house of Congress. Within this scope falls the jurisdiction of the Court over questions on the validity of legislative or executive acts that are political in nature, whenever the tribunal “finds constitutionally imposed limits on powers or functions conferred upon political bodies.”

In the aforementioned case, the Court initially declined to resolve the question of who was the rightful Senate President, since it was deemed a political controversy falling exclusively within the domain of the Senate. Upon a motion for reconsideration, however, the Court ultimately assumed jurisdiction (1) “in the light of subsequent events which justify its intervention;” and (2) because the resolution of the issue hinged on the interpretation of the constitutional provision on the presence of a quorum to hold a session 13 and therein elect a Senate President.

Justice Feria elucidated in his Concurring Opinion: “[I] concur with the majority that this Court has jurisdiction over cases like the present . . . so as to establish in this country the judicial supremacy, with the Supreme Court as the final arbiter, to see that no one branch or agency of the government transcends the Constitution, not only in justiceable but political questions as well.”

The eminent Chief Justice aptly explained later in Javellana v. Executive Secretary:

The reason why the issue under consideration and other issues of similar character are justiciable, not political, is plain and simple. One of the principal bases of the non-justiciability of so-called political questions is the principle of separation of powers — characteristic of the presidential system of government — the functions of which are classified or divided, by reason of their nature, into three (3) categories, namely, 1) those involving the making of laws, which are allocated to the legislative department; 2) those concerning mainly with the enforcement of such laws and of judicial decisions applying and/or interpreting the same, which belong to the executive department; and 3) those dealing with the settlement of disputes, controversies or conflicts involving rights, duties or prerogatives that are legally demandable and enforceable, which are apportioned to courts of justice. Within its own sphere — but only within such sphere — each department is supreme and independent of the others, and each is devoid of authority not only to encroach upon the powers or field of action assigned to any of the other departments, but also to inquire into or pass upon the advisability or wisdom of the acts performed, measures taken or decisions made by the other departments — provided that such acts, measures or decisions are within the area allocated thereto by the Constitution.

Accordingly, when the grant of power is qualified, conditional or subject to limitations, the issue of whether or not the prescribed qualifications or conditions have been met, or the limitations respected is justiciable or non-political, the crux of the problem being one of legality or validity of the contested act, not its wisdom. Otherwise, said qualifications, conditions or limitations — particularly those prescribed by the Constitution — would be set at naught. What is more, the judicial inquiry into such issue and the settlement thereof are the main functions of the courts of justice under the presidential form of government adopted in our 1935 Constitution, and the system of checks and balances, one of its basic predicates. As a consequence, we have neither the authority nor the discretion to decline passing upon said issue, but are under the ineluctable obligation — made particularly more exacting and peremptory by our oath, as members of the highest Court of the land, to support and defend the Constitution — to settle it.

This explains why, in Miller v. Johnson [92 Ky. 589, 18 SW 522, 523], it was held that courts have a “duty, rather than a power,” to determine whether another branch of the government has “kept within constitutional limits.”

  1. No, there is no violation of the constitution.

The term “majority” has been judicially defined a number of times. When referring to a certain number out of a total or aggregate, it simply “means the number greater than half or more than half of any total.” The plain and unambiguous words of the subject constitutional clause simply mean that the Senate President must obtain the votes of more than one half of all the senators. Not by any construal does it thereby delineate who comprise the “majority,” much less the “minority,” in the said body. And there is no showing that the framers of our Constitution had in mind other than the usual meanings of these terms.

In effect, while the Constitution mandates that the President of the Senate must be elected by a number constituting more than one half of all the members thereof, it does not provide that the members who will not vote for him shall ipso facto constitute the “minority,” who could thereby elect the minority leader. Verily, no law or regulation states that the defeated candidate shall automatically become the minority leader.

Let us go back to the definitions of the terms “majority” and “minority.” Majority may also refer to “the group, party, or faction with the larger number of votes,” not necessarily more than one half. This is sometimes referred to as plurality. In contrast, minority is “a group, party, or faction with a smaller number of votes or adherents than the majority.”  Between two unequal parts or numbers comprising a whole or totality, the greater number would obviously be the majority while the lesser would be the minority. But where there are more than two unequal groupings, it is not as easy to say which is the minority entitled to select the leader representing all the minorities. In a government with a multi-party system such as in the Philippines (as pointed out by petitioners themselves), there could be several minority parties, one of which has to be indentified by the Comelec as the “dominant minority party” for purposes of the general elections.

In the prevailing composition of the present Senate, members either belong to different political parties or are independent. No constitutional or statutory provision prescribe which of the many minority groups or the independents or a combination thereof has the right to select the minority leader.

While the Constitution is explicit on the manner of electing a Senate President and a House Speaker, it is, however, dead silent on the manner of selecting the other officers in both chambers of Congress. All that the Charter says is that “[e]ach House shall choose such other officers as it may deem necessary.” To our mind, the method of choosing who will be such other officers is merely a derivative of the exercise of the prerogative conferred by the aforequoted constitutional provision. Therefore, such method must be prescribed by the Senate itself, not by this Court.

In view of the foregoing, Congress verily has the power and prerogative to provide for such officers as it may deem. And it is certainly within its own jurisdiction and discretion to prescribe the parameters for the exercise of this prerogative. This Court has no authority to interfere and unilaterally intrude into that exclusive realm, without running afoul of constitutional principles that it is bound to protect and uphold — the very duty that justifies the Court’s being. Constitutional respect and a becoming regard for the sovereign acts of a coequal branch prevents this Court from prying into the internal workings of the Senate.

To repeat, this Court will be neither a tyrant nor a wimp; rather, it will remain steadfast and judicious in upholding the rule and majesty of the law. To accede, then, to the interpretation of petitioners would practically amount to judicial legislation, a clear breach of the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers. If for this argument alone, the petition would easily fail.

While no provision of the Constitution or the laws or the rules and even the practice of the Senate was violated, and while the judiciary is without power to decide matters over which full discretionary authority has been lodged in the legislative department, this Court may still inquire whether an act of Congress or its officials has been made with grave abuse of discretion. 50 This is the plain implication of Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution, which expressly confers upon the judiciary the power and the duty not only “to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable,” but likewise “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.”


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