Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary, G.R. Nos. 83896 & 83815, 22 February 1991
TOPIC: Interpreting the Constitution
Petitioners maintain that this Executive Order which, in effect, allows members of the Cabinet, their undersecretaries and assistant secretaries to hold other government offices or positions in addition to their primary positions, albeit subject to the limitation therein imposed, runs counter to Section 13, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution,2 which provides as follows:
Sec. 13. The President, Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, and their deputies or assistants shall not, unless otherwise provided in this Constitution, hold any other office or employment during their tenure. They shall not, during said tenure, directly or indirectly practice any other profession, participate in any business, or be financially interested in any contract with, or in any franchise, or special privilege granted by the Government or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries. They shall strictly avoid conflict of interest in the conduct of their office.
In sum, the constitutionality of Executive Order No. 284 is being challenged by petitioners on the principal submission that it adds exceptions to Section 13, Article VII other than those provided in the Constitution. According to petitioners, by virtue of the phrase “unless otherwise provided in this Constitution,” the only exceptions against holding any other office or employment in Government are those provided in the Constitution, namely: (1) The VicePresident may be appointed as a Member of the Cabinet under Section 3, par. (2), Article VII thereof; and (2) the Secretary of Justice is an ex-officio member of the Judicial and Bar Council by virtue of Section 8 (1), Article VIII. Petitioners further argue that the exception to the prohibition in Section 7, par. (2), Article I-XB on the Civil Service Commission applies to officers and employees of the Civil Service in general and that said exceptions do not apply and cannot be extended to Section 13, Article VII which applies specifically to the President, Vice-President, Members of the Cabinet and their deputies or assistants.
Whether or not Executive Order No. 284 issued by President Corazon Aquino is unconstitutional as assailed in Article VII, Section 13 of the 1987 Constitution.
Yes. Executive Order No. 284 issued by President Corazon Aquino is unconstitutional as assailed in Article VII, Section 13 of the 1987 Constitution is unconstitutional.
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.
The practice of designating members of the Cabinet, their deputies and assistants as members of the governing bodies or boards of various government agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations, became prevalent during the time legislative powers in this country were exercised by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos pursuant to his martial law authority. There was a proliferation of newly-created agencies, instrumentalities and government-owned and controlled corporations created by presidential decrees and other modes of presidential issuances where Cabinet members, their deputies or assistants were designated to head or sit as members of the board with the corresponding salaries, emoluments, per diems, allowances and other perquisites of office. Most of these instrumentalities have remained up to the present time.
This practice of holding multiple offices or positions in the government soon led to abuses by unscrupulous public officials who took advantage of this scheme for purposes of self-enrichment. In fact, the holding of multiple offices in government was strongly denounced on the floor of the Batasang Pambansa.12 This condemnation came in reaction to the published report of the Commission on Audit, entitled “1983 Summary Annual Audit Report on: GovernmentOwned and Controlled Corporations, Self-Governing Boards and Commissions” which carried as its Figure No. 4 a “Roaster of Membership in Governing Boards of Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations as of December 31, 1983.”
The blatant betrayal of public trust evolved into one of the serious causes of discontent with the Marcos regime. It was therefore quite inevitable and in consonance with the overwhelming sentiment of the people that the 1986 Constitutional Commission, convened as it was after the people successfully unseated former President Marcos, should draft into its proposed Constitution the provisions under consideration which are envisioned to remedy, if not correct, the evils that flow from the holding of multiple governmental offices and employment. In fact, as keenly observed by Mr. Justice Isagani A. Cruz during the deliberations in these cases, one of the strongest selling points of the 1987 Constitution during the campaign for its ratification was the assurance given by its proponents that the scandalous practice of Cabinet members holding multiple positions in the government and collecting unconscionably excessive compensation therefrom would be discontinued.
But what is indeed significant is the fact that although Section 7, Article I-XB already contains a blanket prohibition against the holding of multiple offices or employment in the government subsuming both elective and appointive public officials, the Constitutional Commission should see it fit to formulate another provision, Sec. 13, Article VII, specifically prohibiting the President, Vice-President, members of the Cabinet, their deputies and assistants from holding any other office or employment during their tenure, unless otherwise provided in the Constitution itself. Evidently, from this move as well as in the different phraseologies of the constitutional provisions in question, the intent of the framers of the Constitution was to impose a stricter prohibition on the President and his official family in so far as holding other offices or employment in the government or elsewhere is concerned.
Moreover, respondents’ reading of the provisions in question would render certain parts of the Constitution inoperative. This observation applies particularly to the Vice-President who, under Section 13 of Article VII is allowed to hold other office or employment when so authorized by the Constitution, but who as an elective public official under Sec. 7, par. (1) of Article I-XB is absolutely ineligible “for appointment or designation in any capacity to any public office or position during his tenure.” Surely, to say that the phrase “unless otherwise provided in this Constitution” found in Section 13, Article VII has reference to Section 7, par. (1) of Article I-XB would render meaningless the specific provisions of the Constitution authorizing the Vice-President to become a member of the Cabinet, and to act as President without relinquishing the Vice-Presidency where the President shall not nave been chosen or fails to qualify. Such absurd consequence can be avoided only by interpreting the two provisions under consideration as one, i.e., Section 7, par. (1) of Article I-XB providing the general rule and the other, i.e., Section 13, Article VII as constituting the exception thereto. In the same manner must Section 7, par. (2) of Article IXB be construed vis-a-vis Section 13, Article VII.
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.17 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 together.
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.
Since the evident purpose of the framers of the 1987 Constitution is to impose a stricter prohibition on the President, Vice-President, members of the Cabinet, their deputies and assistants with respect to holding multiple offices or employment in the government during their tenure, the exception to this prohibition must be read with equal severity.
On its face, the language of Section 13, Article VII is prohibitory so that it must be understood as intended to be a positive and unequivocal negation of the privilege of holding multiple government offices or employment. Verily, wherever the language used in the constitution is prohibitory, it is to be understood as intended to be a positive and unequivocal negation.21 The phrase “unless otherwise provided in this Constitution” must be given a literal interpretation to refer only to those particular instances cited in the Constitution itself, to wit: the Vice-President being appointed as a member of the Cabinet under Section 3, par. (2), Article VII; or acting as President in those instances provided under Section 7, pars. (2) and (3), Article VII; and, the Secretary of Justice being ex-officio member of the Judicial and Bar Council by virtue of Section 8 (1), Article VIII.
The prohibition against holding dual or multiple offices or employment under Section 13, Article VII of the Constitution must not, however, be construed as applying to posts occupied by the Executive officials specified therein without additional compensation in an ex-officio capacity as provided by law and as required22 by the primary functions of said officials’ office. The reason is that these posts do no comprise “any other office” within the contemplation of the constitutional prohibition but are properly an imposition of additional duties and functions on said officials.23 To characterize these posts otherwise would lead to absurd consequences, among which are: The President of the Philippines cannot chair the National Security Council reorganized under Executive Order No. 115 (December 24, 1986). Neither can the Vice-President, the Executive Secretary, and the Secretaries of National Defense, Justice, Labor and Employment and Local Government sit in this Council, which would then have no reason to exist for lack of a chairperson and members. The respective undersecretaries and assistant secretaries, would also be prohibited.
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