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Case Digest: Biraogo v. Philippine Truth Commission of 2010, G.R. Nos. 192935 & 193936, 7 December 2010

Biraogo v. Philippine Truth Commission of 2010, G.R. Nos. 192935 & 193936, 7 December 2010

TOPIC: Judicial Review and the Expanded Power of Judicial Review


The first case is G.R. No. 192935, a special civil action for prohibition instituted by petitioner Louis Biraogo (Biraogo) in his capacity as a citizen and taxpayer. Biraogo assails Executive Order No. 1 for being violative of the legislative power of Congress under Section 1, Article VI of the Constitution6 as it usurps the constitutional authority of the legislature to create a public office and to appropriate funds therefor.

The second case, G.R. No. 193036, is a special civil action for certiorari and prohibition filed by petitioners Edcel C. Lagman, Rodolfo B. Albano Jr., Simeon A. Datumanong, and Orlando B. Fua, Sr. (petitioners-legislators) as incumbent members of the House of Representatives.

The genesis of the foregoing cases can be traced to the events prior to the historic May 2010 elections, when then Senator Benigno Simeon Aquino III declared his staunch condemnation of graft and corruption with his slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” The Filipino people, convinced of his sincerity and of his ability to carry out this noble objective, catapulted the good senator to the presidency.

To transform his campaign slogan into reality, President Aquino found a need for a special body to investigate reported cases of graft and corruption allegedly committed during the previous administration.

Nature of the Truth Commission

As can be gleaned from the above-quoted provisions, the Philippine Truth Commission (PTC) is a mere ad hoc body formed under the Office of the President with the primary task to investigate reports of graft and corruption committed by third-level public officers and employees, their co-principals, accomplices and accessories during the previous administration, and thereafter to submit its finding and recommendations to the President, Congress and the Ombudsman. Though it has been described as an “independent collegial body,” it is essentially an entity within the Office of the President Proper and subject to his control. Doubtless, it constitutes a public office, as an ad hoc body is one.8

To accomplish its task, the PTC shall have all the powers of an investigative body under Section 37, Chapter 9, Book I of the Administrative Code of 1987. It is not, however, a quasi-judicial body as it cannot adjudicate, arbitrate, resolve, settle, or render awards in disputes between contending parties. All it can do is gather, collect and assess evidence of graft and corruption and make recommendations. It may have subpoena powers but it has no power to cite people in contempt, much less order their arrest. Although it is a fact-finding body, it cannot determine from such facts if probable cause exists as to warrant the filing of an information in our courts of law. Needless to state, it cannot impose criminal, civil or administrative penalties or sanctions.

The PTC is different from the truth commissions in other countries which have been created as official, transitory and non-judicial fact-finding bodies “to establish the facts and context of serious violations of human rights or of international humanitarian law in a country’s past.”9 They are usually established by states emerging from periods of internal unrest, civil strife or authoritarianism to serve as mechanisms for transitional justice.


WON the Supreme Court, in the exercise of its constitutionally mandated power of Judicial Review with respect to recent initiatives of the legislature and the executive department, is exercising undue interference


  1. The Philippine Supreme Court, according to Article VIII, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, is vested with Judicial Power that “includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave of abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.”

Furthermore, in Section 4(2) thereof, it is vested with the power of judicial review which is the power to declare a treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation unconstitutional. This power also includes the duty to rule on the constitutionality of the application, or operation of presidential decrees, proclamations, orders, instructions, ordinances, and other regulations. These provisions, however, have been fertile grounds of conflict between the Supreme Court, on one hand, and the two co-equal bodies of government, on the other. Many times the Court has been accused of asserting superiority over the other departments.

To answer this accusation, the words of Justice Laurel would be a good source of enlightenment, to wit: “And when the judiciary mediates to allocate constitutional boundaries, it does not assert any superiority over the other departments; it does not in reality nullify or invalidate an act of the legislature, but only asserts the solemn and sacred obligation assigned to it by the Constitution to determine conflicting claims of authority under the Constitution and to establish for the parties in an actual controversy the rights which that instrument secures and guarantees to them.”

Thus, the Court, in exercising its power of judicial review, is not imposing its own will upon a co-equal body but rather simply making sure that any act of government is done in consonance with the authorities and rights allocated to it by the Constitution. And, if after said review, the Court finds no constitutional violations of any sort, then, it has no more authority of proscribing the actions under review. Otherwise, the Court will not be deterred to pronounce said act as void and unconstitutional.

It cannot be denied that most government actions are inspired with noble intentions, all geared towards the betterment of the nation and its people. But then again, it is important to remember this ethical principle: “The end does not justify the means.” No matter how noble and worthy of admiration the purpose of an act, but if the means to be employed in accomplishing it is simply irreconcilable with constitutional parameters, then it cannot still be allowed. The Court cannot just turn a blind eye and simply let it pass. It will continue to uphold the Constitution and its enshrined principles.

“The Constitution must ever remain supreme. All must bow to the mandate of this law. Expediency must not be allowed to sap its strength nor greed for power debase its rectitude.”

Lest it be misunderstood, this is not the death knell for a truth commission as nobly envisioned by the present administration. Perhaps a revision of the executive issuance so as to include the earlier past administrations would allow it to pass the test of reasonableness and not be an affront to the Constitution. Of all the branches of the government, it is the judiciary which is the most interested in knowing the truth and so it will not allow itself to be a hindrance or obstacle to its attainment. It must, however, be emphasized that the search for the truth must be within constitutional bounds for “ours is still a government of laws and not of men.”



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