(Article published in the Nov 17, 2003 issue of TODAY, Business Section)
While, undoubtedly, the
constitutionality of the second impeachment complaint against Chief
Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. which was filed by Congressmen Gilberto C.
Teodoro, Jr. and Felix William B. Fuentebella with the Office of the
Secretary General of the House of Representatives on 23 October 2003 was
the primary issue settled by the Supreme Court in the Davide Impeachment
case, just as significant, if not more, to my mind was the court’s
ruling on the locus standi of
those who sought to be heard.
The Davide Impeachment
case was really a consolidation of 18 suits filed by a multitude of
petitioners, --some coming in individually or others as a group; over a
hundred born of women and the
rest persons only by fiction of law, -- and joined in by a number of
intervenors, offering themselves as either plaintiffs or respondents.
The sheer number of patriots, pranksters, professors and
politicians involved qualified the event as a veritable circus, with no
offense meant to professional circus performers.
No wonder the court had to call on its friends, the amici
curiae, to sort things out.
Not every clown could be
given a number in a circus program and thus a rule was devised by judges a
long time ago to separate those who had something to say from those who
wanted to put their foot in their mouths. Thus, the rule on locus
standi. In brief, the
rule requires that a person coming to court must have “a personal and
substantial interest in the case such that the party has sustained or will
sustain direct injury as a result of the governmental act that is being
The purpose of the rule is
ensure that the courts, which are not venues for abstract philosophical
disputations or sites for inter-school collegiate debates, are confronted
with “concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues
upon which the court depends for illumination of difficult constitutional
Translating the judicial
prose to the poetry of my childhood days in Gagalangin, Tondo, “get the
hell out, if the matter is none of your business”.
Or, better still, “wala
kang paki sa hindi mo pami”. Enforcement
of the rule was easy in our playground-streets.
A well-placed blow delivered to the skull by a lead pipe or the of
a feathered arrow planted in the gut took care of that.
But not so, in the courts of justice, where some lawyer’s skulls
are tougher than lead and some of their client’s guts are concretized by
offal. Hence, the need to highest court of the land to apply the
rule in particular circumstances.
Over the years, the
Supreme Court has allowed parties to come to court and be heard if they
are (a) citizens, (b) taxpayers, (c) legislators, with their awesome power
to deliver privilege speeches unrestrained by logic or decency, or when
they represent (d) an organization interested in the controversy or
(e) such a number of unorganized citizens affected by a measure,
called a “class suit” most likely taking the cue from the way high
school students behave in class nowadays, or in instances of (f)
transcendental importance calling for judicial meditation.
When suing as a citizen,
all that is required is that the citizen has sustained or is in imminent
danger of sustaining some direct injury as a result of the contested
government measure. The
possibility of suffering in an indefinite way is not enough.
However, when the proceedings involve the assertion of a public
right, citizenship satisfies the requirement of personal interest.
As a taxpayer, one can sue
on the basis of the claim that public funds (presumably, some of it comes
from the taxes he personally paid) are illegally disbursed,
improperly spent or wantonly wasted.
He is also required to show a direct injury.
However, he need not show that he has paid the correct amount or
the right kind of taxes. He
thus establishes that he is a taxpayer by buying a cedula.
As a legislator, a suitor
has standing if he claims that the official action he is questioning
infringes on his prerogatives as legislator.
In at least two cases, a member of the House of Representatives,
which has the power of the purse and the allegedly consequent power to
oversee the picking of that purse, was recognized to have standing to
maintain inviolate the prerogatives, powers and privileges vested by the
Constitution in his office. There
is no need to show that he goes to office, nor, in the instances when he
goes there, what he does in his office.
Organizations may also go
to court to represent members especially when they are composed of
substantial taxpayers (some of whom may or may not be willing to
contribute substantially to election campaign funds) and the outcome of
the case will affect their vital interests.
Such interest must be specific to the members.
Thus, the petition of the
Integrated Bar of the Philippines was in jeopardy of not being permitted
because it simply alleged as basis its duty to preserve the rule of law.
Such interest was deemed too general.
Even Ping Lacson can claim such interest.
It was only because the lawyers’s group “advanced
constitutional issues which deserve the attention of this Court in view of
their seriousness, novelty and weight as precedents” that the Supreme
Court, after admitting to “relax its rules on standing” allowed its
petition to prosper. The
Court, in conceding to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines some air
time, did not say whether or not the organization’s petition contained
anything in particular that was not articulated by more worthy
“Class suits” require
numbers and judging from the number of pupils in elementary and high
school classes, that requirement is easily understood.
It is important, however, that all interests within the class are
sufficiently represented so that a judgment on the case could bind even
those who did not actually come to court.
Finally, the Supreme Court
recognized that bringing a matter of “transcendental importance” will
open the doors of the court. What
is of “transcendental importance” is not doctrinally defined, but,
guidance can be sought from the formulation of former Justice Florentino
P. Feliciano who cited certain factors that characterize such an issue.
These are (a) the character of the funds or other assets involved
in the case; (b) the presence of a clear case of disregard of a
constitutional or statutory prohibition by the public respondent agency or
instrumentality of the government and (c) lack of any other party with a
more direct and specific interest in raising the questions posed.
I must apologize to my
latin teacher for the atrocious translation in the title of this item.
But it does seem to me, without in anyway belittling the
clarifications made by the Court in the Davide Impeachment case on what
gives a suitor standing, that the rules on locus
standi are still too loose to keep the court from being besieged and
overwhelmed by frivolous petitions.
The ground of
“transcendental importance” is particularly bothering and I am not
able to see how it can keep out the barbarians who are already at the
gates ready to pounce on high profile issues this election issues.
Take for instance, the Clean Air Act.
No one can deny how important and transcendental air is to us.
Can just about any one who claims he either anteriorly breathes it
or posteriorly pass it, or both, file a suit to question any of its
provisions? No wonder the
draft of its implementing regulations is still swirling in a lot of hot