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Biraogo vs.

Philippine Truth Commission


Louis Biraogo vs. Philippine Truth Commission of 2010 and Rep. Edcel Lagman et al. vs.
Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa et al. are consolidated petitions decided by the Supreme
Court of the Philippines invalidating the creation of a truth commission tasked to investigate a
previous president.
Contents
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1 Creation of the Truth Commission

2 The Court's Ruling


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2.1 The president has the authority to create the Truth Commission

2.2 The PTC will not erode the powers or independence of the Ombudsman

2.3 The purpose of the PTC offends the equal protection clause

Creation of the Truth Commission[edit]


After a month in office, President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order No. 1 (E.O. 1) on July
30, 2010 creating the Philippine Truth Commission (PTC). The PTC was tasked to conduct a
thorough fact-finding investigation of reported cases of graft and corruption involving third level
public officers during the administration of Aquino's predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and
thereafter submit its findings and recommendations to the Office of the President, Congress, and
the Ombudsman.
Private citizen Louis Biraogo and a group of congressmen led by Lakas Kampi CMD chairman Rep.
Edcel Lagman filed in the Supreme Court separate petitions for certiorari and prohibition assailing
the constitutionality of E.O. 1 based on their belief that the creation of the PTC constitutes usurpation
of the legislative power to create public office, threatens the independence of the Office of the
Ombudsman, and violates the equal protection clause of the Philippine Constitution for specifically
targeting certain officials of the Arroyo administration.
The main issues raised before the High Court were: (1) Whether the president can create public
office such as the PTC without usurping the powers of Congress; (2) Whether the PTC supplants the
powers already vested on the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice (DOJ); and, (3) Whether
the purpose of the PTC transgresses the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

The Court's Ruling[edit]


The president has the authority to create the Truth Commission [edit]
Majority of the members of the Supreme Court rejected the justification of the Solicitor
General (OSG) that the creation of the PTC finds basis on the presidents power of control over all
executive offices. The Decision stressed that control is essentially the power to alter, modify, nullify
or set aside what a subordinate officer had done in the performance of his duties and to substitute
the judgment of the former with that of the latter. Clearly, the power of control is entirely different from
the power to create public offices. The majority also rejected the OSGs claim that that the E.O. finds
basis under sec. 31 of the Administrative Code, which authorizes the president to restructure the
Office of the President. Clearly, restructure under the said provision refers to reduction of

personnel, consolidation or abolition of offices by reason of economy or redundancy. This


presupposes an already existing office. The creation of an office is nowhere mentioned, much less
envisioned in said provision.
Nonetheless, the ponencia agreed with the argument of the OSG that the presidents power to
create the PTC may find justification under the presidents duty under sec. 17, Article VII of
the Constitution to ensure that the laws be faithfully executed. The Court held that while it is true
that the authority of the president to conduct investigations and to create bodies to execute this
power is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution or in statutes, it does not necessarily mean that
he does not have such authority. The president has the obligation to ensure that all executive
officials and employees (whether from past or present administrations) faithfully comply with the law.
The purpose of ad hoc investigating bodies such as the PTC is to allow an inquiry into matters which
the president is entitled to know so that he can be properly advised and guided in the performance of
his duties relative to the execution and enforcement of the laws of the land.

The PTC will not erode the powers or independence of the Ombudsman [edit]
The Court also held that the investigative function of the commission will not supplant nor threaten
the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman. If at all, it will complement the functions of the
Ombudsman and the Department of Justice. As correctly pointed out by the OSG, the function of the
PTC is merely to recommend prosecution, which is just a consequence of its fact-finding
investigation. The actual prosecution of suspected offenders, much less adjudication on the merits of
the charges against them, is certainly not a function given to the PTC.

The purpose of the PTC offends the equal protection clause [edit]
While the Court was almost unanimous in holding that the president indeed had the authority to
create the PTC and that it would not unduly duplicate the powers of the Ombudsman, nine (9) of the
justices joinedAssociate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza in refusing to uphold the constitutionality of
E.O. 1 in view of its apparent transgression of the equal protection clause enshrined in sec. 1, Art. III
of the Constitution. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was joined by four (4) others in their
strong dissent.
Laying down a long line of precedents, the ponencia reiterated that equal protection simply requires
that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated alike, both as to rights conferred and
responsibilities imposed. The purpose of the equal protection clause is to secure every person
against intentional and arbitrary discrimination. Applying this precept, the majority held that E.O. 1
should be struck down as violative of the equal protection clause.
The Decision stressed that the clear mandate of the PTC is to investigate and find out the truth
concerning the reported cases of graft and corruption during the previous administration only. The
intent to single out the previous administration is plain, patent and manifest. Mention of it has been
made in at least three portions of the questioned executive order. The Arroyo administration,
according to the ponencia, is just a member of a class, that is, a class of past administrations. It is
not a class of its own. Not to include past administrations similarly situated constitutes arbitrariness
which the equal protection clause cannot sanction. Such discriminating differentiation gave the
majority an impression that the PTC is just being used as a vehicle for vindictiveness and selective
retribution and that E.O. 1 is only an adventure in partisan hostility.
While the Court recognized that the creation of the PTC was inspired with noble intentions, the
ponencia nonetheless reminded the government of the ethical principle that the end does not justify
the means. It emphatically closed by stressing that the search for the truth must be within
constitutional bounds, for ours is still a government of laws and not of men.