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Chavez v JBC

Facts:

In 1994, instead of having only 7 members, an eighth member was added to the JBC as
two representatives from Congress began sitting in the JBC – one from the House of
Representatives and one from the Senate, with each having one-half (1/2) of a vote. Then,
the JBC En Banc, in separate meetings held in 2000 and 2001, decided to allow the
representatives from the Senate and the House of Representatives one full vote each.
Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero and Congressman Niel C. Tupas, Jr. (respondents)
simultaneously sit in the JBC as representatives of the legislature. It is this practice that
petitioner has questioned in this petition. Respondents argued that the crux of the
controversy is the phrase “a representative of Congress.” It is their theory that the two
houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives, are permanent and mandatory
components of “Congress,” such that the absence of either divests the term of its
substantive meaning as expressed under the Constitution. Bicameralism, as the system
of choice by the Framers, requires that both houses exercise their respective powers in
the performance of its mandated duty which is to legislate. Thus, when Section 8(1),
Article VIII of the Constitution speaks of “a representative from Congress,” it should mean
one representative each from both Houses which comprise the entire Congress.

Issue:

1. Are the conditions sine qua non for the exercise of the power of judicial review have
been met in this case?

2. Is the JBC’s practice of having members from the Senate and the House of
Representatives making 8 instead of 7 sitting members unconstitutional?

3. What is the effect of the Court's finding that the current composition of the JBC is
unconstitutional?

Held:

1. Yes. The Courts’ power of judicial review is subject to several limitations, namely: (a)
there must be an actual case or controversy calling for the exercise of judicial power; (b)
the person challenging the act must have “standing” to challenge; he must have a
personal and substantial interest in the case, such that he has sustained or will sustain,
direct injury as a result of its enforcement; (c) the question of constitutionality must be
raised at the earliest possible opportunity; and (d) the issue of constitutionality must be
the very lis mota of the case. Generally, a party will be allowed to litigate only when these
conditions sine qua non are present, especially when the constitutionality of an act by a
co-equal branch of government is put in issue.

The Court disagrees with the respondents’ contention that petitioner lost his standing to
sue because he is not an official nominee for the post of Chief Justice. While it is true that
a “personal stake” on the case is imperative to have locus standi, this is not to say that
only official nominees for the post of Chief Justice can come to the Court and question
the JBC composition for being unconstitutional. The JBC likewise screens and nominates
other members of the Judiciary. Albeit heavily publicized in this regard, the JBC’s duty is
not at all limited to the nominations for the highest magistrate in the land. A vast number
of aspirants to judicial posts all over the country may be affected by the Court’s ruling.
More importantly, the legality of the very process of nominations to the positions in the
Judiciary is the nucleus of the controversy. The claim that the composition of the JBC is
illegal and unconstitutional is an object of concern, not just for a nominee to a judicial
post, but for all citizens who have the right to seek judicial intervention for rectification of
legal blunders.

2. Section 8, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution provides:

Section 8. (1) A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the
Supreme Court composed of the Chief Justice as ex officio Chairman, the Secretary of
Justice, and a representative of the Congress as ex officio Members, a representative of
the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, a retired Member of the Supreme Court, and a
representative of the private sector.
From a simple reading of the above-quoted provision, it can readily be discerned that the
provision is clear and unambiguous. The first paragraph calls for the creation of a JBC
and places the same under the supervision of the Court. Then it goes to its composition
where the regular members are enumerated: a representative of the Integrated Bar, a
professor of law, a retired member of the Court and a representative from the private
sector. On the second part lies the crux of the present controversy. It enumerates the ex
officio or special members of the JBC composed of the Chief Justice, who shall be its
Chairman, the Secretary of Justice and “a representative of Congress.”

The use of the singular letter “a” preceding “representative of Congress” is unequivocal
and leaves no room for any other construction. It is indicative of what the members of the
Constitutional Commission had in mind, that is, Congress may designate only one (1)
representative to the JBC. Had it been the intention that more than one (1) representative
from the legislature would sit in the JBC, the Framers could have, in no uncertain terms,
so provided.

One of the primary and basic rules in statutory construction is that where the words of a
statute are clear, plain, and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and
applied without attempted interpretation. It is a well-settled principle of constitutional
construction that the language employed in the Constitution must be given their ordinary
meaning except where technical terms are employed. As much as possible, the words of
the Constitution should be understood in the sense they have in common use. What it
says according to the text of the provision to be construed compels acceptance and
negates the power of the courts to alter it, based on the postulate that the framers and
the people mean what they say. Verba legis non est recedendum – from the words of a
statute there should be no departure.

Applying the foregoing principle to this case, it becomes apparent that the word
“Congress” used in Article VIII, Section 8(1) of the Constitution is used in its generic
sense. No particular allusion whatsoever is made on whether the Senate or the House of
Representatives is being referred to, but that, in either case, only a singular representative
may be allowed to sit in the JBC.

It is worthy to note that the seven-member composition of the JBC serves a practical
purpose, that is, to provide a solution should there be a stalemate in voting. This
underlying reason leads the Court to conclude that a single vote may not be divided into
half (1/2), between two representatives of Congress, or among any of the sitting members
of the JBC for that matter. This unsanctioned practice can possibly cause disorder and
eventually muddle the JBC’s voting process, especially in the event a tie is reached. The
aforesaid purpose would then be rendered illusory, defeating the precise mechanism
which the Constitution itself createdWhile it would be unreasonable to expect that the
Framers provide for every possible scenario, it is sensible to presume that they knew that
an odd composition is the best means to break a voting deadlock.

The respondents insist that owing to the bicameral nature of Congress, the word
“Congress” in Section 8(1), Article VIII of the Constitution should be read as including
both the Senate and the House of Representatives. They theorize that it was so worded
because at the time the said provision was being drafted, the Framers initially intended a
unicameral form of Congress. Then, when the Constitutional Commission eventually
adopted a bicameral form of Congress, the Framers, through oversight, failed to amend
Article VIII, Section 8 of the Constitution.

It is evident that the definition of “Congress” as a bicameral body refers to its primary
function in government – to legislate. In the passage of laws, the Constitution is explicit
in the distinction of the role of each house in the process. The same holds true in
Congress’ non-legislative powers. An inter-play between the two houses is necessary in
the realization of these powers causing a vivid dichotomy that the Court cannot simply
discount. This, however, cannot be said in the case of JBC representation because no
liaison between the two houses exists in the workings of the JBC. Hence, the term
“Congress” must be taken to mean the entire legislative department.

3. As a general rule, an unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes


no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office; it is inoperative as if it has not been
passed at all. This rule, however, is not absolute. Under the doctrine of operative facts,
actions previous to the declaration of unconstitutionality are legally recognized. They are
not nullified. This is essential in the interest of fair play.

The doctrine of operative fact, as an exception to the general rule, only applies as a matter
of equity and fair play. It nullifies the effects of an unconstitutional law by recognizing that
the existence of a statute prior to a determination of unconstitutionality is an operative
fact and may have consequences which cannot always be ignored. The past cannot
always be erased by a new judicial declaration. The doctrine is applicable when a
declaration of unconstitutionality will impose an undue burden on those who have relied
on the invalid law. Thus, it was applied to a criminal case when a declaration of
unconstitutionality would put the accused in double jeopardy or would put in limbo the
acts done by a municipality in reliance upon a law creating it.3

Under the circumstances, the Court finds the exception applicable in this case and holds
that notwithstanding its finding of unconstitutionality in the current composition of the JBC,
all its prior official actions are nonetheless valid. (Chavez vs. Judicial and Bar Council,
G.R. No. 202242, July 17, 2012)