House sub-committee also proposes to clip powers of judiciary

Lian Buan

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House sub-committee also proposes to clip powers of judiciary
(UPDATED) The proposed amendment takes away the judiciary’s power to determine grave abuse of discretion and jurisdiction by the other branches of government

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Apart from limiting protection of free speech, a House sub-committee also proposes to clip the powers of the judiciary, taking away their authority to inquire into the other branches of government.

The House sub-committee on amendments headed by Capiz 2nd District Fredenil Castro want to delete an entire phrase from Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution.

As it is, Section 1 provides the judiciary the power “to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.”

In the proposed amendment, the phrase “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government” shall be deleted.

It’s a very significant change to the powers of the judiciary, said retired Supreme Court justice Vicente Mendoza and Integrated Bar of the Phillipines (IBP) National President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo.

For Mendoza, the deletion of the portion can render the Supreme Court “powerless.”

“It needs serious study because deletion of this phrase mght be used to render SC powerless, he said.

As Fajardo explained: “It lessens the power of the judiciary to inquire into acts of other agencies.”

For example, in the proclamation of martial law, Solicitor General Jose Calida has time and time again insisted that it is a matter of ‘political question’ that is not for the judiciary to review. Meaning, it is to the discretion of the executive, or the President.

“Once ‘grave abuse’ provision is taken out, certain steps towards declaration may no longer be reviewed because they may be classified as political questions so that judges may no longer reverse or revise them. In this sense, discretion is broadened,” Fajardo said.

“Deletion of the phrase may be thought to mean overruling landmarking ruling in Lansang v Garcia upholding the power of the SC to review the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and declaration of martial law by the President,” Mendoza said.

But Fajardo clarified that martial law will “likely have separate provisions.”

“Congressional review of Presidential declaration will be spelled out in those provisions. We will have to wait for the proposed text,” he said.

The justification for the proposed amendment is “judicial overreach.” But for Anakpawis Partylist Representative Ariel Casilao, the amendment is clearly meant to suppress the judiciary.

Malinaw na atake ito sa prinsipyo ng accountability clause na ginagarantiya ng saligang batas. Pinapahina ang prinsipyo ng public office is a public trust,” Casilao said.

(This is a clear attack on the principle of the accountability clause guaranteed by the constitution. This weakens the principle that public office is a public trust.)

Casilao said the amendment will be used to the advantage of those who proposed it.

Nagbabalak ang mga nagpanukala nito na magiging malaya na sila sa kanilang unlimited na pag abuso sa kapangyarihan,” he said.

(The ones who proposed this want to be free to freely and limitlessly abuse their power.)

It was also Castro’s sub-committee who proposed that Article III of the constitution be changed so that “responsible exercise” is added before the phrase “freedom of speech.” It has been slammed by the House opposition bloc as meant to corner the press. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.