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PIA Press Release
2010/03/25

Commentary: Interpreting the Constitution

By Bong Pedalino

Maasin City (25 March) -- Probably, and only probably, a solution that can be seen as an outcome on the latest controversy surrounding the controversial collective decision of the Supreme Court -- the one about President Arroyo naming the next Chief Justice -- is to amend the Constitution.

The amendment referred here, first and foremost, should focus on specific, clear language over prohibition on presidential appointments; in Section 15, Article VII, the objective in the change is to specify if such a ban applies to all branches, especially the two departments now the subject of much discussion, the Executive Department and the Judiciary hierarchy.

As it is, the pertinent provisions as stated in Sec. 15, Art. VII on the one hand, and Sec. 4(1), Sec. 9 of Article VIII on the other, is open to interpretation.

*****

Somehow, we can say that the consensus among the majority of the Justices was their shared interpretation on the issue at hand -- even granting that it was a narrow interpretation, it is interpretation just the same.

And being interpreted in that manner, there are possibilities that the SC's collegial take may be changed sooner or later within the timeframe allotted for it to take action finally and with finality in the final order of things.

Given the current record of the High Tribunal to reverse itself in celebrated cases, there are anticipated views the present challenge has been one of those more of the same routine.

*****

Any written Constitution, as we understand it, is a general framework of guidelines, a statement listing basic individual social, political rights, an overall declaration of principles and instructional limits within which any law already passed and still to be created must conform, must not go beyond its bounds, its set parameters.

How often did we hear it before, everytime a constitutional issue crops up, wherein the standard alibi is that there was no enabling law to breath life for such a particular charter provision, the law being the basis to act on, or be acted upon, based on the idea enshrined in the Constitution.

When a constitutional provision says "No law shall be passed abridging freedom of speech, of the press, of religion... etc", this means that if ever a law about to be passed is in complete disregard to this line, then it is called unconstitutional, that is, not in accordance to the basic charter, and thus should not reach first base in the law-making process altogether.

The case on the League of Cities versus the 16 towns wanting to be cities is a typical example. The issue here was based on the law, the enabling law, on creating cities, not on seemingly conflicting provisions in the Constitution. (Comparison here is limited to the source of conflict, per see, and not on the decision.)

*****

Still, the Supreme Court as a finish line arbiter either of interpreting laws or provisions in the Constitution, should not have thrown caution into the wind.

This is because any ruling it promulgated will be considered henceforth an integral part on the laws of the land, which is why its past decisions most often have been quoted and referred to obviously to add more weight and substance to a hot and burning issue at present.

Noted Constitutionalists in the country were quick to point out this gaping hole, citing that in 1998 the High Court had already ruled out a similar circumstance as the current imbroglio.

Again, the lesson here for everyone to learn is to have a clear-cut, layman's wordings on the constitutional provisions mentioned earlier.

*****

LOCAL FRONT: Some legal observers in Maasin City pointed out that the furor over the recent Supreme Court row may have been caused by too much concern on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. They wondered, with some aura of truth, that if only the current occupant in Malacanang was not PGMA, maybe the wide reaction may not be that widespread. Put another way, the issue boils down to a personal orientation, and not so much on the merits of the constitutional question. Against a background wherein PGMA has always been the object of criticism, this logic apparently makes sense.

ODDLY YOURS: Kerry Packer, the Australian tycoon whose $ 5 Billion fortune made him Australia's richest, had cheated death. In 1990, he suffered a heart attack and was dead for eight minutes before being revived. He later told a television talk-show host, "The good news is there's no devil. The bad news is there's no heaven." Early in 2006 Packer, 68, died, but his quotable quote uttered in 1990 has always been alive -- throughout the 16 years that he recovered his life, and onwards. (PIA-Southern Leyte) [top]

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