Author: Chad Osorio
The study of the Constitution falls under political law. According to the Supreme Court,
“Political law is the branch of public law which deals with the organization and operations of the governmental organs of the State and defines the relations of the State with the inhabitants of its territory.”
Both in Philippine law and international legal discussions, there are many definitions provided for the concept of a constitution. But simply put, Hamilton provides that the Constitution is “a law for the government, safeguarding individual rights, set down in writing.”
Constitutional Law primarily relies on the Constitution as the basis of all the laws of the land; however, some countries, such as the United Kingdom and Israel, do not have a written constitution and rely instead on general principles of the laws of the land (jus commune). The Constitution traditionally describes the form of government, and the authority by which that government exercises its power over the state, including the different branches of the Executive, its agencies, and independent commissions.
Constitutions and their principles mandate the rule of law. British legal theorist A. V. Dicey states three essential elements:
- The law is supreme over arbitrary and discretionary powers
- All men are equal in the eyes of the law
- The Constitution is a result of the ordinary law of the land
This means that the law, developed through the years, must apply equally to everyone. It should not easily be swayed by the nation’s current leaders and people in power.
It is important to note that we consider the Philippine Constitution as the supreme law of the land, meaning that no law subsequently passed can amend a Constitutional provision. This is why some provisions of enacted laws are considered “unconstitutional,” because in principle they go against specific provisions of the Constitution, and therefore should be struck down.
The Philippine Constitution is considered rigid as well. This means that it cannot be amended except for a special process called charter change or constitutional amendments, separate and distinct from ordinary legislation. This is in contrast with other countries, like the United Kingdom for instance. Their Constitution is considered flexible, as it may be changed in the same manner and through the same legislative body that crafts and modifies everyday law.
The Supreme Court, when interpreting the law and how it is applied, must always strive to uphold the spirit of the Constitution.
Most Essential Learning Competencies
This module aims to:
- Introduce the salient points of the Philippine Constitution and its historical development;
- Analyze the roles and powers of the executive branch of the government;
- Differentiate the roles and responsibilities of the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives; and
- Analyze the roles and responsibilities of the Philippine Judiciary.
By the end of this module, learners are expected to demonstrate an understanding of:
- The historical development of the Philippine Constitution;
- General sections of the Philippine Constitution and key provisions thereof;
- Basic concepts and principles embodied in the Constitution, including “presidential immunity,” “separation of powers” and “checks and balances”, and;
- Areas for potential Constitutional reform.
By the end of this module, learners are expected to:
- Be able to share the importance of understanding the Philippine Constitution and contextualizing it within the country’s history;
- Be knowledgeable and conversant regarding the basic provisions of the Philippine Constitution, and;
- Be able to share their ideas on how future Constitutional reforms could be implemented.
Lesson 1: Introducing the Philippine Constitution
At the end of the lesson, the student is expected to be able to:
- Explain the importance of the Philippine Constitution to law and governance;
- Discuss the Philippine Constitution and its salient provisions; and,
- Expound upon the various key concepts in governance as provided by the Constitution.
Study Guide Questions
- What is a constitution?
- What are the significant developments in the Philippine Constitution throughout history?
- Why is it important to have an understanding of the Philippine Constitution?
How did the Philippine Constitution develop?
The Philippines has had 5 constitutions since the country’s independence in 1898:
The 1899 Malolos Constitution (1899-1901). The Political Constitution of 1899 was enacted upon the declaration of independence of the Philippines from Spanish rule, and shortly before the Philippine-American War erupted. It had a total of 14 titles and 102 articles, the longest titles dealing with individual rights and the rest related to the administration of government. It was originally written in Spanish and was named after the place where it was signed, in Barasoain Church, Malolos, Bulacan.
The Malolos Constitution was never fully implemented due to several factors, primarily the US colonial regime under which the Philippines was placed. However, it paved the way for the Philippines to be known as the first republic in Asia.
The 1935 Constitution (1935-1943, 1945-1973). The 1935 Constitution established the Philippine Commonwealth. It had a total of 17 articles, subdivided into sections, and prepared the Philippines to establish its complete independence from the sovereignty of the United States. Key sections include the Bill of Rights, Citizenship and Suffrage, as well as the powers of the three branches of the government.
The 1943 Constitution (1943-1945). During the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, a new Constitution was enacted. It was called a “puppet government” because decisions and actions were highly controlled by the Japanese Military Administration. The 1943 Constitution differed from the previous constitution in a number of ways. For example, this version of the Constitution begins with the Republic and an enumeration of the three branches of government. The Bill of Rights was renamed “Duties and Rights of the Citizen.” It is also the shortest Philippine Constitution at only 12 articles.
After the Japanese Occupation, the Philippines reverted to the 1935 Constitution.
The 1973 Constitution (1973-1986). The 1973 Constitution shifted the system of the Philippine national government from presidential to parliamentary. Instead of Congress, it is the National Assembly which is vested with the power of legislation, headed by the Prime Minister, who serves as the Head of Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The President retains being Head of State and Chief Executive.
The 1973 Constitution has 17 articles. Many of its provisions were given with the imprimatur of then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., favoring him and his ilk and allowing him to remain in power and plunder the country for more than twenty years. Certain provisions were revised in 1976, 1980, and 1981. This Constitution persisted until the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution.
The 1987 Constitution (1987-present). This Constitution reinstated the bicameral legislature, removed the position of Prime Minister, and strengthened certain provisions to prevent government abuse, empower the people, and ensure the operation of republican and democratic principles.
It has the Preamble and 18 articles. In it, it describes the three branches of government and the independent constitutional commissions: COA, COMELEC, and CSC.The date of effectivity of the 1987 Constitution is on February 2, 1987, the date of the plebiscite, and not on the date its ratification was proclaimed.
How is the Philippine Constitution interpreted?
In Francisco v. House of Representatives, the Supreme Court stated three basic principles when interpreting the Constitution.
- Verba legis: Whenever possible, the words used in the Constitution must be given their ordinary meaning, except where technical terms are employed. It highlights that the Constitution, even though it is essential to the rule of law, is NOT primarily a lawyer’s document, and must be understood by the average person in order to be ever-present in the people’s consciousness.
- Ratio legis est anima: In cases of ambiguity, the words of the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with the intent of the framers. It stresses that a doubtful provision must be examined in the light of the history of the times, and the condition and circumstances under which the Constitution was framed.
- Ut magis valeat quam pereat: The Constitution should be interpreted as a whole. This means that certain provisions should not be taken by themselves, especially in order to favor a specific objective, but rather interpreted together with all other provisions
The general presumption is also that all provisions of the constitution are self-executing unless the contrary is clearly intended. This means that Congress does not need to pass particular laws to enforce them.
However, statements of general principles, especially those embodied in Article II, are usually not self-executing, and only provide guidelines for legislation.
Exceptions to these exceptions are the
- right to a balanced and healthful ecology
- promotion and protection of health
- right to information
- Filipino First Policy
What are the components of the Philippine Constitution?
The Supreme Court, in Lambino v. COMELEC, outlines the different aspects of the Philippine Constitution:
- Constitution of Government: establishes the basic structure of the government, its branches, and their operations.
- Constitution of Sovereignty: provides how the Constitution may be changed.
- Constitution of Liberty: states the fundamental rights of the people.
I. CONSTITUTION OF GOVERNMENT
The Legislative Department
Articles VI talks about the Legislative Department, the branch of the government tasked to make laws. It covers both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which together comprises the Philippine Congress.
The Senate is composed of 24 senators, serving 6 years for a maximum of 2 consecutive terms (Art. VI, Sec. 2 and 4). It is helmed by the Senate President (Art. VI, Sec. 16(1)).
The House of Representatives, on the other hand, is composed of a maximum of 250 members (unless otherwise increased by law), taking proportional representation from legislative districts based on the number of respective inhabitants (Art. VI, Sec. 5).
There is also a Party List system in the Congress, which gives sectoral groups access to representation in the House of Representatives (Art. VI, Sec. 5). Members of the House of Representatives serve for 3 years, for a maximum of 3 consecutive terms (Art. VI, Sec. 7). The Constitution mandates that the House of Representatives should elect its Speaker by majority vote, as well as choose other officers (Art. VI, Sec. 16).
Congress is said to have not only legislative power but also the “power of the purse”, giving its imprimatur on government budget and spending (Art. VI, Sec. 24 and 25).
The Executive Department
Article VII discusses the Executive Department, which implements the laws, headed by the President. In addition to heading all the executive departments, bureaus, and offices, the President is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The President and the Vice President both serve for six years (Art. VII, Sec. 3). The President is not eligible for re-election, while the Vice President can serve only a maximum of 2 successive terms (Art. VII, Sec. 3). While the President is vested with executive authority, there is no provision in the Constitution for the duties and responsibilities of the Vice President, except only to succeed the President in case of the former’s death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation (Art. VII, Sec. 8).
The President is also known as the Chief Architect of foreign policy, although all treaties and international agreements must still be concurred in by at least two-thirds of the Members of the Senate for them to be valid and effective (Art. VII, Sec. 21).
Article VIII focuses on the Judiciary, which interprets the laws. It is headed by the Supreme Court, composed of the Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices, serving until 70 years of age or until too incapacitated to perform the duties required by their respective offices (Art. VIII, Sec.4(1); Sec. 11).
All members of the judicial branch must be members of the Philippine Bar (licensed lawyers).
Independent and Special Offices
Article IX enumerates the different Constitutional Commissions. This includes the Commission on Elections, the Commission on Audit, and the Civil Service Commission. These are independent bodies designed to keep the three branches of government in check. All three enjoy fiscal and administrative autonomy to help ensure that they are not influenced by politics.
The Civil Service Commission serves as the central personnel agency of the government and handles the rules of admission, conduct, and discipline of those in public service.
The Commission on Elections is tasked to enforce all laws and regulations related to elections, plebiscites, initiatives, referendum, and recall. It also decides controversies related to the qualifications and election of all elective regional, provincial, and city officials.
The Commission on Audit ensures that government funds are properly spent and accounted for. It covers all bodies of Government, including government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) and autonomies states’ colleges and universities.
Article X provides the basis for local governance. It subdivides the country into provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays, with a special provision creating autonomous regions for Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras. These are all collectively called as local government units or LGUs.
Under Art. XIII, Sec. 17, the Constitution also mandated the creation of the independent Commission on Human Rights, tasked to investigate all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights.
Note that the CHR’s primary mandate is to protect citizens from the abuses of state actors. This ensures that government officials will not abuse their power at the expense of individual citizens. If a fellow citizen commits harms against another citizen, then generally this is not covered by the CHR but rather by criminal justice institutions, like the Philippine National Police.
Other, Non-Independent Offices
The 1987 Constitution also mandated the creation of a special agency for disabled persons (Art. XIII, Sec. 13) and the establishment of one police force (Art. XVI, Sec. 6), as well as a national language commission (Art. XIV, Sec. 9).
Other government institutions specifically referred to by the 1987 Constitution include the Sandiganbayan (Art. XI, Sec. 4), the Ombudsman, formerly known as the Tanodbayan (Art. XI, Sec. 5), the National Economic Development Administration (Art. XII, Sec. 9) and the Central Bank (Art. XII, Sec. 20).
II. CONSTITUTION OF SOVEREIGNTY
The Philippine Constitution affirms that sovereignty, the power of the state, resides in the people. Thus, the power to effect changes to the Constitution lies with the People as well.
Art. XVII, Sec. 2, for example, states that “amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative,” provided that certain conditions are met, including a percentage of the total number of registered voters (12%) and territorial representation (3% of the registered voters of every legislative district).
It affirms Art. II, Sec. 1, which declares that “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”
III. CONSTITUTION OF LIBERTY
Art. III, the Bill of Rights, embodies the Constitution of Liberty. It lists down certain inviolable rights enjoyed by every citizen, and this includes:
- Sec. 1. Right to life, liberty and property, due process, equal protection of laws
- Sec. 2. Right against unreasonable searches and seizures
- Sec. 3. Privacy of communication and correspondence
- Sec. 4. Freedom of speech, expression, and the press, peaceful assembly
- Sec. 5. Freedom of religion
- Sec. 6. Liberty of abode and right to travel
- Sec. 7. Right to information
- Sec. 8. Right to form and join labor unions, associations, and societies
- Sec. 9. Right to just compensation for public acquisition of private property
- Sec. 10. Freedom to contract
- Sec. 11. Free access to legal assistance, the courts, and quasi-judicial bodies
- Sec. 12. Rights of the accused, including the right to be informed, the right to counsel, and the prohibition on torture
- Sec. 13. Right to bail
- Sec. 14. Due process, right to be considered innocent until proven guilty
- Sec. 15. The writ of habeas corpus
- Sec. 16. Right to timely justice and speedy disposition of cases
- Sec. 17. Right against self-incrimination
- Sec. 18. Right against prosecution for political beliefs and ban on involuntary servitude
- Sec. 19. Right against excessive fines and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishments, including substandard or inadequate penal facilities under subhuman conditions
- Sec. 20. Non-imprisonment for failure to pay debt or poll tax
- Sec. 21. Right against double jeopardy
- Sec. 22. Prohibition on ex post facto laws and bills of attainder
What are the concepts and key points embedded in the Philippine Constitution?
The Constitution emphasizes the primacy of civilian authority (Art. II, Sec. 3), considering that sovereignty and all government authority emanates from the people (Art. II, Sec. 1).
The Constitution, while prescribing authority to the government, also often provides a structure by which to prevent abuses of its power. This is often described as checks and balances, where the different branches of the government share in the power of the sovereign, and that no one branch will amass so much power to the detriment of the others. This is based on the concept of separation of powers. While not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, the concept is respected in practice.
“It does not follow from the fact that the three powers are to be kept separate and distinct that the Constitution intended them to be absolutely unrestrained and independent of each other. The Constitution has provided for an elaborate system of checks and balances to secure coordination in the workings of the various departments of the government.”
Because of the imposition of Martial Law in the 1970s and the massive abuse of executive and legislative power that came afterward, the Framers of the 1987 Constitution included stricter provisions to prevent such abuses from happening again. Art. VII, Sec. 18 retains the power of the President as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and allows the imposition of martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. However, this particular section limited it to a period not exceeding 60 days; at the same time, such a decision must be presented to Congress within 48 hours, with the latter body having the power to revoke the proclamation and/or suspension. At the same time, the Supreme Court may review the sufficiency of the factual basis of the said proclamation and/or suspension and issue a ruling within 30 days upon the filing of the complaint.
Though not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, the President enjoys executive immunity: this means that during their stay in power, they are immune from suit. They can only be removed by impeachment (Art. XI, Sec. 1).
The Legislative department has a similar, but much more limited, immunity.
Members of Congress are privileged from arrest during the duration of their term if they are charged with criminal offenses punishable by not more than 6 years in prison (Art. VI, Sec. 11). Furthermore, this only applies when Congress is in session.
The Philippines, while it adopts generally accepted principles of international law (Art. II, Sec. 2), also strives to maintain an independent foreign policy (Art. II, Sec. 7), both of which are paramount in order to build a strong interdependent, international community.
The Constitution also promotes a number of different values, such as human rights, family, youth, women, health, environment, education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports, labor, indigenous cultural communities, and civil society activities. It also seeks to prohibit political dynasties, graft, and corruption (Art. II).
Art. IV discusses citizenship, as to who is considered a Filipino national while Art. V talks about suffrage, otherwise known as the right to vote. In line with this, the Constitution also provides provisions on ownership: what can and cannot be owned by Filipinos and non-Filipinos.
For example, Art. XII, Sec. 3 prohibits the acquisition of real estate property by foreigners, unless acquired through hereditary succession. Art. XIV, Sec. 4 (2) requires that educational institutions, other than those established by religious groups and mission boards, shall be owned solely by citizens of the Philippines or corporations or associations at least sixty per cent of the capital of which is owned by such citizens. Another example is mass media, whose ownership is limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives, or associations, wholly owned and managed by such citizens (Art. XVI, Sec. 11(1))
There are a number of other industries the ownership of which is limited by the Constitution, including the exploration and utilization of natural resources (Art. XII, Sec. 2), grants and franchises of public utilities (Art. XII, Sec. 11), and advertising (Art. XVI, Sec. 11(2)), among others.
While the Constitution advocates for the separation of church and state and disallows laws from establishing a religion (Art. II, Sec. 6; Art. III, Sec. 5), it nevertheless forwards the free exercise thereof, meaning people are free to individually choose what religion to follow, if at all (Art. III, Sec. 5).
Is the Philippine Constitution perfect?
The simple answer is NO. The Constitution, while possessing a number of exemplary characteristics, possesses well-grounded criticisms against it.
As the Supreme Law of the land and the basis of every other law arising, the Constitution must be written in a simple manner, easily understandable by the common person. Instead, it is peppered with platitudes, beginning from the Preamble and until the end.
The 1987 Constitution is also the longest Constitution of the Philippines to date and contains details otherwise not usually seen in constitutions of other countries. Many of these details could otherwise have been left to the legal codes, and not embedded in the Constitution.
The organization of the 1987 Constitution leaves much to be desired, and there are many examples of this. Art. III, Sec. 14 (1) mentions due process, repeating Sec. 1 of the same article. Art. VII, Sec. 21 talks about the Senate, when the entire article actually refers to the Executive department. Repetitions of similar values, concepts, and terms are common, highlighting the redundancy of provisions.
In addition, there are recent moves to transform the Presidential system of government to a Parliamentary, Federal form of government. Proponents insist that this could be the key to empowering local government and could result in inclusive development across the different islands of the Philippines. However, a working framework for this is yet to be presented.
Because of these factors, there are proposals to modify the 1987 Constitution. This is all well and good: after all, updating the basic law created more than three decades and a half prior to reflect the changing times is a positive legal development.
However, we must be vigilant not to let unscrupulous entities insert self-serving provisions into the new version.
Something to Remember: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Please note that this module serves only as a summary and utilizes keywords to make the concepts easier to understand. But before citing a provision of the Constitution in discussions and arguments, please make sure to read the actual provision first. And in cases of doubt, don’t hesitate to read more about it.
Self-Evaluation Form (Part I)
Answer the following questions:
1. What do you already know about the Philippine Constitution?
2. As a learner and Filipino citizen, why do you think it is important for the 1987 Philippine Constitution to be followed?
List of Activities
Activity 1: A Piece of Your Mind
Instructions. Based on the discussion above, if you were given the chance, what constitutional reforms would you forward? Give at least two (2) suggestions, as well as a brief description and justifications with three to five sentences each.
Activity 1: Old and the New
Instructions: Read the previous versions of the Philippine Constitution, focused on provisions related to the Bill of Rights. What changes have you noticed? Write 300 words on the topic.
Self-Evaluation Form (Part 2)
Answer the following questions:
- Do you think there are points for improvement in the Philippine Constitution? Why or why not?
- What are occurrences around you, or in the news that you observe, which follow or do not follow the Philippine Constitution?
Rubric for Discussions
|Excellent||Above Average||Developing||Needs Improvement|
|Content:The central theme/idea/argument of the student’s output is focused and supported by evidence which indicates mastery of the content.|
|Organization: The flow of the discussion of the central theme/idea/theme is coherent.|
|Presentation:The form and presentation of the central theme/idea is clear, persuasive, polite, and easy to understand.|
Rubric for Written Outputs
|Excellent||Above Average||Developing||Needs Improvement|
|Content:The central theme/idea of the paper is focused and supported by evidence which indicates mastery of the content.|
|Organization: The flow of the discussion of the central theme/idea is coherent.|
|Presentation:The form and presentation of the central theme/idea is clear and easy to understand..|
Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: Govph. Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/constitutions/1987-constitution/
The First Philippine Republic. National Historical Commission of the Philippines. (2012). Retrieved from https://nhcp.gov.ph/the-first-philippine-republic/
Angara v. Electoral Commission, G.R. No. 45081 (July 15, 1936)
De Leon v. Esguerra, G.R. No. 78059 (August 31, 1987)
Espina v. Zamora, G.R. No. 143855 (September 21, 2010)
Francisco vs House of Representatives Case, GR 160261, 415 SCRA 44 (November 10, 2003)
Imbong v. Ochoa, G.R. No. 204819 (April 8, 2014)
Lambino v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 174153 (October 25, 2006)
Legaspi v. CSC, G.R. No. L-72119 (May 29, 1987)
Manila Prince v. GSIS, G.R. No. 122156, 335 Phil. 82 (February 3, 1997)
Oposa v. Factoran, G.R. No. 101083 (July 30, 1993)
People v. Perfecto, G.R. No. L-18463 (October 4, 1922)