Political Law

People of the Philippines vs Judge Jose Vera

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G.R. No. L-45685 – 65 Phil. 56 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Separation of Powers – Judicial Power; Judicial Review – Undue Delegation of Powers – Power to Pardon

Constitutionality of Laws – May the State Question Its Own Laws

In 1934, Mariano Cu Unjieng was convicted in a criminal case filed against him by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). In 1936, he applied for probation. The application was raffled to Judge Jose Vera. However, due to numerous delays in the hearing for the application, both the public and the private prosecution filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court. Among the issues raised in the petition was the constitutionality of the Probation Law (Act No. 4221). The allegations against its constitutionality were (1) Courts like the Court of First Instance of Manila have no jurisdiction to place accused like Cu Unjieng under probation because under the said law, probation is only meant to be applied in provinces with probation officers; that the City of Manila is not a province, and that Manila, even if construed as a province, has no designated probation officer – hence, a Manila court cannot grant probation, (2) there is undue delegation of power the said law makes it the prerogative of provinces whether or nor to apply the probation law – if a province chooses to apply the probation law, then it will appoint a probation officer, but if it will not, then no probation officer will be appointed, and (3) the Probation Law is an encroachment of the President’s pardoning power.

Cu Unjieng opposed the Petition on the ground that it is premature because there was still no final judgment by the lower court as to his application for probation and that the State, through the public prosecutor, cannot question its own laws.


1. May the State question its own laws?

2. May the Supreme Court in this case rule on the constitutionality of the Probation Law?

3. Is the Probation Law constitutional?


1. Yes. There is no law which prohibits the State, or its duly authorized representative, from questioning the validity of a law. Estoppel will also not lie against the State even if it had been using an invalid law.

2. Yes. It is a well-settled rule that the constitutionality of an act of the legislature will not be determined by the courts unless that question is properly raised and presented inappropriate cases and is necessary to a determination of the case; i.e., the issue of constitutionality must be the very lis mota presented. In this case, the determination of Cu Unjieng’s right under the Probation Law is dependent on whether or not the said law is constitutional.

2. No, Act No. 4221 or the [old] Probation Law is unconstitutional.

Violation of the Equal Protection Clause

The contention of HSBC and the Prosecution is well taken on this note. There is violation of the equal protection clause. Under Act 4221, provinces were given the option to apply the law by simply providing for a probation officer. So if a province decides not to install a probation officer, then the accused within said province will be unduly deprived of the provisions of the Probation Law.

Undue Delegation of Legislative Power

There is undue delegation of legislative power. Act 4221 provides that it shall only apply to provinces where the respective provincial boards have provided for a probation officer. But nowhere in the law did it state as to what standard (sufficient standard test) should provincial boards follow in determining whether or not to apply the probation law in their province. This only creates a roving commission which will act arbitrarily according to its whims.

Encroachment of Executive Power

Though Act 4221 is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court recognized the power of Congress to provide for probation. Probation does not encroach upon the President’s power to grant pardon. Probation is not pardon. Probation is within the power of Congress to fix penalties while pardon is a power of the president to commute penalties.

In probation, the probationer is in no true sense, as in pardon, a free man. He is not finally and completely exonerated. He is not exempt from the entire punishment which the law inflicts. Under the Probation Act, the probationer’s case is not terminated by the mere fact that he is placed on probation. A probation law does not conflict with the pardoning power of the Executive. The pardoning power, in respect to those serving their probationary sentences, remains as full and complete as if the Probation Law had never been enacted. The President may yet pardon the probationer and thus place it beyond the power of the court to order his re-arrest and imprisonment.

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