Political Law

Philippine Judges Association vs Pete Prado

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G.R. No. 105371 – 227 SCRA 703 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Bill of Rights – Equal Protection – Franking Privilege of the Judiciary

Section 35 of Republic Act No. 7354 authorized the Philippine Postal Corporation (PPC) to withdraw franking privileges from certain government agencies. Franking privilege is a privilege granted to certain agencies to make use of the Philippine postal service free of charge. The PPC then was under the leadership of Postmaster Jorge Sarmiento. The PPC itself was under the Department of Transportation and Communication then headed by Secretary Pete Prado.

In 1992, a study came about where it was determined that the bulk of the expenditure of the postal service comes from the judiciary’s use of the postal service (issuance of court processes). Hence, the postal service recommended that the franking privilege be withdrawn from the judiciary. As a result, the PPC issued a circular withdrawing the said franking privilege.

The Philippine Judges Association (PJA) assailed the circular and questioned the validity of Section 35 of RA 7354. PJA claimed that the said provision is violative of the equal protection clause.

ISSUE: Whether or not the withdrawal of the franking privilege from the judiciary is valid.

HELD: No. The Supreme Court ruled that there is a violation of the equal protection clause. The judiciary needs the franking privilege so badly as it is vital to its operation. Evident to that need is the high expense allotted to the judiciary’s franking needs. The Postmaster cannot be sustained in contending that the removal of the franking privilege from the judiciary is in order to cut expenditure. This is untenable for if the Postmaster would intend to cut expenditure by removing the franking privilege of the judiciary, then they should have removed the franking privilege all at once from all the other departments. If the problem is the loss of revenues from the franking privilege, the remedy is to withdraw it altogether from all agencies of the government, including those who do not need it. The problem is not solved by retaining it for some and withdrawing it from others, especially where there is no substantial distinction between those favored, which may or may not need it at all, and the Judiciary, which definitely needs it. The problem is not solved by violating the Constitution.

The equal protection clause does not require the universal application of the laws on all persons or things without distinction (it is true that the postmaster withdraw the franking privileges from other agencies of the government but still, the judiciary is different because its operation largely relies on the mailing of court processes). This might in fact sometimes result in unequal protection, as where, for example, a law prohibiting mature books to all persons, regardless of age, would benefit the morals of the youth but violate the liberty of adults. What the clause requires is equality among equals as determined according to a valid classification. By classification is meant the grouping of persons or things similar to each other in certain particulars and different from all others in these same particulars.

In lumping the Judiciary with the other offices from which the franking privilege has been withdrawn, Sec 35 has placed the courts of justice in a category to which it does not belong. If it recognizes the need of the President of the Philippines and the members of Congress for the franking privilege, there is no reason why it should not recognize a similar and in fact greater need on the part of the Judiciary for such privilege.

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