Gualberto De La Llana vs Manuel Alba

G.R. No. L-57883 – 112 SCRA 294 – Political law – Constitutional Law – The Judiciary – Judicial Power; Political Question – if there is no question of law involved – BP 129

In 1981, Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, entitled “An Act Reorganizing the Judiciary, Appropriating Funds Therefor and for Other Purposes”, was passed. Gualberto De la Llana, a judge in Olongapo, was assailing its validity because, first of all, he would be one of the judges that would be removed because of the reorganization and second, he said such law would contravene the constitutional provision which provides the security of tenure of judges of the courts. He averred that only the Supreme Court can remove judges NOT the Congress. (Manuel Alba was the budget secretary then).

ISSUE: Whether or not a judge like Judge De La Llana can be validly removed by the legislature by such statute (BP 129).

HELD: Yes. The SC ruled the following way: “Moreover, this Court is empowered “to discipline judges of inferior courts and, by a vote of at least eight members, order their dismissal.” Thus it possesses the competence to remove judges. Under the Judiciary Act, it was the President who was vested with such power.  Removal is, of course, to be distinguished from termination by virtue of the abolition of the office. There can be no tenure to a non-existent office. After the abolition, there is in law no occupant. In case of removal, there is an office with an occupant who would thereby lose his position. It is in that sense that from the standpoint of strict law, the question of any impairment of security of tenure does not arise. Nonetheless, for the incumbents of inferior courts abolished, the effect is one of separation. As to its effect, no distinction exists between removal and the abolition of the office. Realistically, it is devoid of significance. He ceases to be a member of the judiciary. In the implementation of the assailed legislation, therefore, it would be in accordance with accepted principles of constitutional construction that as far as incumbent justices and judges are concerned, this Court be consulted and that its view be accorded the fullest consideration. No fear need be entertained that there is a failure to accord respect to the basic principle that this Court does not render advisory opinions. No question of law is involved. If such were the case, certainly this Court could not have its say prior to the action taken by either of the two departments. Even then, it could do so but only by way of deciding a case where the matter has been put in issue. Neither is there any intrusion into who shall be appointed to the vacant positions created by the reorganization. That remains in the hands of the Executive to whom it properly belongs. There is no departure therefore from the tried and tested ways of judicial power. Rather what is sought to be achieved by this liberal interpretation is to preclude any plausibility to the charge that in the exercise of the conceded power of reorganizing the inferior courts, the power of removal of the present incumbents vested in this Tribunal is ignored or disregarded. The challenged Act would thus be free from any unconstitutional taint, even one not readily discernible except to those predisposed to view it with distrust. Moreover, such a construction would be in accordance with the basic principle that in the choice of alternatives between one which would save and another which would invalidate a statute, the former is to be preferred.”/em>

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