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G.R. No. L-44640 – 73 SCRA 333 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – The Judiciary; Judicial Power – Definition of Political Question
In September 1976, then President Ferdinand Marcos issued PD 991 calling for a national referendum on 16 October 1976 for the Citizens Assemblies (“barangays”) to resolve, among other things, the issues of martial law (would the people like for martial to continue or not?), the interim assembly, its replacement, the powers of such replacement, the period of its existence, the length of the period for the exercise by the President of his present powers. 20 days after, the President issued another related decree, PD 1031, amending PD 991, by declaring the provisions of PD 229 providing for the manner of voting and canvass of votes in “barangays” applicable to the national referendum-plebiscite of 16 October 1976. Quite relevantly, PD 1031 repealed inter alia, Sec 4, of PD. 991. On the same date of 22 September 1976, Marcos issued PD 1033, stating the questions to be submitted to the people in the referendum-plebiscite. The PD recites in its “whereas” clauses that the people’s continued opposition to the convening of the interim National Assembly evinces their desire to have such body abolished and replaced thru a constitutional amendment, providing for a new interim legislative body, which will be submitted directly to the people in the referendum-plebiscite.
On September 27, 1976, Atty. Pablo Sanidad et al filed a Prohibition with Preliminary Injunction seeking to enjoin the COMELEC from holding and conducting the Referendum Plebiscite on Oct 16; to declare without force and effect PD Nos. 991 and 1033, insofar as they propose amendments to the Constitution, as well as PD 1031, insofar as it directs the COMELEC to supervise, control, hold, and conduct the Referendum-Plebiscite scheduled on Oct 16, 1976. Petitioners contend that under the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions there is no grant to the incumbent President to exercise the constituent power to propose amendments to the new Constitution. Under the constitution (then), amendments may only be proposes by the National Assembly but the National Assembly was never convened by Marcos. In fact, he acted as the legislature.
ISSUE: Whether or not the issue is a political question.
HELD: The SC ruled that the issue is not a political question but rather a justiciable one. This is especially true in cases where the power of the Presidency to initiate the amending process by proposals of amendments, a function normally exercised by the legislature, is seriously doubted. Political questions are neatly associated with the wisdom, not the legality of a particular act. Where the vortex of the controversy refers to the legality or validity of the contested act, that matter is definitely justiciable or non-political. What is confronting the SC is not the wisdom of the act of the incumbent President in proposing amendments to the Constitution, but his constitutional authority to perform such act or to assume the power of a constituent assembly. Whether the amending process confers on the President that power to propose amendments is therefore a downright justiciable question. Should the contrary be found, the actuation of the President would merely be a brutum fulmen. If the Constitution provides how it may be amended, the judiciary as the interpreter of that Constitution, can declare whether the procedure followed or the authority assumed was valid or not.
This petition is however dismissed. The President, who was also the legislature, can propose amendments to the Constitution and he was able to present those proposals to the people in sufficient time.
Read another version of this digest here (Amendment to the Constitution)