Political Law

Lorenzo Tañada vs Mariano Cuenco

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G.R. No. L-10520 – 103 Phil. 1051 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – The Judiciary – Judicial Power; Political Question Defined – Members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal

After the 1955 national elections, the membership in the Senate was overwhelmingly occupied by the Nacionalista Party. The lone opposition senator was Lorenzo Tañada who belonged to the Citizen’s Party. Diosdado Macapagal on the other hand was a senatorial candidate who lost the bid but was contesting it before the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET). But prior to a decision the SET would have to choose its members. It is provided that the SET should be composed of 9 members comprised of the following: 3 justices of the Supreme Court, 3 senators from the majority party and 3 senators from the minority party. But since there is only one minority senator the other two SET members supposed to come from the minority were filled in by the NP. Tañada questioned this process before the Supreme Court. So did Macapagal because he deemed that if the SET would be  dominated by NP senators then he, as a member of the Liberalista Party will not have any chance in his election contest. Senator Mariano Cuenco et al (members of the NP) averred that the Supreme Court cannot take cognizance of the issue because it is a political question. Cuenco argued that the power to choose the members of the SET is vested in the Senate alone and the remedy for Tañada and Macapagal was not to raise the issue before judicial courts but rather to leave it before the bar of public opinion.

ISSUE: Whether or not the issue is a political question.

HELD: No. The SC took cognizance of the case and ruled that the issue is a justiciable question. The term Political Question connotes what it means in ordinary parlance, namely, a question of policy. It refers to those questions which, under the Constitution, are to be decided by the people in their sovereign capacity; or in regard to which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the legislative or executive branch of the government. It is concerned with issues dependent upon the wisdom, not legality, of a particular measure.

In this case, the issue at bar is not a political question. The Supreme Court is not being asked by Tañada to decide upon the official acts of Senate. The issue being raised by Tañada was whether or not the elections of the 5 NP members to the SET are valid – which is a judicial question. Note that the SET is a separate and independent body from the Senate which does not perform legislative acts.

But how should the gridlock be resolved?

The nomination of the last two members (who would fill in the supposed seat of the minority members) must not come from the majority party. In this case, the Chairman of the SET, apparently already appointed members that would fill in the minority seats (even though those will come from the majority party). This is still valid provided the majority members of the SET (referring to those legally sitting) concurred with the Chairman. Besides, the SET may set its own rules in situations like this provided such rules comply with the Constitution.

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