Political Law

Cesar Bengzon vs Franklin Drilon

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G.R. No. 103524 – 208 SCRA 133 – Political Law – Constituional Law – The Executive Department – Powers of the President; Veto Power – Line-Item Veto; Appropriation Bill

In 1990, Congress sought to reenact some old laws (i.e. Republic Act No. 1797) that were “repealed” during the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos. These old laws provided certain retirement benefits to retired judges, justices, and members of the constitutional commissions. Congress felt a need to restore these laws in order to standardize retirement benefits among government officials. However, President Corazon Aquino vetoed the bill (House Bill No. 16297) on the ground that the law should not give preferential treatment to certain or select government officials.

Meanwhile, a group of retired judges and justices filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking the court to readjust their pensions. They pointed out that RA 1797 was never repealed (by P.D. No. 644) because the said PD was one of those unpublished PDs which were subject of the case of Tanada vs. Tuvera. Hence, the repealing law never existed due to non publication and in effect, RA 1797 was never repealed. The Supreme Court then readjusted their pensions.

Congress took notice of the readjustment and so in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 1992, Congress allotted additional budget for pensions of retired justices. Congress however did the allotment in the following manner: Congress made an item entitled: “General Fund Adjustment”; included therein are allotments to unavoidable obligations in different brances of the government; among such obligations is the allotment for the pensions of retired justices of the judiciary.

However, President Aquino again vetoed the said lines which provided for the pensions of the retired justices in the judiciary in the GAB. She explained that that portion of the GAB is already deemed vetoed when she vetoed H.B. 16297.

This prompted Cesar Bengzon and several other retired judges and justices to question the constitutionality of the veto made by the President. The President was represented by then Executive Secretary Franklin Drilon.

ISSUE: Whether or not the veto of the President on that portion of the General Appropriations bill is constitutional.

HELD: No. The Justices of the Court have vested rights to the accrued pension that is due to them in accordance to Republic Act 1797 which was never repealed. The president has no power to set aside and override the decision of the Supreme Court neither does the president have the power to enact or amend statutes promulgated by her predecessors much less to the repeal of existing laws.

The Supreme Court also explained that the veto is unconstitutional since the power of the president to disapprove any item or items in the appropriations bill does not grant the authority to veto part of an item and to approve the remaining portion of said item. It appears that in the same item, the Presidents vetoed some portion of it and retained the others. This cannot be done. The rule is: the Executive must veto a bill in its entirety or not at all; the Executive must veto an entire line item in its entirety or not at all. In this case, the president did not veto the entire line item of the general adjustment fund. She merely vetoed the portion which pertained to the pensions of the justices but did not veto the other items covering obligations to the other departments of the government.

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