Fundamental Law Of The Philippines | Self-Executing Or Not
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The Constitution, which is the fundamental law of the land, is composed of three parts: the Constitution of Liberty, which outlines fundamental civil and political rights and places restrictions on the authority of the government; the Constitution of Sovereignty, which contains amendment and revision provisions; and finally, the Constitution of Government, which establishes the structure and powers of the government as the representative of the people.

Fundamental law of the Philippines

Despite being shorter than other legislation passed by the government, the Constitution is the supreme law of the nation. A well-written fundamental law should be concise in order to profit from basic legislation and be easily comprehended by the general public.

The complete constitution should be succinct, but it should also be broad in scope in order to include every element of the State’s past, present, and future. In order to be appropriately applied, its provision must also be definite.

Are we as citizens competent to assert the rights guaranteed by the constitution before the courts of justice, keeping in mind that the Constitution is the fundamental law of the land? I warn against it.

In life, there are certain things that we put all of our energy, vitality, and passion into getting things done. However, there are also those that we attempt to avoid doing even if they are regarded crucial and cannot be postponed.

Talking about our Fundamental Law, we distinguish between self-executing and non-self-executing clauses in the Constitution. Self-executing clauses are those that can be put into effect without the necessity for an enabling statute. On the other hand, the constitution’s non-self-executing clause requires one.

Why does the Constitution contain Non-Self-Executing Provisions?

As previously said, the Constitution is wide in and of itself, yet the basic law’s succinctness has advantages and disadvantages.

Benefits, when a rational legislature enacts several laws that serve the goals of a constitutional provision. Weaknesses, when Congress neglects to pass an enabling legislation to carry out a particular constitutional provision.

Without an implementing statute, Non-Self-Executing Provisions cannot be fully applied as a legal foundation.

The General Rule

The general rule in construction of the Constitution is that its provisions are SELF-EXECUTING, however, by jurisprudence the Supreme Court defined which of the provisions are self-executing and which are not. In the case of Manila Prince Hotel vs. GSIS the Court stated that:

“. . . in case of doubt, the Constitution should be considered self-executing rather than non-self-executing . . . . Unless the contrary is clearly intended, the provisions of the Constitution should be considered self-executing, as a contrary rule would give the legislature discretion to determine when, or whether, they shall be effective. These provisions would be subordinated to the will of the lawmaking body, which could make them entirely meaningless by simply refusing to pass the needed implementing statute.”1

In this article, we will compile some of the decisions of the Supreme Court rendering a constitutional provision either as a self-executing or not.

Social justice provision are non-self-executing provisions

In the case of BFAR Employees Union vs. COA,2 COA flagged down the Food Basket Allowance given to BFAR Employees. The latter labeled COA’s act as unconstitutional because it contravenes the fundamental law of the land enshrined in the Sections 9 and 10 of Article II of the Constitution which provides:

SECTION 9. The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all.3

SECTION 10. The State shall promote social justice in all phases of national development.3

The issue is whether or not the disallowance of Food Basket Allowance really contravenes the constitution.  The Supreme Court answers in the NEGATIVE.  They reiterated that, “time and again, social justice provisions of the Constitution are not self-executing principles ready for enforcement through the courts.  They are merely statements of principles and policies.  To give them effect, legislative enactment is required.4

Similarly, the Supreme Court ruled in Kilosbayan Inc. vs. Morato5 that “the principles and state policies enumerated in Article II and some of Article XII are “not self-executing provisions, the disregard of which can give rise to a cause of action in the courts. They do not embody judicially enforceable constitutional rights but guidelines for legislation.”6

The Right of the People to a Balanced and Healthful Ecology

In the case of Kilosbayan Inc. vs. Morato,6 the Supreme Court held that the principles and state policies enumerated in Article II of the Constitution are NOT self-executing provisions.  However, the case of Oposa vs. Factoran7 establishes the contrary.

The case started when a group of minors represented by their parents and assert that they represent the generation yet unborn filed a class suit impleading the then Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Sec. Fulgencio Factoran, Jr.

The aim of the petition is to cancel all existing timber incense agreements in the country and cease and desist from receiving, accepting, processing, renewing or approving new timber license agreements.

This is rooted on the well-founded evidence of the declining forest.  Petitioners Oposa, et al asserted that the action of the DENR is against their constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology and that the State as the parens patriae shall uphold following constitutional provision:

SECTION 15. The State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.8

SECTION 16. The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.9

The Supreme Court held that the provisions of Section 15 and Section 16 are self-executing and stated that:

“While the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is to be found under the Declaration of Principles and State Policies and not under the Bill of Rights, it does not follow that it is less important than any of the civil and political rights enumerated in the latter. Such a right belongs to a different category of rights altogether for it concerns nothing less than self-preservation and self-perpetuation — aptly and fittingly stressed by the petitioners — the advancement of which may even be said to predate all governments and constitutions. As a matter of fact, these basic rights need not even be written in the Constitution for they are assumed to exist from the inception of humankind. If they are now explicitly mentioned in the fundamental charter, it is because of the well-founded fear of its framers that unless the rights to a balanced and healthful ecology and to health are mandated as state policies by the Constitution itself, thereby highlighting their continuing importance and imposing upon the state a solemn obligation to preserve the first and protect and advance the second, the day would not be too far when all else would be lost not only for the present generation, but also for those to come — generations which stand to inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life.”7

The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of people’s initiative

In the case of Santiago vs. COMELEC,10 Senator Mirriam Defensor-Santiago questioned the acknowledgment and action of COMELEC with the Petition of Jose Delfin to lift the term limits of the elective officials by way of people’s initiative.  The COMELEC argued that the Republic Acct No. 6735 as the implementing provision for the Section 2 of the Article XVII of the constitution which states that:

SECTION 2. Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein. No amendment under this section shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five years thereafter.11

The Congress shall provide for the implementation of the exercise of this right.12

The Supreme Court ruled on the above-stated provision as follows:

“Empowering the COMELEC, an administrative body exercising quasi-judicial functions, to promulgate rules and regulations is a form of delegation of legislative authority under no. 5 above. However, in every case of permissible delegation, there must be a showing that the delegation itself is valid. It is valid only if the law (a) is complete in itself, setting forth therein the policy to be executed, carried out, or implemented by the delegate; and (b) fixes a standard — the limits of which are sufficiently determinate and determinable — to which the delegate must conform in the performance of his functions. A sufficient standard is one which defines legislative policy, marks its limits, maps out its boundaries and specifies the public agency to apply it. It indicates the circumstances under which the legislative command is to be effected.”13

Concluding, the High Court stated that:

“This petition must then be granted, and the COMELEC should be permanently enjoined from entertaining or taking cognizance of any petition for initiative on amendments to the Constitution until a sufficient law shall have been validly enacted to provide for the implementation of the system.13

“We feel, however, that the system of initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution should no longer be kept in the cold; it should be given flesh and blood, energy and strength. Congress should not tarry any longer in complying with the constitutional mandate to provide for the implementation of the right of the people under that system.”13

Not Self-Executory

This provision is not self-executory. In his book, Joaquin Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, stated that:

“Without implementing legislation Section 2 cannot operate. Thus, although this mode of amending the Constitution is a mode of amendment which bypasses congressional action, in the last analysis it still is dependent on congressional action.”14

Bluntly stated, the right of the people to directly propose amendments to the Constitution through the system of initiative would remain entombed in the cold niche of the Constitution until Congress provides for its implementation. Stated otherwise, while the Constitution has recognized or granted that right, the people cannot exercise it if Congress, for whatever reason, does not provide for its implementation.

Senator Santiago argued that Republic Act No. 6735 as incapable of acting as enabling law of the constitutional provision herein stated.  She pointed out that the people’s initiative in amending the provisions of the constitution indicated in the said law seems to be only an after thought of the Congress when made hence cannot be enforceable.

The Supreme Court held that the Section 2 of the Article XVII of our Constitution as a non-self-executing provision and as such cannot be implemented without the enabling law from the Congress.  The Republic Act No. 6735 is declared to be incomplete, inadequate, and therefore cannot be used as enabling law for people’s initiative amendment of the constitution.

Political Dynasties need to be defined by themselves

Under the State Policies listed in the Article II of the Constitution it states that:

Section 26. The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.

Unquestionably, the Philippine political scene is plagued by politicians who are anchored in the same family and serve for decades before being replaced by their relatives when the term limit expires. By depending only on the legislature, the designers of the 1987 Constitution appear to have failed to stop political dynasties.

Adopting an enabling statute will undoubtedly undermine their authority because the legislature is made up entirely of members of rooted political families. Despite being submitted to both the Senate and Congress, the anti-dynasty measure has yet to be implemented.


Just as man is fallible, so is his creation. The Constitution, which was undoubtedly created by man, may have been imperfect. Yet, its creation was not in vain. Despite its flaws, our Constitution’s provisions have made it possible to somehow achieve the social fairness of which we have been dreaming.

After all, relying just on the Constitution is insufficient to realize this goal. If entrusted to respectable and competent individuals who want the better benefit of the State and greater good to its citizens, the authority granted by the constitutional provisions will have the force of waves crashing to enormous stones at the beach.

We will never attain the aim of a brighter future if we keep electing self-serving politicians, especially lawmakers who prioritize their own interests and affiliations over the welfare and growth of their voters.

If the individuals who benefit from the authority the Constitution grants are also weak, then the Constitution will have its frailties. Both self-executing and non-self-executing clauses have advantages of their own. Self-executing clauses have the power to even out discrepancies within the state since they are clauses that are basic rights and inviolable.

According to the Supreme Court in a number of decisions, non-self-executing clauses serve as a guide and assist in the drafting of law. The Congress has unrestricted authority and may pass laws on every subject under the sun, but with the help of these clauses, it can set priorities and base its laws on these values.

  1. G.R. No. 122156, February 3, 1997[]
  2. G.R. No. 169815, August 13, 2008[]
  3. Section 9, Article II, 1987 Constitution[][]
  4. Ibid.[]
  5. G.R. No. 118910 November 16, 1995[]
  6. Ibid.[][]
  7. G.R. No. 101083, July 30, 1993[][]
  8. Section 15, Article II, 1987 Constitution[]
  9. Section 16, Article II, 1987 Constitution[]
  10. G.R. No. 127325, March 19, 1997[]
  11. Section 2 of the Article XVII, 1987 Constitution[]
  12. Id.[]
  13. Ibid.[][][]
  14. The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, A Commentary, Bernas, 1996 Edition, p. 1166[]

RALB Law | RABR & Associates Law Firm

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