Sunday, October 23, 2011

Velarde v SJS (2004)

Doctrine: Decision, more specifically a decision not conforming to the form and substance required by the Constitution is void and deemed legally inexistent (Panganiban) 
Mike Velarde, Petitioner vs. SOCIAL JUSTICE SOCIETY, respondent.
Date promulgated: April 28, 2004
Ponente: J. Panganiban

-On January 28, 2003, SJS filed a Petition for Declaratory Relief before the RTC-Manila against Velarde and his co-respondents Eminence, Jaime Cardinal Sin, Executive Minister EraƱo Manalo, Brother Eddie Villanueva and Brother Eliseo F. Soriano.
-SJS, a registered political party, sought the interpretation of several constitutional provisions, specifically on the separation of church and state; and a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of the acts of religious leaders endorsing a candidate for an elective office, or urging or requiring the members of their flock to vote for a specified candidate.
-The petitioner filed a Motion to dismiss before the trial court owing to the fact that alleged that the questioned SJS Petition did not state a cause of action and that there was no justiciable controversy.
-The trial court’s junked the Velarde petitions under certain reasons:
1. It said that it had jurisdiction over the SJS petition, because in praying for a determination as to whether the actions imputed to the respondents were violative of Article II, Section 6 of the Fundamental Law, the petition has raised only a question of law.
2. It then proceeded to a lengthy discussion of the issue raised in the Petition – the separation of church and state – even tracing, to some extent, the historical background of the principle. Through its discourse, the court quipped at some point that the "endorsement of specific candidates in an election to any public office is a clear violation of the separation clause."
-The trial court’s essay did not contain a statement of facts and a dispositive portion, however. Due to this aberration, Velarde and Soriano filed separate Motions for Reconsideration before the trial court owing to these facts.
-The lower court denied these Motions. Hence, this petition for review.
On April 13, 2004, the Court en banc conducted an Oral Argument.14
-In his Petition, Brother Mike Velarde submits the following issues for this Court’s resolution:
1. Whether or not the Decision dated 12 June 2003 rendered by the court a quo was proper and valid;
2. Whether or not there exists justiciable controversy in herein respondent’s Petition for declaratory relief;
3. Whether or not herein respondent has legal interest in filing the Petition for declaratory relief;
4. Whether or not the constitutional question sought to be resolved by herein respondent is ripe for judicial determination;
5. Whether or not there is adequate remedy other than the declaratory relief; and,
6. Whether or not the court a quo has jurisdiction over the Petition for declaratory relief of herein respondent.

In its oral argument, the Supreme Court condensed Velarde’s issues and divided it into 2 groups:
A. Procedural Issues
1. Did the Petition for Declaratory Relief raise a justiciable controversy?
2. Did it state a cause of action?
3.Did respondent have any legal standing to file the Petition for Declaratory Relief?
B. Substantive Issues
1. Did the RTC Decision conform to the form and substance required by the Constitution, the law and the Rules of Court?
2.                    May religious leaders like herein petitioner, Bro. Mike Velarde, be prohibited from endorsing candidates for public office? Corollarily, may they be banned from campaigning against said candidates? (Not answered in the affirmative)

Petition for Review GRANTED. The assailed June 12, 2003 Decision and July 29, 2003 Order of the Regional Trial Court of Manila DECLARED NULL AND VOID and thus SET ASIDE. The SJS Petition for Declaratory Relief is DISMISSED for failure to state a cause of action.

Procedural Issues:
1.                    NO. A justiciable controversy to an existing case or controversy that is appropriate or ripe for judicial determination, not one that is conjectural or merely anticipatory. A petition filed with the trial court should contain a plain, concise and direct statement of the ultimate facts on which the party pleading relies for his claim.

The SJS Petition fell short of the requirements to constitutue a jusiciable controversy. Why?
a. It stated no ultimate facts. The petition simply theorized that the people elected who were endorsed by these religious leaders might become beholden to the latter.
b.                    It did not sufficiently state a declaration of  its rights and duties, what specific legal right of the petitioner was violated by the respondents therein, and what particular act or acts of the latter were in breach of its rights, the law or the constitution,
c.                    The petition did not pray for a stoppage of violated rights (duh, wala ngang rights na sinabi eh). It merely sought an opinion of the trial court. However, courts are proscribed from rendering an advisory opinion. (tantamount to making laws, remember the questionability of justice panganiban’s guidelines for article 36 of the family code)

It must also be considered that even the religious leaders were puzzled as to the breach of rights they were claimed to have committed. As pointed out by Soriano, what exactly has he done that merited the attention of SJS? Jaime Cardinal Sin adds that the election season had not even started at the time SJS filed its Petition and that he has not been actively involved in partisan politics. The Petition does not even allege any indication or manifest intent on the part of any of the respondents below to champion an electoral candidate, or to urge their so-called flock to vote for, a particular candidate. It is a time-honored rule that sheer speculation does not give rise to an actionable right.

2.                    NO. A cause of action is an act or an omission of one party in violation of the legal right or rights of another, causing injury to the latter. (Rebollido v. Court of Appeals, 170 SCRA 800)
Its essential elements are the following: (1) a right in favor of the plaintiff; (2) an obligation on the part of the named defendant to respect or not to violate such right; and (3) such defendant’s act or omission that is violative of the right of the plaintiff or constituting a breach of the obligation of the former to the latter.

The court held that the complaint’s failure to state a cause of action became a ground for its outright dismissal. Why?

The Court found nothing in the SJS Petition to suggest that an explicit allegation of fact that SJS had a legal right to protect. (trigger for the cause of action)

In special civil actions for declaratory relief, the concept of cause of action under ordinary civil actions does not strictly apply. The reason for this exception is that an action for declaratory relief presupposes that there has been no actual breach of the instruments involved or of rights arising thereunder. Nevertheless, a breach or violation should be impending, imminent or at least threatened.

The justices could only infer that the interest from its allegation was its mention of “its (SJS) thousands of members who are citizens-taxpayers-registered voters and who are keenly interested”. Aside from the fact that this general averment did not constitute a legal right or interest, the court’s inferred interest too vague and speculative in character. Rules require that the interest must be material to the issue and affected by the questioned act or instrument.

To bolster its point, the SJS cited the Corpus Juris Secundum and submitted that the plaintiff in a declaratory judgment action does not seek to enforce a claim against the defendant, but sought a judicial declaration of the rights of the parties for the purpose of guiding their future conduct, and the essential distinction between a ‘declaratory judgment action’ and the usual ‘action’ is that no actual wrong need have been committed or loss have occurred in order to sustain the declaratory judgment action, although there must be no uncertainty that the loss will occur or that the asserted rights will be invaded. (???)

During the Oral Argument, Velarde and co-respondents strongly asserted that they had not in any way engaged or intended to participate in partisan politics. Not even the alleged proximity of the elections to the time the Petition was filed below would have provided the certainty that it had a legal right that would be jeopardized or violated by any of those respondents.

Even if the SJS petition asserted a legal right, there was nevertheless no certainty that such right would be invaded by the said respondents.

3.                    NO. Legal standing or locus standi has been defined as a personal and substantial interest in the case, such that the party has sustained or will sustain direct injury as a result of the challenged act.

Interest means a material interest in issue that is affected by the questioned act or instrument, as distinguished from a mere incidental interest in the question involved.

SJS has no legal interest in the controversy and has failed to establish how the resolution of the proffered question would benefit or injure it.

Parties bringing suits challenging the constitutionality of a law, an act or a statute must demonstrate that they have been, or are about to be, denied some right or privilege to which they are lawfully entitled, or that they are about to be subjected to some burdens or penalties by reason of the statute or act complained of.

If the petition were to be valid, it should satisfy:

First, parties suing as taxpayers must specifically prove that they have sufficient interest in preventing the illegal expenditure of money raised by taxation, particularly that of Congress' taxing power.
Second, there was no showing in the Petition for Declaratory Relief that SJS as a political party or its members as registered voters would be adversely affected by the alleged acts of the respondents below, such as the deprivation of votes or barring of suffrage to its constituents.
Finally, the allegedly keen interest of its "thousands of members who are citizens-taxpayers-registered voters" is too general and beyond the contemplation of the standards set by our jurisprudence. Not only is the presumed interest impersonal in character; it is likewise too vague, highly speculative and uncertain to satisfy the requirement of standing.
In not a few cases, the Court has liberalized the locus standi requirement when a petition raises an issue of transcendental significance or importance to the people (IBP v Zamora). The Court deemed the constitutional issue raised to be both transcendental in importance and novel in nature. Nevertheless, the barren allegations in the SJS Petition as well as the abbreviated proceedings in the court would prevent the resolution of the transcendental issue.

Substantive Issues

1.                    NO. The Constitution commands that no decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.  No petition for review or motion for reconsideration of a decision of the court shall be refused due course or denied without stating the basis therefor.

Consistent with this are Section 1 of Rule 36 of the Rules on Civil Procedure, Rule 120 of the Rules of Court on Criminal Procedure, Administrative Circular No. 1. which states that :

A judgment or final order determining the merits of the case shall be rendered. The decision shall be in writing, personally and directly prepared by the judge, stating clearly and distinctly the facts and law on which it is based, signed by the issuing magistrate, and filed with the clerk of court.”

The SC has reminded magistrates to heed the demand of Section `4, Art VIII of the contsitution. This was evinced in Yao v. Court of Appeals  where Davide, CJ said that faithful adherence to the requirements of Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution is indisputably a paramount component of due process and fair play.

In People v. Bugarin, the court held that the requirement that the decisions of courts must be in writing and that they must set forth clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which they are based is intended, among other things, to inform the parties of the reason or reasons for the decision so that if any of them appeals, he can point out to the appellate court the finding of facts or the rulings on points of law with which he disagrees.

The assailed Decision contains no statement of facts (much less an assessment or analysis thereof) or of the court’s findings as to the probable facts.  The assailed Decision begins with a statement of the nature of the action and the question or issue presented.  Then follows a brief explanation of the constitutional provisions involved, and what the Petition sought to achieve.  Thereafter, the ensuing procedural incidents before the trial court are tracked.  The Decision proceeds to a full-length opinion on the nature and the extent of the separation of church and state.  Without expressly stating the final conclusion she has reached or specifying the relief granted or denied, the trial judge ends her “Decision” with the clause “SO ORDERED.”

 A decision that does not clearly and distinctly state the facts and the law on which it is based leaves the parties in the dark as to how it was reached and is precisely prejudicial to the losing party, who is unable to pinpoint the possible errors of the court for review by a higher tribunal.  More than that, the requirement is an assurance to the parties that, in reaching judgment, the judge did so through the processes of legal reasoning. 

It was truly obvious that the RTC’s Decision did not adhere to the Bugarin precedent because of its failure to express clearly and distinctly the facts on which it was based. The significance of factual findings lies in the value of the decision as a precedent (how will the ruling be applied in the future, if there is no point of factual comparison?).

Respondent SJS insisted that the dispositive portion can be found in the body (p. 10) of the assailed Decision.  Stating “Endorsement of specific candidates in an election to any public office is a clear violation of the separation clause.”

The Court held that the statement is merely an answer to a hypothetical legal question and just a part of the opinion of the trial court. It does not conclusively declare the rights (or obligations) of the parties to the Petition. Neither does it grant any -- much less, the proper -- relief under the circumstances, as required of a dispositive portion.

The standard for a dispositive was set in Manalang v. Tuason de Rickards where the resolution of the Court on a given issue as embodied in the dispositive part of the decision or order is the investitive or controlling factor that determines and settles the rights of the parties and the questions presented therein, notwithstanding the existence of statements or declaration in the body of said order that may be confusing.

In Magdalena Estate, Inc. v. Caluag: The rule is settled that where there is a conflict between the dispositive part and the opinion, the former must prevail over the latter on the theory that the dispositive portion is the final order while the opinion is merely a statement ordering nothing.

The statement quoted by SJS does not conclusively declare the rights (or obligations) of the parties to the Petition.  Neither does it grant proper relief under the circumstances, as required of a dispositive portion.

Failure to comply with the constitutional injunction is a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.  Decisions or orders issued in careless disregard of the constitutional mandate are a patent nullity and must be struck down as void.

2.                    It is not legally possible to take up, on the merits, the paramount question involving a constitutional principle. It is a time-honored rule that the constitutionality of a statute or act will be passed upon only if, and to the extent that, it is directly and necessarily involved in a justiciable controversy and is essential to the protection of the rights of the parties concerned. (So no answer)

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