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[ GR No. L-17144, Oct 28, 1960 ]



109 Phil. 863

[ G.R. No. L-17144, October 28, 1960 ]




On July 14, 1960, Congressman Sergio Osmeña, Jr., submitted to this Court a verified petition for "declaratory relief, certiorari and prohibition with preliminary injunction" against Congressman Salipada K. Pendatun and fourteen other congressmen in their capacity as members of the Special Committee created by House Resolution No. 59. He asked for annulment of such Resolution on the ground of infringement of his parliamentary immunity; he also asked, principally, that said members of the special committee be enjoined from proceeding in accordance with it, particularly the portion authorizing them to require him to substantiate his charges against the President, with the admonition that if he failed to do so, he must show cause why the House, should not punish him.

The petition attached a copy of House Resolution No. 59, the pertinent portions of which read as follows:

"Whereas, on the 23rd day of June, 1960, the Honorable Sergio Osmeña, Jr., Member of the House of Representatives from the Second District of "the province of Cebu, took the floor of this Chamber on the one hour privilege to deliver a speech, entitled A Message to Garcia;'

Whereas, in the course of said speech, the Congressman from the Second District of Cebu stated the following:

* * * * * * *

"The people, Mr. President, have been hearing of ugly reports that under your unpopular administration the free things they used to get from the government are now for sale at premium prices. They say that even pardons are for sale, and that regardless of the gravity or seriousness of a criminal case, the culprit can always be bailed out forever from jail as long as he can come across with a handsome dole. I am afraid, such an anomalous situation would reflect badly on the kind of justice that your administration is dispensing. * * *."

Whereas, the charges of the gentleman from the Second District of Cebu, if made maliciously or recklessly and without.basis in truth and in fact, would constitute a serious assault upon the dignity and prestige of the Office of the President, which is the one visible symbol of the sovereignty of the Filipino people, and would expose said office to contempt and disrepute; * * *

Resolved by the House of Representatives, that a special committee of fifteen Members to be appointed by the Speaker be, and the same hereby is, created to investigate the truth of the charges against the President of the Philippines made by Honorable Sergio Osmeña, Jr., in his privilege speech of June 23, 1960, and for such purpose it is authorized to summon Honorable Sergio Osmeña, Jr., to appear before it to substantiate his charges, as well as to issue subpoena and/or subpoena duces tecum to require the attendance of witnesses and/or the production of pertinent papers before it, and if Honorable Sergio Osmeña, Jr., fails to do so to require him to show cause why he should not be punished by the House.- The special committee shall submit to the House a report of its findings and recommendations before the adjournment of the present special session of the Congress of the Philippines."

In support of his request, Congressman Osmeña alleged r first, the Resolution violated his constitutional absolute parliamentary immunity for speeches delivered in the House; second, his words constituted no actionable conduct; and third, after his allegedly objectionable speech and words, the House took up other business, and Rule XVII, sec. 7 of the Rules of the House provides that if other business has intervened after the Member had uttered obnoxious words in debate, he shall not be held to answer therefor nor be subject to censure by the House.

Although some members of the court expressed doubts of petitioner's cause of action and the Court's jurisdiction, the majority decided to hear the matter further, and required respondents to answer without issuing any preliminary injunction. Evidently aware of such circumstance with its implications, and pressed for time in view of the imminent adjournment of the legislative session, the special committee continued to perform its task, and after giving Congressman Osmeña a chance to defend himself, submitted its report on July 18,1960, finding said congressman guilty of serious disorderly behaviour; and acting on such report, the House approved on the same day-before closing its session-House Resolution No. 175, declaring him guilty as recommended, and suspending him from office for fifteen months.

Thereafter, on July 19, 1960, the respondents (with the exception of Congressmen De Pio, Abeleda, San Andres Ziga, Fernandez and Baltao)[1] filed their answer, challenged the jurisdiction of this Court to entertain the petition, defended the power of Congress to discipline its members with suspension, upheld House Resolution No. 175 and then invited attention to the fact that Congress having ended its session on July 18,1960, the Committee-whose members are the sole respondents-had thereby ceased to exist.

There is no question that Congressman Osmeña, in a privilege speech delivered before the House, made the serious imputations of bribery against the President which are quoted in Resolution No. 59, and that he refused to produce before the House Committee created for the purpose, evidence to substantiate such imputations. There is also no question that for having made the imputations and for failing to produce evidence in support thereof, he was, by resolution of the House, suspended from office for a period of fifteen months, for serious diorderly behaviour.

Resolution No. 175 states in part:

"Whereas, the Special Committee created under and by virtue of Resolution No. 59, adopted on July 8, 1960, found Representative Sergio Osmeña, Jr., guilty of serious diorderly behaviour for making without basis in truth and in fact, scurrilous, malicious, reckless and irresponsible charges against the President of the Philippines in his privilege speech of June 23, 1960; and

Whereas, the said charges are so vile in character that they affronted and degraded the dignity of the House of Representatives: Now, Therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives, That Representative Sergio Osmeña, Jr., be, as he hereby is, declared guilty of serious disorderly behaviour; and * * *."

As previously stated, Osmeña contended in his petition that: (1) the Constitution gave him complete parliamentary immunity, and so, for words spoken in the House, he ought not to be questioned; (2) that his speech constituted no disorderly behaviour for which he could be punished; and (3) supposing he could be questioned and disciplined therefor, the House had lost the power to do so because it had taken up other business before approving House Resolution No. 59. Now, he takes the additional position (4) that the House has no power, under the Constitution, to suspend one of its members.

Section 15, Article VI of our Constitution provides that "for any speech or debate" in Congress, the Senators or Members of the House of Representatives "shall not be questioned in any other place." This section was taken or is a copy of sec. 6, clause 1 of Art. 1 of the Constitution of the United States. In that country, the provision has always been understood to mean that although exempt from prosecution or civil actions for their words uttered in Congress, the members of Congress may, nevertheless, be questioned in Congress itself. Observe that "they shall not be questioned in any other place" than Congress.

Furthermore, the Rules of the House which petitioner himself has invoked (Rule XVII, sec. 7), recognize the House's power to hold a member responsible "for words spoken in debate."

Our Constitution enshrines parliamentary immunity which is a fundamental privilege cherished in every legislative assembly of the democratic world. As old as the English Parliament, its purpose "is to enable and encourage a representative of the public to discharge his public trust with firmness and success" for "it is indispensably necessary that he should enjoy the fullest liberty of speech, and that he should be protected from the resentment of every one, however powerful, to whom the exercise of that liberty may occasion offense." [2] Such immunity has come to this country from the practices of Parliament as construed and applied by the Congress of the United States. Its extent and application remain no longer in doubt in so far as related to the question before us. It guarantees the legislator complete freedom of expression without fear of being made responsible in criminal or civil actions before the courts or any other forum outside of the Congressional Hall. But it does not protect him from responsibility before ttye legislative body itself whenever his words and conduct are considered by the latter disorderly or unbecoming a member thereof. In the United States Congress, Congressman Fernando Wood of New York was censured for using the following language on the floor of the House: "A monstrosity, a measure the most infamous of the many infamous acts of the infamous Congress." (Hinds' Precedents, Vol. 2, pp. 798-799). Two other congressmen were censured for employing insulting words during debate. (2 Hinds' Precedents, 799-801). In one case, a member of Congress was summoned to testify on a statement made by him in debate, but invoked his parliamentary privilege. The Committee rejected his plea. (3 Hinds' Precedents 123-124.)

For unparliamentary conduct, members of Parliament or of Congress have been, or could be censured, committed to prison[3], suspended, even expelled by the votes of their colleagues. The appendix to this decision amply attests to the consensus of informed opinion regarding the practice and the traditional power of legislative assemblies to take disciplinary action against its members, including imprisonment, suspension or expulsion. It mentions one instance of suspension of a legislator in a foreign country.

And to cite a local illustration, the Philippine Senate, in April 1949, suspended a senator for one year.

Needless to add, the Rules of Philippine House of Representatives provide that the parliamentary practices of the Congress of the United States shall apply in a supplementary manner to its proceedings.

This brings up the third point of petitioner: the House may no longer take action against me, he argues, because after my speech, and before approving Resolution No. 59, it had taken up other business. Respondents answer that Resolution No. 59 was unanimously approved by the House, that such approval amounted to a suspension of the House Rules, which according to standard parliamentary practice may be done by unanimous consent. .

Granted, counters the petitioner, that the House may suspend the operation of its Rules, it may not, however, affect past acts or renew its right to take action which had already lapsed.

The situation might thus be compared to laws[4] extending the period of limitation of actions and making them applicable to actions that had lapsed. The Supreme Court of the United States has upheld such laws as against the contention that they impaired vested rights in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Campbell vs. Holt, 115 U. S. 620). The states hold divergent views. At any rate, courts have declared that "the rules adopted by deliberative bodies are subject to revocation modification or waiver at the pleasure of the body adopting them,"[5]And it been said that "Parliamentary rules are merely procedural, and with, their observance, the courts have no concern. They may be waived or disregarded by the legislative body." Consequently, "mere failure to conform to parliamentary usage will not invalidate the action (taken by a deliberative body) when the requisite number of members have agreed to a particular measure."[6]

The following is quoted from a reported decision of the Supreme Court of Tennessee:

"The rule here invoked is one of parliamentary procedure, and it is uniformly held that it is within the power of all deliberative bodies to abolish, modify, or waive their own rules of procedure, adopted for the orderly conduct of business, and as security against hasty action." (Bewiet vs. New Bedford, 110 Mass, 433; Holt vs. Somerville, 127 Mass. 408, 411; City of Sadalia vs. Scott, 104 Mo. App. 595, 78 S. W. 276; Ex parte Mayor, etc, of Albany, 23 Wend. CN.Y.] 277, 280 j Wheelock vs. City of Lowell, 196 Mass. 220, 230. 81 N. E. 977, 124 Am. St. Rep. 543, 12 Ann. Cas. 1109; City of Corinth vs. Sharp, 107 Miss. 696, 65 So. 888; McGraw vs. Whitson, 69 Iowa, 348, 28 N. W. 632; Tuell vs. Meacham Contracting Co. 145 Ky. 181, 186, 140 S. W. 159, Ann. Cas. 1913B, 802.) [Taken from the case of Rutherford vs. City of Nashville, 78 South Western Reporter, p. 584.]

It may be noted in this connection, that in the case of Congressman Stanbery of Ohio, who insulted the Speaker, for which Act a resolution of censure was presented, the House approved the resolution, despite the argument that other business had intervened after the objectionable remarks. (2 Hinds' Precedents pp. 799-800.)

On the question whether delivery of speeches attacking the Chief Executive constitutes disorderly conduct for which Osmeña may be disciplined, many arguments pro and con have been advanced. We believe, however, that the House is the judge of what constitutes disorderly behaviour, not only because the Constitution has conferred jurisdiction upon it, but also because the matter depends mainly on factual circumstances of which the House knows best but which can not be depicted in black and white for presentation to, and adjudication by the Courts. For one thing, if this Court assumed the power to determine whether Osmeña's conduct constituted disorderly behaviour, it would thereby have assumed appellate jurisdiction, which the Constitution never intended to confer upon a coordinate branch of the Government. The theory of separation of powers fastidiously observed by this Court, demands in such situation a prudent refusal to interfere. Each department, it has been said, has exclusive cognizance of matters within its jurisdiction and is supreme within its own sphere. (Angara vs. Electoral Commission, 63 Phil., 139.)

"Sec. 200. Judicial Interference with Legislature.-The principle is well established that the courts will not assume a jurisdiction in any case which will amount to an interference by the judicial department with the legislature since each department is equally independent within the powers conferred upon it by the Constitution.* * *."

"The general rule has been applied in other cases to cause the courts to refuse to intervene in what are exclusively legislative functions- Thus, where the state Senate is given the power to expel a member, the courts will not review its action or revise even a most arbitrary or unfair decision." (11 Am. Jur., Const. Law, sec. 200, p. 902.) [Italics Ours.]

The above statement of American law merely abridged the landmark case of Clifford vs. French.[7] In 1905, several senators who had been expelled by the State Senate of California for having taken a bribe, filed mandamus proceedings to compel reinstatement, alleging the Senate had given them no hearing, nor a chance to make defense, besides falsity of the charges of bribery. The Supreme Court of California declined to interfere, explaining in orthodox juristic language:

"Under our form, of government, the judicial department has no power to revise even the most arbitrary and unfair action of the legislative department, or of either house thereof, taking in pursuance of the 'power committed exclusively to that department by the Constitution. It has been held by high authority that, even in the absence of an express provision conferring the power, every legislative body in which is vested the general legislative power of the state has the implied power to expel a member for any cause which it may deem sufficient. In Hiss vs. Barlett, 3 Gray 473, 63 Am. Dec. 768, the supreme court of Mass, says, in substance, that this power is inherent in every legislative body; that it is necessary to enable the body 'to perform its high functions, and is necessary to the safety of the state;' 'That it is a power of self-protection, and that the legislative body must necessarily be the sole judge tof the exigency which may justify and require its exercise. '* * *There is no provision authorizing courts to control, direct, supervise, or forbid the exercise by either house of the power to expel a member. These powers are functions of the legislative department and therefore, in the exercise of the power thus committed to it, the senate is supreme. An attempt by this court to direct or control the legislature, or either house thereof, in the exercise of the power, would be an attempt to exercise legislative functions, which it is expressly forbidden to do."

We have underscored in the above quotation those lines which in our opinion emphasize the principles controlling this litigation. Although referring to expulsion, they may, as well be applied to other disciplinary action. Their gist as applied to the case at bar: the House has exclusive power; the courts have no jurisdiction to interfere.

Our refusal to intervene might impress some readers as subconscious hesitation due to discovery of impermissible course of action in the legislative chamber. Nothing of that sort: we merely refuse to disregard the allocation of constitutional functions which it is our special duty to maintain. Indeed, in the interest of comity, we feel bound to state that in a conscientious survey of governing principles and/or episodic illustrations, we found the House of Representatives of the United States taking the position on at least two occasions, that personal attacks upon the Chief Executive constitute unparliamentary conduct or breach of order.[8] And in several instances, it took action against offenders, even after other business had been considered.[9]

Petitioner's principal argument against the House's power to suspend is the Alejandrino precedent. In 1924, Senator Alejandrino was, by resolution of the Senate, suspended from office for 12 months because he had assaulted another member of that Body for certain phrases the latter had uttered in the course of a debate. The Senator applied to this Court for reinstatement, challenging the validity of the resolution. Although this Court held that in view of the separation of powers, it had no jurisdiction to compel the Senate to reinstate petitioner, it nevertheless went on to say the Senate had no power to adopt the resolution because suspension for 12 months amounted to removal, and the Jones Law (under which the Senate was then functioning) gave the Senate no power to remove an appointive member, like Senator Alejandrino. The Jones Law specifically provided that "each house may punish its members for disorderly behaviour, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds votes, expel an elective member (sec. 18). Note particularly the word "elective."

The Jones Law, it must be observed, empowered the Governor General to appoint "without consent of the Senate and without restriction as to residence senators * * * who will, in his opinion, best represent the Twelfth District." Alejandrino was one appointive Senator.

It is true, the opinion in that case contained an obiter dictum that "suspension deprives the electoral district of representation without that district being afforded any means by which to fill that vacancy." But that remark should be understood to refer particularly to the appointive senator who was then the affected party and who was by the same Jones Law charged with the duty to represent the Twelfth District and maybe the views of the Government of the United States or of the Governor-General, who had appointed him.

It must be observed, however, that at that time the Legislature had only those powers which were granted to it by the Jones Law[10]; whereas now the Congress has the full legislative powers and prerogatives of a sovereign nation, except as restricted by the Constitution. In other words, in the Alejandrino case, the Court reached the conclusion that the Jones Law did not give the Senate the power it then exercised-the power of suspension for one year. Whereas now, as we find, the Congress has the inherent legislative prerogative of suspension[11] which the Constitution did not impair. In fact, as already pointed out, the Philippine Senate suspended a Senator for 12 months in 1949.

"The Legislative power of the Philippine Congress is plenary, subject only to such limitations as are found in the Republic's Constitution. So that any power deemed to be legislative by usage or tradition, is necessarily possessed by the Philippine Congress, unless the Constitution provides otherwise." (Vera vs. Avelino, 77 Phil., 192, 212.)

In any event, petitioner's argument as to the deprivation of the district's representation can not be more weighty in the matter of suspension than in the case of imprisonment of a legislator; yet deliberative bodies have the power in proper cases, to commit one of their members to jail.[12]

Now come questions of procedure and jurisdiction. The petition intended to prevent the Special Committee from acting in pursuance of House Resolution No. 59. Because no preliminary injunction had been issued, the Committee performed its task, reported to the House, and the latter approved the suspension order. The House has closed its session, and the Committee has ceased to exist as such. It would seem, therefore, the case should be dismissed for having become moot or academic.[13] Of course, there is nothing to prevent petitioner from filing new pleadings to include all members of the House as respondents, ask for reinstatement and thereby to present a justiciable cause. Most probable outcome of such reformed suit, however, will be a pronouncement of lack of jurisdiction, as in Vera vs. Avelino [14] and Alejandrino vs. Quezon.[15]

At any rate, having perceived suitable solutions to the important questions of political law, the Court thought it proper to express at this time its conclusions on such issues as were deemed relevant and decisive.

Accordingly, the petition has to be, and is hereby dismissed. So ordered.

Paras, C.J., Bautista Angelo, Concepcion, Barrera, Gutierrez David, Paredes, and Dizon, JJ., concur.

[1] These, except Congressman Abeleda, share the views of petitioner.

[2]Tenney vs. Brandhove, 341 U. S. 367.

[3]Kilbourn vs. Thompson, 103 U.S. 189; Hiss vs. Barlett & Gray. 468, 63 Am. Bee. 768, 770.

[4] Rules of the House have not the force of law, but they are merely in the nature of by-laws prescribed for the orderly and convenient conduct of their own proceedings. (67 Corpus Juris Secundum, p. 870.)

[5] 67 Corpus Juris Secundum, p. 870.

[6]South Georgia Power vs. Bauman, 169 Ga. 649; 151 S. W. 515.

[7]146 Cal. 604; 69 L. R. A. 556.

[8]Canno's Precedents (1936) par. 2497 ) William Willet, Jr. of York); par. 2498 (Louis T. McFadden of Pensylvania). [9]Constitution, "Jefferson's Manual and the House of Representatives by Louis Deadlier (1955) p. 382.

[10]The Jones Law placed "in the hands of the people of the Philippines as large a control of their domestic affairs as can be given them, without in the meantime impairing the rights of sovereignty by the people of the United States." (Preamble).

[11]Apart from the view that power to remove includes the power to suspend as an incident (Burnap vs. U. S. 252, U. S. 512, 64 L. Ed. 693, 695.) This view is distinguishable from Hebron vs. Reyes, 104 Phil., 175. (See Gregory vs. Mayor, 21 N. E. 120) But we need not explain this now. Enough to rely on congressional inherent power.

[12] See appendix par. VII, Cushing.

[13]This, apart from doubts on (a) our jurisdiction to entertain original petitions for declaratory judgments, and (b) availability of certiorari or prohibitionv against respondents who are not exercising judicial or ministerial functions (Rule 67, sees. 1 and 2).

[14]See supra.

[15] 46 Phil., 83.