INTERPRETING THE CONSTITUTION

INTERPRETING THE CONSTITUTION

December 28, 2022 @ 1:10 PM 1 month ago


“Let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” – U.S. President Thomas Jefferson

VERY clearly, every great constitutional issue is resolved by the interpretation of the Constitution.

How should the Constitution be interpreted? The debate over the appropriate methods or modes of constitutional interpretation has long raged among legal scholars. And it continues to divide the world of constitutional law scholarship.

Our Supreme Court has relied on certain “methods” or “modes” of interpretation-that is, ways of figuring out a particular meaning of a provision within the Constitution.
In Francisco vs. House of Representatives (November 10, 2003), the Supreme Court enumerated three well-settled principles of constitutional interpretation or construction, namely: (1) verba legis; (2) ratio legis est anima; and (3) ut magis valeat quam pereat.

Verba legis – Wherever possible, the words used in the Constitution must be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed. It is to be assumed that the words in which constitutional provisions are couched express the objective sought to be attained. (Of paramount consideration is the plain meaning of the language expressed in the Constitution. It is incumbent upon the Court to refrain from going beyond the plain meaning of the words used in the Constitution. [Saguisag vs. Ochoa, Jr., January 12, 2016])

Ratio legis est anima – The words of the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with the intent of its framers. The object is to ascertain the reason which induced the framers of the Constitution to enact the particular provision and the purpose sought to be accomplished thereby, in order to construe the whole as to make the words consonant to that reason and calculated to effect that purpose.

Ut magis valeat quam pereat – The Constitution is to be interpreted as a whole. No one provision of the Constitution is to be separated from all the others, to be considered alone, but that all the provisions bearing upon a particular subject are to be brought into view and to be so interpreted as to effectuate the great purposes of the instrument.

It bears emphasis that there is no provision in the 1987 Constitution which describes the rules or the manner it should be interpreted.

The rules or principles of interpretation are found in American and Philippine jurisprudence. These various rules or modes in interpreting the Constitution include the following: (1) There is no room for interpretation when the words of the Constitution are clear; (2) The intent of both the framers and adopters is controlling; (3) The Constitution should be construed as enduring for ages; (4) The Constitution should be construed as a whole; (5) The Constitution operates prospectively; (6) In case of doubt, the Constitution should be considered self-executing rather than non-self-executing; (7) Conflicting provisions should be reconciled; (8) Construction should be based on practicality and reasonableness; (9) Construction should be flexible; (10) The Constitution should be liberally construed; (11) Construction should be uniform and consistent; (12) Constitutional provisions are to be construed as mandatory; (13) Construction should observe the rule of necessary implication; (14) The rule of liberal construction applies to grammar, composition, and punctuation; and (15) Constitutional construction adopts the rules of ejusdem generis and of noscitur a sociis.

At the end of the day, we should always bear in mind-as stated by the Highest Court in the land in one case-that the Constitution is the only instrument that binds the whole nation, and that the Filipino nation cannot attain self-respect unless it shows its respect for its own Constitution.

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This writer’s book “Constitutional Interpretation” is available in all branches of Central Books Supply, Inc.