[G.R. NO. 164978 October 13, 2005]
AQUILINO Q. PIMENTEL, JR., EDGARDO J. ANGARA, JUAN PONCE ENRILE, LUISA P. EJERCITO-ESTRADA, JINGGOY E. ESTRADA, PANFILO M. LACSON, ALFREDO S. LIM, JAMBY A.S. MADRIGAL, and SERGIO R. OSMEÃ‘A III, Petitioners v. EXEC. SECRETARY EDUARDO R. ERMITA, FLORENCIO B. ABAD, AVELINO J. CRUZ, JR., MICHAEL T. DEFENSOR, JOSEPH H. DURANO, RAUL M. GONZALEZ, ALBERTO G. ROMULO, RENE C. VILLA, and ARTHUR C. YAP, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This is a Petition for Certiorari and prohibition1 with a prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction to declare unconstitutional the appointments issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ("President Arroyo") through Executive Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita ("Secretary Ermita") to Florencio B. Abad, Avelino J. Cruz, Jr., Michael T. Defensor, Joseph H. Durano, Raul M. Gonzalez, Alberto G. Romulo, Rene C. Villa, and Arthur C. Yap ("respondents") as acting secretaries of their respective departments. The petition also seeks to prohibit respondents from performing the duties of department secretaries.
The Senate and the House of Representatives ("Congress") commenced their regular session on 26 July 2004. The Commission on Appointments, composed of Senators and Representatives, was constituted on 25 August 2004.
Meanwhile, President Arroyo issued appointments2 to respondents as acting secretaries of their respective departments.
Date of Appointment
Arthur C. Yap
15 August 2004
Alberto G. Romulo
23 August 2004
Raul M. Gonzalez
23 August 2004
Florencio B. Abad
23 August 2004
Avelino J. Cruz, Jr.
23 August 2004
Rene C. Villa
23 August 2004
Joseph H. Durano
23 August 2004
Michael T. Defensor
Environment and Natural Resources
23 August 2004
The appointment papers are uniformly worded as follows:
Pursuant to the provisions of existing laws, you are hereby appointed ACTING SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF (appropriate department) vice (name of person replaced).
By virtue hereof, you may qualify and enter upon the performance of the duties and functions of the office, furnishing this Office and the Civil Service Commission with copies of your Oath of Office.
Respondents took their oath of office and assumed duties as acting secretaries.
On 8 September 2004, Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. ("Senator Pimentel"), Edgardo J. Angara ("Senator Angara"), Juan Ponce Enrile ("Senator Enrile"), Luisa P. Ejercito-Estrada ("Senator Ejercito-Estrada"), Jinggoy E. Estrada ("Senator Estrada"), Panfilo M. Lacson ("Senator Lacson"), Alfredo S. Lim ("Senator Lim"), Jamby A.S. Madrigal ("Senator Madrigal"), and Sergio R. OsmeÃ±a, III ("Senator OsmeÃ±a") ("petitioners") filed the present petition as Senators of the Republic of the Philippines.
Congress adjourned on 22 September 2004. On 23 September 2004, President Arroyo issued ad interim appointments3 to respondents as secretaries of the departments to which they were previously appointed in an acting capacity. The appointment papers are uniformly worded as follows:
Pursuant to the provisions of existing laws, you are hereby appointed SECRETARY [AD INTERIM], DEPARTMENT OF (appropriate department).
By virtue hereof, you may qualify and enter upon the performance of the duties and functions of the office, furnishing this Office and the Civil Service Commission with copies of your oath of office.
The petition questions the constitutionality of President Arroyo's appointment of respondents as acting secretaries without the consent of the Commission on Appointments while Congress is in session.
The Court's Ruling
The petition has no merit.
On the Mootness of the Petition
The Solicitor General argues that the petition is moot because President Arroyo had extended to respondents ad interim appointments on 23 September 2004 immediately after the recess of Congress.
As a rule, the writ of prohibition will not lie to enjoin acts already done.4 However, as an exception to the rule on mootness, courts will decide a question otherwise moot if it is capable of repetition yet evading review.5
In the present case, the mootness of the petition does not bar its resolution. The question of the constitutionality of the President's appointment of department secretaries in an acting capacity while Congress is in session will arise in every such appointment.
On the Nature of the Power to Appoint
The power to appoint is essentially executive in nature, and the legislature may not interfere with the exercise of this executive power except in those instances when the Constitution expressly allows it to interfere.6 Limitations on the executive power to appoint are construed strictly against the legislature.7 The scope of the legislature's interference in the executive's power to appoint is limited to the power to prescribe the qualifications to an appointive office. Congress cannot appoint a person to an office in the guise of prescribing qualifications to that office. Neither may Congress impose on the President the duty to appoint any particular person to an office.8
However, even if the Commission on Appointments is composed of members of Congress, the exercise of its powers is executive and not legislative. The Commission on Appointments does not legislate when it exercises its power to give or withhold consent to presidential appointments. Thus:
xxx The Commission on Appointments is a creature of the Constitution. Although its membership is confined to members of Congress, said Commission is independent of Congress. The powers of the Commission do not come from Congress, but emanate directly from the Constitution. Hence, it is not an agent of Congress. In fact, the functions of the Commissioner are purely executive in nature. xxx9
On Petitioners' Standing
The Solicitor General states that the present petition is a quo warranto proceeding because, with the exception of Secretary Ermita, petitioners effectively seek to oust respondents for unlawfully exercising the powers of department secretaries. The Solicitor General further states that petitioners may not claim standing as Senators because no power of the Commission on Appointments has been "infringed upon or violated by the President. xxx If at all, the Commission on Appointments as a body (rather than individual members of the Congress) may possess standing in this case."10
Petitioners, on the other hand, state that the Court can exercise its certiorari jurisdiction over unconstitutional acts of the President.11 Petitioners further contend that they possess standing because President Arroyo's appointment of department secretaries in an acting capacity while Congress is in session impairs the powers of Congress. Petitioners cite Sanlakas v. Executive Secretary12 as basis, thus:
To the extent that the powers of Congress are impaired, so is the power of each member thereof, since his office confers a right to participate in the exercise of the powers of that institution.
An act of the Executive which injures the institution of Congress causes a derivative but nonetheless substantial injury, which can be questioned by a member of Congress. In such a case, any member of Congress can have a resort to the courts.
Considering the independence of the Commission on Appointments from Congress, it is error for petitioners to claim standing in the present case as members of Congress. President Arroyo's issuance of acting appointments while Congress is in session impairs no power of Congress. Among the petitioners, only the following are members of the Commission on Appointments of the 13th Congress: Senator Enrile as Minority Floor Leader, Senator Lacson as Assistant Minority Floor Leader, and Senator Angara, Senator Ejercito-Estrada, and Senator OsmeÃ±a as members.
Thus, on the impairment of the prerogatives of members of the Commission on Appointments, only Senators Enrile, Lacson, Angara, Ejercito-Estrada, and OsmeÃ±a have standing in the present petition. This is in contrast to Senators Pimentel, Estrada, Lim, and Madrigal, who, though vigilant in protecting their perceived prerogatives as members of Congress, possess no standing in the present petition.
The Constitutionality of President Arroyo's Issuance
of Appointments to Respondents as Acting Secretaries
Petitioners contend that President Arroyo should not have appointed respondents as acting secretaries because "in case of a vacancy in the Office of a Secretary, it is only an Undersecretary who can be designated as Acting Secretary."13 Petitioners base their argument on Section 10, Chapter 2, Book IV of Executive Order No. 292 ("EO 292"),14 which enumerates the powers and duties of the undersecretary. Paragraph 5 of Section 10 reads:
SEC. 10. Powers and Duties of the Undersecretary. - The Undersecretary shall:
(5) Temporarily discharge the duties of the Secretary in the latter's absence or inability to discharge his duties for any cause or in case of vacancy of the said office, unless otherwise provided by law. Where there are more than one Undersecretary, the Secretary shall allocate the foregoing powers and duties among them. The President shall likewise make the temporary designation of Acting Secretary from among them; and
Petitioners further assert that "while Congress is in session, there can be no appointments, whether regular or acting, to a vacant position of an office needing confirmation by the Commission on Appointments, without first having obtained its consent."15
In sharp contrast, respondents maintain that the President can issue appointments in an acting capacity to department secretaries without the consent of the Commission on Appointments even while Congress is in session. Respondents point to Section 16, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution. Section 16 reads:
SEC. 16. The President shall nominate and, with the consent of the Commission on Appointments, appoint the heads of the executive departments, ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, or officers of the armed forces from the rank of colonel or naval captain, and other officers whose appointments are vested in him in this Constitution. He shall also appoint all other officers of the Government whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by law, and those whom he may be authorized by law to appoint. The Congress may, by law, vest the appointment of other officers lower in rank in the President alone, in the courts, or in the heads of departments, agencies, commissions, or boards.
The President shall have the power to make appointments during the recess of the Congress, whether voluntary or compulsory, but such appointments shall be effective only until disapproval by the Commission on Appointments or until the next adjournment of the Congress.
Respondents also rely on EO 292, which devotes a chapter to the President's power of appointment. Sections 16 and 17, Chapter 5, Title I, Book III of EO 292 read:
SEC. 16. Power of Appointment. - The President shall exercise the power to appoint such officials as provided for in the Constitution and laws.
SEC. 17. Power to Issue Temporary Designation. - (1) The President may temporarily designate an officer already in the government service or any other competent person to perform the functions of an office in the executive branch, appointment to which is vested in him by law, when: (a) the officer regularly appointed to the office is unable to perform his duties by reason of illness, absence or any other cause; or (b) there exists a vacancy[.]
(2) The person designated shall receive the compensation attached to the position, unless he is already in the government service in which case he shall receive only such additional compensation as, with his existing salary, shall not exceed the salary authorized by law for the position filled. The compensation hereby authorized shall be paid out of the funds appropriated for the office or agency concerned.
(3) In no case shall a temporary designation exceed one (1) year. (Emphasis supplied)Ï‚rÎ±lÎ±Ï‰lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Petitioners and respondents maintain two diametrically opposed lines of thought. Petitioners assert that the President cannot issue appointments in an acting capacity to department secretaries while Congress is in session because the law does not give the President such power. In contrast, respondents insist that the President can issue such appointments because no law prohibits such appointments.
The essence of an appointment in an acting capacity is its temporary nature. It is a stop-gap measure intended to fill an office for a limited time until the appointment of a permanent occupant to the office.16 In case of vacancy in an office occupied by an alter ego of the President, such as the office of a department secretary, the President must necessarily appoint an alter ego of her choice as acting secretary before the permanent appointee of her choice could assume office.
Congress, through a law, cannot impose on the President the obligation to appoint automatically the undersecretary as her temporary alter ego. An alter ego, whether temporary or permanent, holds a position of great trust and confidence. Congress, in the guise of prescribing qualifications to an office, cannot impose on the President who her alter ego should be.
The office of a department secretary may become vacant while Congress is in session. Since a department secretary is the alter ego of the President, the acting appointee to the office must necessarily have the President's confidence. Thus, by the very nature of the office of a department secretary, the President must appoint in an acting capacity a person of her choice even while Congress is in session. That person may or may not be the permanent appointee, but practical reasons may make it expedient that the acting appointee will also be the permanent appointee.
The law expressly allows the President to make such acting appointment. Section 17, Chapter 5, Title I, Book III of EO 292 states that "[t]he President may temporarily designate an officer already in the government service or any other competent person to perform the functions of an office in the executive branch." Thus, the President may even appoint in an acting capacity a person not yet in the government service, as long as the President deems that person competent.
Petitioners assert that Section 17 does not apply to appointments vested in the President by the Constitution, because it only applies to appointments vested in the President by law. Petitioners forget that Congress is not the only source of law. "Law" refers to the Constitution, statutes or acts of Congress, municipal ordinances, implementing rules issued pursuant to law, and judicial decisions.17
Finally, petitioners claim that the issuance of appointments in an acting capacity is susceptible to abuse. Petitioners fail to consider that acting appointments cannot exceed one year as expressly provided in Section 17(3), Chapter 5, Title I, Book III of EO 292. The law has incorporated this safeguard to prevent abuses, like the use of acting appointments as a way to circumvent confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.
In distinguishing ad interim appointments from appointments in an acting capacity, a noted textbook writer on constitutional law has observed:
Ad-interim appointments must be distinguished from appointments in an acting capacity. Both of them are effective upon acceptance. But ad-interim appointments are extended only during a recess of Congress, whereas acting appointments may be extended any time there is a vacancy. Moreover ad-interim appointments are submitted to the Commission on Appointments for confirmation or rejection; acting appointments are not submitted to the Commission on Appointments. Acting appointments are a way of temporarily filling important offices but, if abused, they can also be a way of circumventing the need for confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.18
However, we find no abuse in the present case. The absence of abuse is readily apparent from President Arroyo's issuance of ad interim appointments to respondents immediately upon the recess of Congress, way before the lapse of one year.
WHEREFORE, we DISMISS the present Petition for Certiorari and prohibition.
1 Under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
2 Rollo, pp. 21-28.
3 Rollo, pp. 45-60.
4 Tolentino v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 148334, 21 January 2004, 420 SCRA 438 citing Gil v. Benipayo, G.R. No. 148179, 26 June 2001 (minute resolution).
5 Tolentino v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 148334, 21 January 2004, 420 SCRA 438 citing Chief Supt. Acop v. Secretary Guingona, Jr., 433 Phil. 62 (2002); Viola v. Hon. Alunan III, 343 Phil. 184 (1997); Alunan III v. Mirasol, 342 Phil. 467 (1997).
6 See Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary 768 (1996).
7 See Sarmiento III v. Mison, No. L-79974, 17 December 1987, 156 SCRA 549.
8 See Manalang v. Quitoriano, et al., 94 Phil. 903 (1954); Flores v. Drilon, G.R. No. 104732, 22 June 1993, 223 SCRA 568.
9 Cunanan v. Tan, Jr., G.R. No. L-19721, 10 May 1962, 5 SCRA 1. But see Justice Concepcion's Concurring Opinion in Guevara v. Inocentes, 123 Phil. 201, 211 (1966).
10 Rollo, p. 38.
11 Ibid., p. 65.
12 G.R. No. 159085, 3 February 2004, 421 SCRA 656 citing Philippine Constitution Association v. Enriquez, G.R. No. 113105, 19 August 1994, 235 SCRA 506.
13 Rollo, p. 14.
14 Also known as the "Administrative Code of 1987."
15 Rollo, p. 12.
16 See Marohombsar v. Alonto, Jr., G.R. No. 93711, 25 February 1991, 194 SCRA 390.
17 Article 8, Civil Code. See National Amnesty Commission v. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 156982, 8 September 2004, 437 SCRA 655.
18 Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary 772 (1996).