Exigency or even good motives cannot excuse or validate the repetition of an unconstitutional act or procedure.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, which Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is wont to invoke, “What is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted.”
Consequently, no amount of purported or actual passage of some bills in the past on first and second readings on the same day will constitute an unassailable precedent in violation of the Constitution.
The Constitution under Sec. 26(2) of Article VI unequivocally provides that no bill “shall become a law unless it has passed three (3) readings on separate days”, unless the “President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency”.
HB No. 6732, whose enactment was not certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, was passed on first and second readings on the same day, May 13, 2020, in violation of the said constitutional requirement.
The only timely and viable solution to save HB 6732 from constitutional infirmity is to reconsider its errant approval last May 13, 2020 so that it could be passed validly on May 18, 2020, which is a separate session day.
The Supreme Court in Tolentino vs. Secretary of Finance (G.R. No. 115455, October 30, 1995) ruled that the constitutional requirement of “three readings on separate days” has a two-fold purpose: “(1) to inform the Members of Congress of what they must vote on and (2) to give them notice that a measure is progressing through the enactment process, thus enabling them and others interested in the measure to prepare their positions with reference to it.”
The High Court in Chavez vs. Judicial and Bar Council (G.R. No. 202242, July 17, 2012) pronounced that “Any circumvention of the constitutional mandate should not be countenanced for the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.”
Likewise, in Lagman vs. Executive Secretary Ochoa (G.R. No. 193036, December 7, 2010) the Supreme Court held that “No matter how noble and worthy of admiration the purpose of an act, but if the means to be employed in accomplishing it is simply irreconcilable with constitutional parameters, then it cannot still be allowed.”
Intransigence by the House leadership to correct a constitutional aberration is never the hallmark of commendable stewardship and good legislation.
EDCEL C. LAGMAN