Santiago scorns Enrile’s ‘blissful ignorance of law’
MANILA, Philippines—Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has been on sick leave for chronic fatigue with heart problems, blasted Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile anew this time, for what she described as “blissful ignorance of the law.”
Santiago was reacting to a provision in the Bill of Rights mentioned during a debate between Enrile and Senator Antonio “Sonny’ Trillanes last Tuesday over the latter’s move to push for a Senate inquiry into the P15 billion corporate income tax that is being passed on to consumers by two water concessionaires – Manila Water and Maynilad.
She noted Enrile’s opinion that the provision “No law impairing the obligation of contract shall be passed” was “one of the most sacred provisions of the Bill of Rights.”
“Furious” in what she described as “Enrile’s blissful ignorance of the law,” Santiago pointed out the Supreme Court ruling on the 1992 case of Juarez v. Court of Appeals which states that, “The impairment clause is now no longer inviolate; in fact, there are many who now believe it is an anachronism in present-day society. . . . These agreements have come within the embrace of the police power.”
Santiago traced this police power limitation on the so-called “contract clause” or “impairment clause” as far back as 60 years ago, with the decision by the Supreme Court in the landmark 1953 case of Rutter v. Esteban, ushering in a consistent line of cases holding that police power prevails over the contract clause.
She then cited the 1993 case of PNB v. Remigio, where the Supreme Court ruled: “The constitutional guarantee of non-impairment of obligations of contract is limited by the exercise of the police power of the State, the reason being that public welfare is superior to private rights.”
The senator went on to cite the 1995 case of Conference of Maritime Manning Agencies, Inc. v. POEA, where the Supreme Court similarly ruled: “The freedom of contract is not absolute; all contracts and all rights are subject to the police power of the State and not only may regulations which affect them be established by the State, but all such regulations must be subject to change from time to time. . . . .”
Santiago defined “police power” as “the inherent and plenary power of a sovereign to make all laws necessary and proper to preserve the public security, order, health, morality, justice, and general welfare.”
She said the high tribunal has consistently upheld the police power of the state over the contracts clause, even as late as the 2010 case of Surigao del Norte Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. Energy Regulatory Commission, where the Supreme Court held: “It has long been settled that police power legislation adopted by the State to promote the health, morals, peace, education, good order, safety, and the general welfare of the people prevail not only over future contracts but even over those already in existence, for all private contracts must yield to the superior and legitimate measures taken by the State to promote public welfare.”
“Because Enrile had never even bothered to do his homework on constitutional law, the result was that he was merely engaging in bluffing and bullying Senator Trillanes, who is a non-lawyer,” Santiago said.
“The Enrile speech was an egregious example of ignorance of the law, used as a tool to bludgeon the heads of non-lawyers. I am very disappointed that none of the lawyers in the majority coalition to which I belong stood up to unmask Enrile’s ignorance.”
Santiago said Enrile lost to Trillanes when the resolution was referred to the Senate committee on public services.
She also scoffed at Enrile’s boast that if he would be allowed to appear in court, he would certainly defeat Trillanes.
“He (Enrile) does not want the Senate to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation, which is one of our duties. Instead, he wants Trillanes to file a case in court, which is no longer part of our legislative functions,” she said.
“Under the Senate rules, that kind of boasting and self-praise at the expense of another senator who is a non-lawyer, constitutes unparliamentary language because it offends Sen. Trillanes and the Senate as a whole,” Santiago added.
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