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Garcia vs Monsod: Term limits vs limits with rest period

June 11, 2019


First word

NO, I am not referring to a Supreme Court decision that no one has heard of. I refer rather to two viewpoints at the 1986 Constitutional Commission (which drafted the 1987 Constitution) that clashed during the debates on the issue of term limits for elective officials.

The personages referred to are ConCom commissioner Edmundo G. Garcia and ConCom commissioner Christian S. Monsod.

Each delivered a strong personal statement on the term-limit issue, and each advocated a specific policy that they thought should find expression in the final text of the Constitution.

Extrinsic aid to interpretation

Justice Reynato Puno reproduced their exchange of views in his concurring opinion in Socrates v. Comelec.

The discussion is significant because Garcia and Monsod discussed in their respective ways key aspects of the term-limit issue.

Justice Puno introduced his concurring opinion with these words:

“We turn to the proceedings and debates of the Constitutional Commission (ConCom) as an extrinsic aid to interpretation…We quote at length the relevant portions of the debates, to wit:

Garcia: Why term limits

“Mr. Garcia: I would like to advocate the proposition that no further election for local and legislative officials be allowed after a total of three terms or nine years. I have four reasons why I would like to advocate this proposal, which are as follows:

– to prevent monopoly of political power;

– to broaden the choice of the people;

– so that no one is indispensable in running the affairs of the country;

– to create a reserve of statesmen both in the national and local levels.

May I explain briefly these four reasons.

First: To prevent monopoly of political power. Our history has shown that prolonged stay in public office can lead to the creation of entrenched preserves of political dynasties.

Second: To broaden the choice of the people. Although individuals have the right to present themselves for public office, our times demand that we create structures that will enable more aspirants to offer to serve and to provide the people a broader choice so that more and more people can be enlisted to the cause of public service.

Third: No one is indispensable in running the affairs of the country. After the official’s near decade of occupying the same public office, I think we should try to encourage a more team-oriented consensual approach to governance.

Lastly, the fact that we will not reelect people after three terms would also favor the creation of a reserve of statesmen both in the national and local levels.”

Monsod: Rest period of 3 years

Christian Monsod presented a position opposite to that of Mr. Garcia. He told the commission:

“We are pre-screening candidates among whom the people will choose. We are saying that this 48-member Constitutional Commission has decreed that those who have served for a period of nine years are barred from running for the same position.

The argument is that there may be other positions. But there are some people who are very skilled and good at legislation, and yet are not of a national stature to be senators.

Second, we say that we want to broaden the choices of the people…We want to broaden the people’s choice but we are making a prejudgment today because we exclude a certain number of people.

Third, we are saying that by putting people to pasture, we are creating a reserve of statesmen, but the future participation of these statesmen is limited…

I do not think it is in our place today to make such a very important and momentous decision with respect to many of our countrymen in the future who may have a lot more years ahead of them in the service of their country.

If we agree that we will make sure that these people do not set up structures that will perpetuate them, then let us give them this rest period of three years or whatever it is.”

Carpio: Term limits derogate people’s will

In delivering the opinion of the Supreme Court in Socrates v. Comelec, Justice Antonio Carpio turned to the records of the discussions and debates of the ConCom on term limits to support the ruling.

The good justice, however, relied principally on the opinion of only a few commissioners.

He disregarded the opinion of other commissioners who held a contrary view.

He gave credence to Mr. Monsod’s remarks.

On the other hand, he completely bypassed the arguments of Mr. Garcia.

In Socrates v. Comelec, Justice Carpio wrote:

“The framers of the Constitution thus clarified that a senator can run after only three years following his completion of two terms. The framers expressly acknowledged that the prohibited election refers only to the immediate reelection, and not to any subsequent election, during the six-year period following the two-term limit.”

The ruling said further: “The concept of term limits is in derogation of the sovereign will of the people to elect the leaders of their own choosing. Term limits must be construed strictly to give the fullest possible effect to the sovereign will of the people.”

Essentially therefore, Socrates v. Comelec opposed the policy of term limits in the Constitution.

That policy of limits is expressed in specific provisions concerning the president of the republic, the senators and representatives in the Congress, and all elected local officials.

Each must face a specific limit to their length of service in the public office to which they are elected.

Term limits found expression in the final text of the Constitution. The provisions conform more to the vision of commissioner Garcia, than to the vision of commissioner Monsod.

The wording of the term limits is restrictive for all legislators and local government officials.

Article VII of the Constitution provides: “The president shall not be eligible for any reelection.”

Sec 4, Article V I of the Constitution provides: “No senator shall serve more than two consecutive terms.”

Sec. 7, Article VI provides: “No member of the House of Representatives shall serve for more than three consecutive terms.”

Sec 8, Article X provides: “The term of office of elective local officials, except barangay officials, which shall be determined by law, shall be three years and no such official shall serve for more than three consecutive terms.”

The provisions express a clear prohibition of reelection of an elected official following the completion of a term or terms in public office.

Collins English dictionary says that ‘shall’ is used in official documents “to indicate compulsion, or to indicate certainty or inevitability.”

According to Savigney, the first method in statutory interpretation is grammatical interpretation, the literal meaning of the statutory text. The Germans prefer grammatical interpretation, because a statutory text has a democratic legitimation.

Interpretation based on the intent of the authors of a text is secondary.

If the discussions and debates of the ConCom are pertinent at all, why is the opinion of Mr. Monsod preferred to that of Mr. Garcia?

Where did the idea of a “period of rest” for termed-out officials come from? Why is the idea not expressed in the constitutional text?

If analyzed and evaluated as public policy, Mr. Garcia’s opinion is indubitably more persuasive and sensible than that of Mr. Monsod. Garcia advocated term limits, while Monsod advocated against limits or tried to limit the limits.

Finally, in the plebiscite on the Constitution on Feb. 2, 1987, we the people were only presented the text of the Constitution as it exists today. There was no mention at any time of the intent of some ConCom members to qualify the term limits.

To employ these drafters now as a means to circumvent constitutional term limits is in my view a horrible distortion of the Constitution. Statutory interpretation in this manner is questionable. This is a mistake that should be corrected by the Supreme Court no less.

Consequently, I will seek legal advice and help on how to proceed in asking the high court to review Socrates v. Comelec.


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