Philippine Law 101

Although the primer is far from perfect, I absolutely enjoyed myself when I scoured, researched, and wrote about the territorial dispute. It has been two years, I believe, since I last did a proper research, and five years since I last enjoyed doing research. This is unfortunate because as a law student, I must know how to do good research. Law is a very complex process. Thus, a good lawyer should be able to sift through hundreds if not thousands of materials to be able to support his ideas. An unsupported idea is similar to the TV series Lost – all air but no action.

Anyway, as I said, the ability to research is not one of my strengths. This entry is an attempt to change that. Also, given the fun I had with the Spratly Islands primer and this entry, I decided to make these so-called educational entries as one of the features of this blog. Hell, I might even write about chi-squares in the future! Who knows? Haha. This is as much a learning experience with me as it is with you. I decided, however, to stick with Law first. This is my home turf, so I hope this will be going to be a great start. Anyway, let’s get this thing going! Let’s do Law!

I decided the first topic to be simple: Where does our laws come from?



Wait. Before you continue, let us agree on three things – the world is dark place, there are a whole lot of stupid and opportunistic persons, and lawsuits are bad. The following disclaimer has been copied from my earlier post regarding the Spratlys dispute, modified slightly to fit the theme of this entry. Read it and we will all be fine.

First of all, the Reader has to understand that I am not a lawyer, a politician, a government official, or a genius of Law. I am only a law student, and although that has little merit, I am here not as a law student but a layman. Second, although I claim all words below is mine unless said otherwise, I did not conduct serious research on the topic as to pass academic standards. All facts that you are going to read are derived from various Internet and print sources which are referenced at the end of the article.  Third. Although I checked every information below to be true, there will be always that tragic flaw which I undoubtedly missed.

Anyway, you can always contact me if anything is amiss. I will make sure to reply quickly. Thank you!


Definition of Terms

First, let us tell apart a law from a statute. First, law refers to all rules governing the state in general. This may take in several forms. The President may declare proclamations which are binding to the entire State. The municipality may promulgate ordinances, such as a complete ban on cigarette smoking or punishment for littering, which are binding to its constituents. The Supreme Court may interpret laws that are binding on the lower courts. These are all laws that need to be followed or obeyed at risk of being punished. The term law, therefore, is a vast concept which comprises all legitimate rules of action.

A statute, on the other hand, is only one form of a law. The primary difference between a statute, an ordinance, a court decision and a presidential issuance is that a statute is always promulgated by the Legislature. The Revised Penal Code is a statute. So is the Civil Code of the Philippines. The Republic Acts that you constantly being referred in TV are also statutes. Any act made by Congress according to procedure, therefore, is a statute.

This entry will only refer to statutes.

If you’re asking what the Legislature is, well, aren’t you the nifty curious scholar. Haha. Anyway, the Legislature is that branch of the government that makes, appeals or repeals laws. The word legislature is derived from the word legislator which, in turn, is derived from the Latin phrase legis lator – meaning law’s bringer. On the other hand, the words parliamentary and congress are another names for the Legislature. I will not delve into the difference of the two because that would be too complex, but we adopted the word ‘Congress’ here because it was the word that our colonial masters then, the United States of America, used to refer to their Legislature.

Thus, to summarize, although statutes are always laws, not all laws are statutes because only the Legislature can make statutes. Hell yeah!

The next thing you need to know is the difference between a bill and a law. A bill is only a draft or proposal of the law and not binding until approved. A bill can only become law when it has followed definite procedure outlined in the Constitution.

Another point of discussion is the difference between a unicameral and bicameral system of Legislature. A unicameral Legislature only has one House whereas a bicameral Legislature has two chambers which are commonly referred to as the Upper and Lower Houses. Under a unicameral Legislature, any bill approved by its constituents directly becomes a law or goes to the President for approval; whereas in a bicameral Legislature, both Houses must agree to the bill before it can proceed to the next step. It is therefore easier for a unicameral Legislature to pass a bill into a law but it is more democratic in a bicameral Legislature as it effectively allows checking of powers between the different chambers before any law can be passed.

An interesting note – there were countries before that had tricameral and even tetracameral (three and four Houses, respectively) systems of Legislature! Isn’t that awesome? I think it’s cool, really.

As a final note, although I know you know this, but only to cover all bases, a Constitution is the fundamental law of the land. All laws and acts of Men must always conform to the Constitution. It is better to think of it as the sturdy trunk which supports the entire country.


The History of the Legislative Branch of the Philippines

During the Spanish Era, because Philippines then was only but a colony, we had to follow the laws promulgated by the Cortes Generales or General Court. The Cortes was based in Spain and its structure was almost the same as our current bicameral Congress. There was the lower house, the Court of Deputies, and a higher house called the Senate. Anyway, during the first hundred years of our colonization, Philippines did not have any representative in the Cortes, whether a Peninsular, Insular, Creole, or native. If you have read Rizal’s books or his rich history, you may know now that this was one of his pleas to Spain, aside from the secularization of priests. Jose Rizal never intended to be liberated from Spain. He only intended equality, a cause which culminated on his death.

Although they certainly did not intend it, the works of Rizal and his fellow Ilustrados to fight for equality became one of the contributing factors of the creation of the Revolution. This is not to say that the Revolution started with Rizal. It started well before his time, but it was Rizal’s thoughts and subsequent death that became that certain spark that turned the wheels of fate.

On June 12, 1898, the leader of the Revolution, Emilio Aguinaldo, proclaimed the independence of the Philippines and established the Malolos Congress. This independence, however, is short-lived. The Americans, though our allies against Spain, never intended the Philippines to be free. Aguinaldo was branded a criminal and subsequently captured on 1901, essentially ending the Malolos Congress.

As the Americans never recognized Aguinaldo’s proclamation of independence and government, America established a new government in the country with the Philippine Commission as Legislature. Although only Americans comprised the Philippine Commission during its early ages, the adoption of the Philippine Organic Law on 1902 allowed us to delegate two Filipinos as Resident Commissioners. This changed on 1907, when the Americans allowed Filipinos to create a Philippine Assembly which will form part of a bicameral Legislature with the Philippine Commission as the Upper House and the Philippine Assembly as the Lower House. Although a liberal move, this resulted on a constant clash between the American-ruled Philippine Commission and the Filipino-made Philippine Assembly. This setup, however, changed again on 1916, when the United States finally decided to abolish the Commission and allowed the establishment of a new bicameral Philippine Legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and a Senate.

On 1935, the President of the United States approved a new Constitution of the Philippines which established the Commonwealth of the Philippines and paved the way for eventual independence. The 1935 Constitution as it is then provided for a unicameral Legislature, but was subsequently amended in 1941 as to create a bicameral Congress.

Fate, however, will not allow us to have our independence. On 1939, World War II broke out and Philippines fell to Japanese hands on 1942. Although Japan declared the Philippines independent on 1943, this proved to be a folly of the highest order. They established a puppet government with Jose Laurel as President and a unicameral Congress as Legislature. They also promulgated the 1943 Constitution, also known as the Japanese Constitution, during this time.

Fortunately, Japan lost the war which finally led to the United States proclaiming Philippines independent on July 4, 1946.

As the 1943 Constitution was never recognized by the now-independent Republic, the 1935 Constitution as amended on 1941 continued to take effect until 1973, when President Marcos decided to amend the Constitution, through his own machination of the Congress and the entire country during that time, to introduce a parliamentary system of government. On October 1976, the amendment was ratified through shadowy means, which resulted to the abolition of the Congress as it is of the old Constitution and the creation of a unicameral National Assembly. Although parliamentary in name, the system of government then was still only presidential with President Marcos holding all power of government. You know fate has been unkind to your country when a man of genius like Ferdinand Marcos turned into a greedy dictator.

The sands of fate, however, soon favored democracy and the President was forced to exile by the historic EDSA People Power Revolution on February 1986. The new President, Corazon Aquino, then abolished the highly unjust 1973 Constitution and created a transitional Constitution while a new Constitution was being drafted. During this transition, President Corazon Aquino was granted exceptional power and became the source of laws by decree.

On 1987, the new permanent Constitution was approved by President Aquino which led to the restoration of the old presidential system of government as it was before the 1973 Constitution, with some amendments as to prevent another Marcos from rising again. The 1987 Constitution continues to take effect until now, as of writing, although several Presidents after Corazon Aquino have tried their best to amend it with only some measure of success.


The Making of a Law

Well, here we are at last. How exactly does our beloved and nefarious Congressmen make our laws?

Preparing the Bill

The first step of every legislative process is problem solving. During this step, there is no explicit rule to follow or procedure to be wary of. Every member of both Houses may deliberate in any circumstance that he or she so pleases, with person that he or she knows important, about any proposal that he or she believes worthwhile in the time frame that he or she considers convenient and efficient.

Once the Congressman has set his mind what law to create, amend or repeal, the next step is to put the proposal on paper. There are two rules that should be followed here. First, as mandated by Section 24 of Article VI of the Constitution, appropriation, revenue or tariff bills; bills authorizing increase of the public debt; bills of local application; and bills of local application must originate exclusively in the House of Representatives. Second, all bills must only embrace one subject which is expressed in the title thereof. This means that there should be no rider in the bill. A rider is any provision that has nothing to do with the subject of the bill. This is a constitutional mandate expressed in Section 26, paragraph 1, of Article VI of the Constitution. The Congressman must always remember these two rules when he drafts the bill or requests the Reference and Research Bureau to draft it for him.

As an additional note, it is common practice for several Members to band together to draft a single bill. This is known as a joint resolution.

Submitting the Bill

Once the bill is drafted, the authors must affix their signatures and submit it, together with an electronic copy, to the Secretary General of their respective House. The Secretary General will then assign the bill with a number and reproduce the same for First Reading.

First Reading

The First Reading does not involve any deliberation or voting. The Secretary General will simply read the number, title, and authors of the bill, followed by its referral of the House Speaker to the appropriate committee.

Committee Deliberations

The appointed Committee deliberates on the bill. They may approve the bill with or without amendments or act unfavorably on it. They may substitute the bill with a new one. They may consolidate existing bills under their command. This is a crucial process where the very identity and life of the bill hangs on the balance. Although the Constitution does not dictate some sort of a time limit for deliberations, under the House Rules, a Member of the House may file a motion to discharge the Committee if the latter fails to act on the bill after thirty days. The motion, however, needs to be voted favorably by the members of the House before it can be enforced.

If the Committee approves the bill, they send it back to the House for Second Reading.

Second Reading

During the Second Reading, the bill will be read in full unless final copies have been distributed to all the Members. The House will then conduct a debate regarding the bill. They may amend or remove provisions as they please. After the debate, the Members of the House must vote whether to approve or reject the bill. If it is approved, it is assigned a spot in the Calendar of Business for Third Reading.

Third Reading

During the Third Reading, the Constitution mandates that no further amendments is allowed. The Members of the House may only vote whether to finally pass or table the bill. If it is approved by the House, the bill is then sent to the other House for three readings as well.

It should be noted that the Constitution dictates two crucial rules – the three readings must occur in separate days and all the Members of the House must receive printed final copies of the bill at least three days before its passage. These two rules may be ignored if the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency. It is, however, important that the bill must pass three readings even if the President certifies to its immediate necessity.

House Cycle

Once the other House receives the bill, that House must treat the bill as if it has been proposed by a Member of their own House. Thus, the bill receives no special treatment and must still pass three readings for a grand total of six readings. This is the reason why laws take forever to be enacted. Although this can be considered a bad thing, the long time also assures that no law is passed until it is scrutinized closely by our Congressmen. Hopefully.

It should be noted that the other House may amend or completely substitute the bill being passed by the originating House.

Anyway, if the other House approves the bill, it is sent to the originating House for approval. If the originating House approves of the changes made by the other House, a final copy of the bill is printed (known as the ‘enrolled’ bill) and signed by the Speakers and Secretary Generals of both Houses. This bill is then sent to the Office of the President for the President’s approval.

If, on the other hand, the originating House does not approve of the changes made by the other House, a Conference Committee may be called to settle the differences between the two. The Committee comprises representatives from both Houses. The Committee must finalize a report within sixty days (or more, if the Committee can provide an explanation) from the date of their organization. The report of the Committee will serve as another version of the bill and sent to both Houses for approval. If both Houses agree to that version of the bill, it is sent to the Office of the President for the President’s approval.

It is important to note that the Conference Committee may amend or substitute the bill being passed by its parent Houses.

Approval of the President

Every bill passed by Congress will be presented to the President. If he approves of the law, he shall sign it; if he does not, he returns it with his remarks to Congress. If he signs it, the bill becomes a law.

If the President does not sign or veto the bill within thirty days after receiving a copy of the bill, the bill becomes a law as if he has signed it. The concept of ‘pocket veto’, i.e., the bill dies if the President ignores it for some time, is not accepted in our country.


If the President vetoes the bill, i.e., he rejects the bill, the Congress has the power to override the President’s veto with three-fourths vote of all the members of both Houses voting separately.  The bill then, though initially vetoed by the President, still becomes a law.

As you can see, the legislative process is quite complex. The Reader should note that I did not include here all the rules of each House. There are still intricacies that I left out – how the Members should vote, how they should deliberate, how they should protest if they something is wrong. I did, however, tried to include the most basic and important provisions, particularly those mentioned by the Constitution.

And that’s it, folks. I hope you learned something new again. As usual, if I missed something, you can always contact me and I will quickly correct it (or debate with you if I found your comment wanting, but it is all in good fun). Toodles, dear Reader, and I’ll see you when I see you.



As per tradition, I am not using any referencing standard. Read further, expand knowledge!

1. The Wikipedia pages about the History of the Philippines, Cortes Generales, Spanish Constitution of 1812, Philippine RevolutionFirst Philippine Republic, Philippine-American War, Philippine Commission, Philippine Assembly, World War II, Philippine Organic Act of 1902, Jones Law, Tydings-McDuffie Act, Legislature, Unicameralism, Multicameralism, United States Constitution, Act of Congress, Bill, and Conference Committee. Accessed 5-7 May 2012.

2. House Rules of the Senate of the Philippines. Accessed 6 May 2012. The relevant House Rules are Rules XXI-XXIII and XXV.

3. House Rules of the House of Representatives of the Philippines. Adopted 14 December 2010. The relevant House Rule is Rule X.

4. The Biak-na-Bato, Malolos, 1935, 1943, 1973, and Freedom Constitutions of the Philippines.

5. The 1987 (and currently used) Constitution of the Philippines. The relevant provisions can be found in Article VI, Sections 24, 26 and 27.

6. Statutory Construction by Ruben Agpalo. Published 1986. Revised 2009.