Statutory construction

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Contents

Definition and Nature

Construction "is the art or process of discovering and expounding the meaning and intention of the authors of the law with respect to its application to a given case, where that intention is rendered doubtful, amongst others, by reason of the fact that the given case is not explicitly provided for in the law."[1]

The purpose of all rules or maxims as to the construction or interpretation of statutes is to discover the true intention of the law.[2]


General Principles

The power to construe; limitations

It is the duty of the Legislature to make the law; of the Executive to execute the law; and of the Judiciary to construe the law. The Legislature has no authority to execute or construe the law, the Executive has no authority to make or construe the law, and the Judiciary has no power to make or execute the law.[3] It is, emphatically, the province and duty of the judicial department, to say what the law is.[4]

Carrying out the intention of the legislature

The court may rectify and correct a clearly clerical error in the wording of a statute, in order to give due course and carry out the evident intention of the Legislature. Under the rules of statutory construction, it is not the letter but rather the spirit of the law and intention of the Legislature that is important and which matters. When the interpretation of a statute according to the exact and literal import of its words would lead to absurd or mischievous results, or would contravene the clear purposes of the Legislature, it should be construed according to its spirit and reason, disregarding as far as necessary, the latter of the law. Statutes may be extended to cover cases not within the literal meaning of the terms, for that which is clearly within the intention of the Legislature in enacting the law is as much within the statute as if it were within the latter. Here the error (clerical and misprint) is plain and obvious. It is within the province of the courts to correct said error. This is not to correct the act of the Legislature, but rather to carry out and give due course to the true intention of said Legislature.[5]

Wisdom of the law

However, it is not within the province of the Judiciary to inquire into the wisdom of the law.[6] Courts may not, in the guise of interpretation, enlarge the scope of a statute and include therein situations not provided nor intended by the lawmakers. An omission at the time of the enactment, whether careless or calculated, cannot be judicially supplied however after later wisdom may recommend the inclusion. Courts are not authorized to insert into the law what they think should be in it or to supply what they think the legislature would have supplied if its attention has been called to the omission. Courts should not, by construction, revise even the most arbitrary and unfair action of the legislature, nor rewrite the law to conform with what they think should be the law. Nor may they interpret into the law a requirement which the law does not prescribe. Where a statute contains no limitations in its operation or scope, courts should not engraft any. And where a provision of law expressly limits its application to certain transactions, it cannot be extended to other transactions by interpretation. To do any of such things would be to do violence to the language of the law and to invade the legislative sphere.[7]

Part of the law of the land

Interpretations made by the Supreme Court becomes part of the laws of the land. This is explicitly provided in Section 8 of the Civil Code, which provides: "Judicial decisions applying or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form part of the legal system of the Philippines."

Construction by administrative agencies

The general rule is that construction of a statute by an administrative agency charged with the task of interpreting or applying the same is entitled to great weight and respect. The Court, however, is not bound to apply said rule where such executive interpretation, is clearly erroneous, or when there is no ambiguity in the law interpreted, or when the language of the words used is clear and plain, as in the case at bar. Besides, administrative interpretations are at best advisory for it is the Court that finally determines what the law means.[8]


Rules of statutory construction

The following are the rules of statutory construction, in alphabetical order: (needs further editing)

Ad proximum antecedens fiat relatio nisi impediatur sentencia

Casus omissus pro omisso habendus est

A person, object, or thing omitted from an enumeration in a statute must be held to have been omitted intentionally. Read more

Distingue tempora et concordabis jura

Distinguish times and you will harmonize laws. We have laws enacted at different times, under dissimilar circumstances.[9]

Expressium facit cessare tacitum

Pari materia rule

A rule of statutory construction which commands that statutes must be harmonized with each other. Read more

Plain meaning rule

Also known as verba legis, this rule provides that if the statute is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without interpretation. Read more

Verba legis

Also known as the plain meaning rule, this rule provides that where the language of the law is clear and unequivocal, it must be given its literal application and applied without interpretation. Read more


References

  1. Caltex (Phils.), Inc. vs. Palomar, G.R. No. L-19650, 29 September 1966, citing Black, Interpretation of Laws, p. 1
  2. Tanada vs. Cuenco, G.R. No. L-10520, 28 February 1957, citing 82 C. J. S., 526
  3. U.S. vs. Ang Tang Ho, G.R. No. 17122, 27 February 1922
  4. Borromeo vs. Mariano, G.R. No. L-16808, 3 January 1921
  5. Rufino Lopez & Sons, Inc. vs. Court of Tax Appeals, G.R. No. L-9274, 1 February 1957
  6. NFA vs. Masada Security Agency, Inc., G.R. No. 163448, 8 March 2005
  7. Canet vs. Decena, G.R. No. 155344, 20 January 2004; citations omitted
  8. NFA vs. Masada Security Agency, Inc., G.R. No. 163448, 8 March 2005
  9. Commissioner of Customs vs. Superior Gas and Equipment Co., G.R. No. L-14115, 25 May 1960
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