April 2008 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. NO. 167011 - G.R. NO. 167011 - CARPIO - DISSENTING OPINION
[G.R. NO. 167011 : April 30, 2008]
SPS. CARLOS S. ROMUALDEZ AND ERLINDA R. ROMUALDEZ, Petitioners, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND DENNIS GARAY, Respondents.
Petitioners are charged under two Informations for violation of Section 10(g) and (j)1 in relation to Section 45(j) of Republic Act No. 8189.2 RA No. 8189 does not state that violations of Section 10(g) and (j) are election offenses. However, Section 45(j) makes a blanket declaration that "[V]iolation of any of the provisions of this Act" is an election offense.
Petitioners now assail Section 45(j) as unconstitutional for vagueness as it does not refer to any particular provision of RA No. 8189. Petitioners claim a violation of their constitutional right under the due process clause.3 Petitioners assert that a penal statute must provide "fair notice" of what is a criminal act and what is a lawful act. Petitioners claim that Section 45(j), a penal law that carries the penalty of imprisonment from one to six years,4 violates their constitutional right to "fair notice" because it is vague.
The due process clause, which guarantees that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, requires that citizens are given sufficient notice or warning of what is lawful and unlawful conduct under a penal statute. To enforce this guarantee, courts have developed the void for vagueness doctrine. The void for vagueness doctrine expresses the rule that for an act to constitute a crime, the law must expressly and clearly declare such act a crime. A related doctrine is that penal statutes are construed strictly against the state and liberally in favor of the accused.
Petitioners' constitutional attack on Section 45(j) under the due process clause puts in issue two other requirements for the validity of a penal statute. First, a penal statute must prescribe an ascertainable standard of guilt to guide courts in adjudication.5 Second, a penal statute must confine law enforcers within well-defined boundaries to avoid arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement of the law.6
Petitioners challenge the constitutionality of Section 45(j) "as applied" to them in a live case under which they face prosecution. This is the traditional "as applied" approach in challenging the constitutionality of any statute. In an "as applied" challenge, the petitioner who claims a violation of his constitutional right can raise any constitutional ground - whether absence of due process, lack of fair notice, lack of ascertainable standards, overbreadth, or vagueness.
The "as applied" approach embodies the rule that one can challenge the constitutionality of a statute only if he asserts a violation of his own rights. The rule prohibits one from challenging the constitutionality of the statute based solely on the violation of the rights of third persons not before the court. This rule is also known as the prohibition against third-party standing.
The U.S. Supreme Court has created a notable exception to the prohibition against third-party standing. Under the exception, a petitioner may mount a "facial" challenge to the constitutionality of a statute even if he claims no violation of his own rights under the assailed statute. To mount a "facial" challenge, a petitioner has only to show violation under the assailed statute of the rights of third parties not before the court. This exception allowing "facial" challenges, however, applies only to statutes involving free speech. The ground allowed for a "facial" challenge is overbreadth or vagueness of the statute. Thus, the U.S. Supreme Court declared:
x x x the Court has altered its traditional rules of standing to permit - in the First Amendment area - 'attacks on overly broad statutes with no requirement that the person making the attack demonstrate that his own conduct could not be regulated by a statute drawn with the requisite narrow specificity.' x x x Litigants, therefore, are permitted to challenge a statute not because their own rights of free expression are violated, but because of a judicial prediction or assumption that the statute's very existence may cause others not before the court to refrain from constitutionally protected speech or expression.7 (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
The rationale for this exception allowing a "facial" challenge is to counter the "chilling effect" on protected speech that comes from statutes violating free speech. A person who does not know whether his speech constitutes a crime under an overbroad or vague law may simply refuse to speak to avoid being charged of a crime. The overbroad or vague law chills him into silence.
Prof. Erwin Chemerinsky, a distinguished American textbook writer on Constitutional Law, explains clearly the exception of overbreadth to the rule prohibiting third-party standing in this manner:
The third exception to the prohibition against third-party standing is termed the "overbreadth doctrine." A person generally can argue that a statute is unconstitutional as it is applied to him or her; the individual cannot argue that a statute is unconstitutional as it is applied to third parties not before the court. For example, a defendant in a criminal trial can challenge the constitutionality of the law that is the basis for the prosecution solely on the claim that the statute unconstitutionally abridges his or her constitutional rights. The overbreadth doctrine is an exception to the prohibition against third-party standing. It permits a person to challenge a statute on the ground that it violates the First Amendment (free speech) rights of third parties not before the court, even though the law is constitutional as applied to that defendant. In other words, the overbreadth doctrine provides that: "Given a case or controversy, a litigant whose own activities are unprotected may nevertheless challenge a statute by showing that it substantially abridges the First Amendment rights of other parties not before the court."8
The doctrines of overbreadth and vagueness, as devices to mount "facial" challenges to penal or non-penal statutes violating free speech, are not applicable to the present petition for two reasons. First, petitioners here assert a violation of their own constitutional rights, not the rights of third-parties. Second, the challenged statute - Section 45(j) of RA No. 8189, does not involve free speech. Thus, any invocation of the doctrines of overbreadth and vagueness to mount a "facial" challenge in the present case is grossly misplaced.
Justice Vicente Mendoza's separate opinion in Estrada v. Sandiganbayan,11 a case involving both "facial" and "as applied" challenges to specific provisions of the Anti-Plunder Law, correctly distinguished between the inapplicability of the "facial" challenge and the applicability of the "as applied" challenge in that case. Justice Mendoza succinctly stated, "As conduct - not speech - is its object, the challenged provision must be examined only "as applied" to the defendant, herein petitioner, and should not be declared unconstitutional for overbreadth or vagueness [under a "facial" challenge]." Justice Mendoza further explained in his separate opinion denying the motion for reconsideration:
x x x Accordingly, as the enforcement of the Anti-Plunder Law is not alleged to produce a chilling effect on freedom of speech or religion or some "fundamental rights" to be presently discussed, only such provisions can be challenged by petitioner as are sought to be applied to him. Petitioner cannot challenge the entire statute on its face. A contrary rule would permit litigation to turn on abstract hypothetical applications of a statute and disregard the wise limits placed on the judicial power by the Constitution. x x x (Emphasis supplied)12
In Romualdez v. Sandiganbayan,13 petitioner Romualdez challenged the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for which petitioner Romualdez was being prosecuted. The case clearly involved an "as applied" challenge to the constitutionality of a statute. Thus, petitioner Romualdez could raise any constitutional ground, including overbreadth and vagueness, to strike down Section 5. Indeed, the Court in Romualdez stated that "the challenged provision must be examined only "as applied" to the defendant." After discussing the void for vagueness doctrine, the Court ruled that "the challenged provision is not vague," thus acknowledging that the constitutionality of a penal statute can be tested by the vagueness doctrine.
Unfortunately, the Court in Romualdez also stated: "It is best to stress at the outset that the overbreadth and the vagueness doctrines have special application only to free-speech cases. They are not appropriate for testing the validity of penal statutes." The Court concluded: "In sum, the Court holds that the challenged provision is not vague, and that in any event, the 'overbreadth' and 'void for vagueness' doctrines are not applicable to this case."
However, we must view these statements of the Court on the inapplicability of the overbreadth and vagueness doctrines to penal statutes as appropriate only insofar as these doctrines are used to mount "facial" challenges to penal statutes not involving free speech. These statements of the Court are also obiter dicta since Romualdez involved an "as applied" challenge and not a "facial" challenge to the constitutionality of a statute.
The present petition indisputably involves an "as applied" challenge to the constitutionality of Section 45(j) of RA No. 8189. As an "as applied" challenge, petitioners may raise any constitutional ground to strike down Section 45(j). In this "as applied" challenge, petitioners may invoke the overbreadth and vagueness doctrines to test the constitutionality of Section 45(j).
The threshold issue on the constitutionality of Section 45(j) now turns on three tests: First, does Section 45(j) give "fair notice" or warning to ordinary citizens as to what is criminal conduct and what is lawful conduct? Put differently, is Section 45(j) so vague that ordinary citizens must necessarily guess as to its meaning and differ as to its application?14 Second, is Section 45(j) so vague that it prescribes no ascertainable standard of guilt to guide courts in judging those charged of its violation?15 Third, is Section 45(j) so vague that law enforcers - the police and prosecutors - can arbitrarily or selectively enforce it?16
If Section 45(j) meets all the three tests, it complies with the due process clause and is therefore constitutional. If it fails any one of the three tests, then it is unconstitutional and the two Informations against petitioners based on Section 45(j) should be quashed.
RA No. 8189 contains 52 sections and some 235 sentences, 149 paragraphs, and 7,831 words. Section 45(j) of RA No. 8189 makes "violation of any of the provisions" of RA No. 8189 a criminal offense, in addition to violations expressly specified in Section 45(a) to (i).17
Section 45(j) of RA No. 8189 provides:
SEC. 45. Election Offenses. - The following shall be considered election offenses under this Act:
(a) x x x
x x x
(j) Violation of any of the provisions of this Act.
Thus, the violation of any of the following provisions of RA No. 8189, not covered under Section 45(a) to (i), is a crime:
1. Section 10, requiring that the voter's "application shall contain the following data," listing 11 data (a to k) to be written by the applicant. The 11th data required is "such information or data as may be required by the Commission." If the applicant fails to write the data required by the Commission, he commits a crime.
Here, petitioners are charged with violating Section 10(g) and ((j) for their alleged failure to state in their application form the periods of their residence in the Philippines, as well as for allegedly falsely stating that they are not registered voters in any other precinct.
2. Section 10, requiring that the "application for registration shall contain three (3) specimen signatures of the applicant, clear and legible rolled prints of his left and right thumbprints, with four identification size copies of his latest photograph x x x." If the applicant writes only two specimen signatures or his thumbprints are not clear and legible, he commits a crime.
3. Section 11(e), stating that insane or incompetent persons "shall be disqualified from registering." If an insane or incompetent person registers as a voter, he commits a crime.
4. Section 18, requiring that a challenge to an applicant for registration "shall be under oath." If the challenger fails to put his challenge under oath, he commits a crime.
5. Section 27, requiring that the Election Registration Board "shall deactivate the registration and remove the registration records" of "any person who did not vote in the two (2) successive preceding regular elections." Members of the Election Registration Board commit a crime if they fail to do so.
6. Section 29, requiring that the Election Registration Board "shall cancel the registration records of those who died as certified by the Local Civil Registrar." If the members of the Election Registration Board fail to do so, they commit a crime.
7. Section 40, requiring that the Commission on Elections "shall reconstitute all registration records which have been lost or destroyed." If the members of the Commission on Elections fail to do so, they commit a crime.
By no means is the foregoing enumeration exhaustive. There are many more provisions of RA No. 8189 that may be violated by a voter, Election Officer, or other officials of the Commission on Elections without committing the "Election Offenses" specified in Section 45(a) to (i) of RA No. 8189. However, the ordinary citizen has no way of knowing which provisions of RA No. 8189 are covered by Section 45(j) even if he has before him a copy of RA No. 8189.
Even Judges and Justices will differ as to which provisions of RA No. 8189 fall under Section 45(j). The prosecution office of the Comelec has not specified which provisions of RA No. 8189 fall under Section 45(j). There is no legal textbook writer who has attempted to enumerate the provisions of RA No. 8189 that fall under Section 45(j). Members of the Commission on Elections will certainly dispute that failure by the Commission to reconstitute lost or destroyed registration records constitutes a crime on their part.
Under RA No. 8189, law enforcement officers have wide latitude to choose which provisions of the law to consider a crime since there is no specific enumeration of provisions falling under Section 45(j). Prosecutors can choose to prosecute only those who violate certain provisions of RA No. 8189. Judges trying violators of the law have no ascertainable standard to determine the guilt of a person accused of violating Section 45(j). There is no certainty which provisions of RA No. 8189 fall under Section 45(j).
Section 45(j) makes a blanket, unconditional declaration that "violation of any of the provisions" of RA No. 8189 constitutes a crime. In contrast, Section 45(b)18 states that to constitute a crime the failure to give notice or to submit a report must be "without cause." Under Section 45(j), whether the violation or omission is with or without cause, the act constitutes a crime while under Section 45(b) a violation or omission for cause is not a crime.
Certainly, the lawmaker did not intend that trivial and harmless violations, or omissions for cause, should constitute a crime under Section 45(j). Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing with certainty what these trivial and harmless violations or omissions are. Everyone will have to guess as to what provisions fall under Section 45(j), and their guesses will most likely differ from each other.
The last paragraph of Section 419 of RA No. 8189 prohibits a change of the precinct assignment of a voter without the voter's written consent. This paragraph expressly declares, "Any violation thereof shall constitute an election offense which shall be punished in accordance with law." The prohibition against such change of precinct assignment is not one of the specific acts penalized under Section 45(a) to (i). Since such change of precinct assignment is expressly declared an election offense in Section 4 itself, such act is clearly a crime and merits the penalty prescribed in Section 46.
However, the provision in the last paragraph of Section 4 declaring a violation of such paragraph an election offense is not found in any other provision of RA No. 8189. The ordinary citizen will not know if the lawmaker also intended other provisions of RA No. 8189 to carry the same penal sanction, even in the absence of an express declaration that violation of such provisions is an election offense. This adds to the uncertainty of the ordinary citizen as to what constitutes criminal conduct and what constitutes lawful conduct under RA No. 8189.
A provision in an elaborate and detailed law that contains a catch-all provision making it a crime to violate any provision of such law does not give "fair notice" to the ordinary citizen on what constitutes prohibited conduct or permitted conduct under such law. Section 45(j) does not draw reasonably clear lines between lawful and unlawful conduct such that the ordinary citizen has no way of finding out what conduct is a prohibited act.20 The ordinary citizen will have to guess which provisions of RA No. 8189, other than those mentioned in Section 45(a) to (i), carry a penal sanction.
If Section 45(j) had enumerated the specific provisions within its coverage, then reasonable clear lines would guide the ordinary citizen as to what acts are prohibited. Section 45(j) does not specify those provisions and thus fails to draw reasonable clear lines. If Section 45(j) is strictly applied, the ordinary citizen may simply decline to exercise his right of suffrage to avoid unintentionally committing a crime. Section 45(j) is a trap even to the most educated citizen.
There is no basis in the claim that since petitioners are being prosecuted under Section 45(j) in relation to Section 10 (g) and (j), there is no vagueness in the law under which petitioners are charged. Precisely, Section 45(j) does not specify Section 10(g) and (j) as some the provisions of RA No. 8189 that may be violated. Only the Information filed by the prosecutor mentions Section 10(g) and (j) as some of the provisions that may be violated under Section 45(j). The Information, however, is not part of RA No. 8189, and the prosecutor has no legislative power to amend Section 45(j) to cure its vagueness.
A penal law void for vagueness is not made valid by a specification in the Information correcting the vagueness in the law. No court of law has adopted a doctrine that the prosecutor has the power to correct a vagueness in a penal law. Whether a law is void for vagueness under an "as applied" challenge must be tested under the provisions of the law as found in the statute books, and not as interpreted by the prosecutor in the Information.
There is also no basis in the claim that any discussion on the possible provisions of RA No. 8189 that may fall within the coverage of Section 45(j) constitutes a "facial" challenge on such provisions of RA No. 8189. This is gross error. What is void for vagueness is the provision "violation of any of the provisions of this Act," and not any of the unnamed provisions that may be violated. No other provision in RA No. 8189 is being challenged as unconstitutional, only Section 45(j). The provisions possibly falling within the coverage of Section 45(j) must be discussed to illustrate that the ordinary citizen has no way of knowing with certitude what provisions of RA No. 8189 fall within the coverage of Section 45(j). The discussion shows that the ordinary citizen has no fair notice that these are the provisions falling within the coverage of Section 45(j). What is being challenged is the constitutionality of Section 45(j), which is so vague that it could cover any of the provisions discussed above.
In People v. Gatchalian,21 the Court declared constitutional a provision penalizing "any person who wilfully violates any of the provisions" of the Minimum Wage Law. There, the Court stated:
x x x A study of the origin of our Minimum Wage Law (Republic Act 602) may be of help in arriving at an enlightened and proper interpretation of the provisions under consideration. Our research shows that this Act was patterned after the U. S. Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, and so a comparative study of the pertinent provisions of both would be enlightening.
The pertinent provisions of the U. S. Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, follow:
SEC. 6. (a) Every employer shall pay to each of his employees who is engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce wages at the following rates'
"(1) not less than 75 cents an hour;"
xxx xxx xxx
SEC. 15. (a) After the expiration of one hundred and twenty, days from the date of enactment of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any person'
"(1) to transport, offer for transportation, ship, deliver, or sell in commerce, or to ship, deliver; or sell with knowledge that shipment or delivery or sale thereof in commerce is intended, any goods in the production of which any employee was employed in violation of section 6 or section 7, or in violation of any regulation or order of the Administrator issued under section 14; xxx
"(2) to violate any of the provisions of section 6 or section 7, or any of the provisions of any regulation or order of the Administrator issued under section 14;
"(3) to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or cause to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this Act, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee;
"(4) to violate any of the provisions of section 11 (c) or any regulation or order made or continued in effect under the provisions of section 11 (d), or to make any statement, report, or record filed or kept pursuant. to the provisions of such section or of any regulation or order thereunder, knowing such statement, report, or record to be false in a material respect.
xxx xxx xxx
SEC. 16. (a) Any person who willfully violates any of the provisions of section 15 shall upon conviction thereof be subject to a line of not more than P10,000, or to imprisonment for not more than six months, or both. No person shall be imprisoned under this subsection except for an offense committed after the conviction of such person for a prior offense under this subsection.
"(b) Any employer who violates the provisions of section 6 or 7 of this Act shall be liable to the employee or employees affected in the amount of their unpaid minimum wages, or their unpaid overtime compensation, as the case may be, and in additional equal amount as liquidated damages. Action to recover such liability may be maintained in any court of competent jurisdiction by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated. No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought. The court in such action shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant costs of the action."
The pertinent provisions of Republic Act 602 read:
SEC. 3. Minimum wage. - (a) Every employer shall pay to each of his employees who is employed by an enterprise other than in agriculture wages at the rate of not less than'
xxx xxx xxx
"(2) Three pesos a day on the effective date of this Act and for one year after the effective date, and thereafter P4 a day, for employees of establishments located outside of Manila or its environs: Provided, That this Act shall not apply to any retail or service enterprise that regularly employs not more than five employees."
"SEC. 15. Penalties and recovery of wage due under this Act. - (a) Any person who willfully violates any of the provisions of this Act shall upon conviction thereof be subject to a fine of not more than two thousand pesos, or, upon second conviction, to imprisonment of not more than one year, or to both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.
xxx xxx xxx
"(e) Any employer who underpays an employee in violation of this Act shall be liable to the employee effected in the amount of the unpaid wages with legal interest. Action to recover such liability may be maintained in any competent court by anyone or more employees on behalf of himself or themselves. The court in such action shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee which shall not exceed ten per cent of the amount awarded to the plaintiffs, unless the amount awarded is less than one hundred pesos, in which event the fee may be ten pesos, but not in excess of that amount. Payment of the amount found due to the plaintiffs shall be made directly to the plaintiffs, in the presence of a representative of the Secretary or of the Court. In the event payment is witnessed by the court or its representative, the Secretary shall be notified within ten days of payment that the payment has been made."
x x x
It should also be noted that while Section 16 of the Fair Labor Standards Act which provides for the penalties to be imposed for any willful violation of the provisions of the Act; specifically states that those penalties refer to acts declared unlawful under Section 15 of the same Act, our law does not contain such specification. It merely provides in Section 15 (a) that "Any person who willfully violates any of the provisions of this Act shall upon conviction" be subject to the penalty therein prescribed. This distinction is very revealing. It clearly indicates that while the Fair Labor Standards Act intends to subject to criminal action only acts that are declared unlawful, our law by legislative fiat intends to punish not only those expressly declared unlawful but even those not so declared but are clearly enjoined to be observed to carry out the fundamental purpose of the law. One such provision is undoubtedly that which refers to the payment of the minimum wage embodied in Section 3. This is the only rational interpretation that can be drawn from the attitude of our Congress in framing our law in a manner different from that appearing in the mother law.22 (Boldfacing and underscoring supplied)
This Court must revisit Gatchalian's holding that makes a crime "not only those (acts) expressly declared unlawful but even those not so declared but are clearly enjoined to be observed to carry out the fundamental purpose of the law." Unlike the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act after which our Republic Act No. 602 was patterned, RA 602 does not specify the provisions of the law the violation of which is declared unlawful. This Court must categorically rule that only acts expressly declared unlawful or prohibited by law, and penalized as such, are crimes. Acts not expressly declared unlawful or prohibited can never give rise to criminal liability. Any ambiguity in the law whether an act constitutes a crime is resolved in favor of the accused.
To punish as crimes acts not expressly declared unlawful or prohibited by law violates the Bill of Rights. First, the Constitution provides that "[N]o person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law."23 Due process requires that the law expressly declares unlawful, and punishes as such, the act for which the accused is held criminally liable. The void for vagueness doctrine is aimed precisely to enforce this fundamental constitutional right. Second, the Constitution provides that "[I]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall x x x enjoy the right x x x to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him."24 This right of the accused requires that the Information states the particular act the accused committed in violation of a specific provision of a law defining such act a crime.
A blanket and unconditional declaration that any violation of an elaborate and detailed law is a crime is too imprecise and indefinite, and fails to define with certitude and clarity what acts the law punishes as crimes. Such a shotgun approach to criminalizing human conduct is exactly what the void for vagueness doctrine outlaws, thus:
That the terms of a penal statute creating a new offense must be sufficiently explicit to inform those who are subject to it what conduct on their part will render them liable to its penalties is a well-recognized requirement, consonant alike with the ordinary notions of fair play and the settled rules of law; and a statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law.
x x x
The dividing line between what is lawful and unlawful conduct cannot be left to conjecture. The citizen cannot be held to answer charges based upon penal statutes whose mandates are so uncertain that they will reasonably admit of different constructions. A criminal statute cannot rest upon an uncertain foundation. The crime, and the elements constituting it, must be so clearly expressed that the ordinary person can intelligently choose, in advance, what course it is lawful for him to pursue. x x x25
Section 45(j) is a penal statute. Penal statutes are construed strictly against the state and liberally in favor of the accused. The purpose is not to allow a guilty person to escape punishment through a technicality but to provide a precise definition of the prohibited act.26 To constitute a crime, an act must come clearly within the spirit and letter of the penal statute.27 Otherwise, the act is outside the coverage of the penal statute. An act is not a crime unless clearly made so by express provision of law. This Court has declared:
Criminal statutes are to be construed strictly. No person should be brought within their terms who is not clearly within them, nor should any act be pronounced criminal which is not made clearly so by the statute.28 (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
Section 45(j) does not specify what provisions of RA No. 8189, if violated, carry a penal sanction. Section 45(j) merely states that "violation of any of the provisions" of RA No. 8189 is a crime. In addition to the provisions covered by Section 45(a) to (i), there are many other provisions of RA No. 8189 that are susceptible of violation. Section 45(j), however, does not specify which of these other provisions carry a penal sanction if violated. Thus, Section 45(j) fails to satisfy the requirement that for an act to be a crime it must clearly be made a crime by express provision of law.
The penal provisions of the Omnibus Election Code29 (Code) are instructive. Section 261 of the Code enumerates what are the specific prohibited acts which constitute election offenses. Section 26230 penalizes "Other election offenses" by specifying the specific sections of the Code the violation of which also constitutes election offenses. There is no room for guesswork as to what provisions the violation of which constitutes crimes. There is "fair notice" to all citizens of what acts are prohibited, and what acts are permitted, under the Code. Law enforcers have no discretion to choose what provisions are prohibited as criminal acts. Judges know with certainty what provisions of the Code carry penal sanctions.
This is not the case with Section 45(j) of RA No. 8189. Indisputably, Section 45(j) is so vague that it fails to give "fair notice" to ordinary citizens as to what conduct is a crime and what conduct is lawful under Section 45(j). Section 45(j) is also so vague that it fails to define the prohibited acts in a precise and clear manner, allowing law enforcers to enforce it arbitrarily while leaving courts no standard by which to adjudge the guilt of a person accused of violating it. This substantial vagueness in Section 45(j) violates the due process clause.
I therefore vote to declare Section 45(j) of RA No. 8189 UNCONSTITUTIONAL, and to GRANT the petition.
1 Section 10(g) and (j) of RA No. 8189 provides:
SEC. 10. Registration of Voters. - x x x
The application shall contain the following data:
a) x x x
x x x
g) Periods of residence in the Philippines and in the place of registration;
x x x
j) A statement that the applicant is not a registered voter of any precinct;
2 The Voter's Registration Act of 1996.
3 Section 1, Article III of the Constitution provides:
No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.
4 Section 46 of RA No. 8189 provides:
Section 46. Penalties. - Any person found guilty of any election offense under this Act shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one (1) year but not more than six (6) years and shall not be subject to probation. In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage. If he is a foreigner, he shall be deported after the prison term has been served. Any political party found guilty shall be sentenced to pay a fine not less than one hundred thousand pesos (
P100,000) but not more than five hundred thousand pesos ( P500,000).
5 People v. Nazario, No. L-44143, 31 August 1988, 165 SCRA186.
7 Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601 (1973). This case involved a non-penal statute that prohibited state employees from engaging in partisan political activities. The statute was declared neither substantially overbroad nor impermissibly vague, thus valid.
8 Erwin Chemerinsky, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, p. 86, 2nd Edition (2002).
9 John E. Nowak and Ronal D. Rotunda write, "Closely related to the overbreadth doctrine is the void for vagueness doctrine. The problem of vagueness in statutes regulating speech activities is based on the same rationale as the overbreadth doctrine and the Supreme Court often speaks of them together." CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, p. 1070, 6th Edition (2000).
10 See note 1, p. 917.
11 421 Phil. 290 (2001).
12 Resolution dated 29 January 2002.
13 479 Phil. 265 (2004).
14 Connally v. General Constr. Co., 269 U.S. 385 (1926), cited in Ermita-Malate Hotel and Motel Operators Association, Inc. v. City Mayor of Manila, No. L-24693, 31 July 1967, 20 SCRA 849.
15 Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104 (1972).
17 Section 45(a) to (i) provides:
Section 45. Election Offenses. - The following shall be considered election offenses under this Act:
a) to deliver, hand over, entrust or give, directly or indirectly, his voter's identification card to another in consideration of money or other benefit or promise; or take or accept such voter's identification card directly or indirectly, by giving or causing the giving of money or other benefit or making or causing the making of a promise therefor;
b) to fail, without cause, to post or give any of the notices or to make any of the reports reacquire under this Act;
c) to issue or cause the issuance of a voter's identification number or to cancel or cause the cancellation thereof in violation of the provisions of this Act; or to refuse the issuance of registered voters their voter's identification card;
d) to accept an appointment, to assume office and to actually serve as a member of the Election Registration Board although ineligible thereto; to appoint such ineligible person knowing him to be ineligible;
e) to interfere with, impede, abscond for purposes of gain or to prevent the installation or use of computes and devices and the processing, storage, generation and transmission of registration data or information;
f) to gain, cause access to, use, alter, destroy, or disclose any computer data, program, system software, network, or any computer-related devices, facilities, hardware or equipment, whether classified or declassified;
g) failure to provide certified voters and deactivated voters list to candidates and heads or representatives of political parties upon written request as provided in Section 30 hereof;
h) failure to include the approved application form for registration of a qualified voter in the book of voters of a particular precinct or the omission of the name of a duly registered voter in the certified list of voters of the precinct where he is duly registered resulting in his failure to cast his vote during an election, plebiscite, referendum, initiative and/or recall. The presence of the form or name in the book of voters or certified list of voters in precincts other than where he is duly registered shall not be an excuse hereof;
i) The posting of a list of voters outside or at the door of a precinct on the day of an election, plebiscite, referendum, initiative and/or recall and which list is different in contents from the certified list of voters being used by the Board of Election Inspectors; and
x x x.
18 Section 45(b) provides:
Section 45. Election Offenses. - The following shall be considered election offenses under this Act:
a) x x x
b) to fail, without cause, to post or give any of the notices or to make any of the reports reacquired under this Act;
x x x. (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
19 This paragraph provides:
The precinct assignment of a voter in the permanent list of voters shall not be changed or altered or transferred to another precinct without the express written consent of the voter: Provided, however, That the voter shall not unreasonably withhold such consent: Any violation thereof shall constitute an election offense which shall be punished in accordance with law. (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
20 Smith v. Goguen, 415 U.S. 566 (1974).
21 104 Phil. 664 (1958).
22 Id. at 668-672.
23 Section 14(1), Article III, Constitution.
24 Section 14(2), Article III, Constitution.
25 Connally v. General Constr. Co., note 13. This case involved an eight-hour day labor statute which imposed penalties for its violation.
26 People v. Purisima, 176 Phil. 186 (1978).
27 Idos v. CA, 357 Phil. 198 (1998).
28 United States v. Abad Santos, 36 Phil. 243, 246 (1917).
29 Batas Blg. 881, as amended.
30 Section 262 of the Omnibus Election Code provides:
Section 262. Other election offenses. - Violation of the provisions, or pertinent portions, of the following sections of this Code shall constitute election offenses: Sections 9, 18, 74, 75, 76, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 122, 123, 127, 128, 129, 132, 134, 135, 145, 148, 150, 152, 172, 173, 174, 178, 180, 182, 184, 185, 186, 189, 190, 191, 192, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 202, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 223, 229, 230, 231, 233, 234, 235, 236, 239 and 240.