Sunday, July 27, 2008

Interpreting a clear provision of law

Verba legis or the “plain meaning rule” in statutory construction is that if the statute is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without interpretation. Verba legis non est recedendum, or from the words of a statute there should be no departure.

There are, however, rare instances where the courts have interpreted statutes that leave no room for doubt and interpretation. One of such instances is the case of Lopez vs. COMELEC (GR No. 182701 dated 23 July 2008) where the Supreme Court interpreted the clear wordings of Section 5(2) of R.A. No. 9225 (Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003), which states to the effect that those who retain or re-acquire Philippine citizenship under this law and seek elective public office in the Philippines shall meet the qualifications for holding such public office as required by the Constitution and existing laws and, at the time of the filing of the certificate of candidacy, make a personal and sworn renunciation of any and all foreign citizenship before any public officer authorized to administer an oath.”

The above provision is crystal-clear. A dual citizen, as defined under R.A. No. 9225, is not qualified to run for any elective public position in the Philippines unless he or she swears to a renunciation of his or her foreign citizenship at the time of filing the certificate of candidacy.

In the Lopez case, the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the COMELEC nullifying the election of Eusebio Eugenio Lopez, a Filipino-American (a dual citizen), who failed to renounce his American citizenship when he filed his certificate of candidacy for the position of Barangay chairman in an Iloilo town in the last Barangay election held in October 2007. The High Court reiterated the requirement of Section 5(2) of R.A. No. 9225 and further held that Lopez’s victory cannot cure the defect of his candidacy.

Why a very clear, plain and literal provision of law had to be brought up to the Supreme Court for interpretation? Aren't lawyers supposed to know the plain meaning rule?

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