The Legislative Branch of the Philippine Political System

The present Congress of the Philippines, created under the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, represents a return to bicameralism after almost a decade of experimenting with the unicameral Batasang Pambansa (National Legislature) that was mandated by the 1973 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.

When President Aquino assumed office through what is now known as the EDSA Revolution or People Power Revolution, she declared the 1973 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines without force and effect by virtue of her exercise of revolutionary powers. Exercising the same powers, she promulgated the Freedom Constitution, which was in effect until the ratification of a new constitution (i.e. the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, crafted by some 50 delegates appointed by President Aquino through the exercise of revolutionary powers under the Freedom Constitution restored the presidential system of government together with a bicameral Congress of the Philippines, which consists of the House of Representatives and Senate. Upon its restoration, the Congress of the Philippines proceeded to its 8th Congress (1987–1992), taking up where it left off during the 7th Congress, when Martial Law was declared. Presently, the Congress of the Philippines is in its 13th Congress (2004– 2007).

The Philippine Senate

The Senate is composed of 24 senators elected at-large (Section 2, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). To qualify for election as senator, one must be a natural-born citizen and, on the day of the election, 35 years of age or older and able to read and write; a registered voter; and a Philippine resident for not less than 2 years preceding the day of the election. ( Section 3, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). Senators each serve a 6-year term and can only be elected to two consecutive terms. After two consecutive terms, senators are barred from running for another consecutive term. However, after 6 years from the end of a senator’s two consecutive 6-year terms, a former senator can run for a senate post again. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of service for the full term for which a senator is elected (Section 4, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines).

The Philippine House of Representatives

The House of Representatives is composed of district representatives and party-list representatives. The former are elected directly by qualified constituencies of specific political and territorial units. The latter are elected at large and indirectly, through the parties they represent, which are qualified to participate in party-list elections and are able to garner the requisite percentage of votes (Section 5, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines) as provided in RA 7941 (Party List Law). Congress can increase the number of districts nationwide and thus the number of district representatives. Party-list representatives, by constitutional mandate, should constitute 20% of the total membership of the House (including the total number of party-list representatives). To date, in the 13th Congress (2004–2007), 212 district representatives and 24 party-list representatives constitute the total membership of the House. To qualify for election as a member of the House of Representatives, one must be a natural-born citizen who is at least 25 years of age on the day of the election and able to read and write, a registered voter in the district in which he or she would be elected (except party-list representatives), and a resident therein for at least 1 year immediately preceding the day of the election. Representatives each serve a term of 3 years (Section 6 and Section 7, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines) and can only be elected to serve three consecutive terms. After the third consecutive 3-year term, a representative cannot be elected for another consecutive term. Individuals seeking reelection must wait 3 years from the day their three consecutive 3-year terms ended before running for election again as representatives of their districts. Like senators, voluntary renunciation of their office for any length of time shall not interrupt the continuity of service for the full term for which they were elected.

Death and Increase of Compensation

A vacancy created by the death or permanent incapacity of a senator or representative may be filled through a special election. Anyone elected through such special election shall serve only the unexpired term of his or her predecessor. Salaries of legislators are determined by law. Any increase in their compensation can take effect only after the expiration of the term of the legislators approving such an increase. This limitation does not include allowances and other emoluments. The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines also mandates that records and books of accounts of Congress be open to public scrutiny. COA, empowered to audit such books, is tasked to publish annually an itemized list of amounts paid to and expenditures of every member of Congress. Records and books of accounts of Congress are not, however, readily accessible even to members of Congress. Recently, some members of the House demanded transparency in the management of the accounts of the House, specifically regarding the matter of additional supervisory or management-level appointments. Their call for opening the books was not favorably acted upon by the Committee on Accounts. Annual publication of itemized expenditures of Congress members, however, was faithfully complied with.

Parliamentary Immunity

Members of Congress, while Congress is in session, enjoy the privilege of immunity from arrest. This privilege covers civil arrests and arrests for criminal offenses punishable by not more than 6 years of imprisonment, and the privilege of speech and debate that shields a legislator from being made to account in any place other than Congress for remarks made while the legislature is in session or in connection with legislative duties. Slanderous remarks in a private conversation with another person are not covered by this immunity, and a member may be called to account for these remarks by his colleagues and punished for disorderly behavior, when warranted. Upon assumption of office, members of Congress are required to make a full disclosure of their financial and business interests, and they must notify the chamber to which they belong of potential conflicts of interest that may arise from their authorship and filing of proposed legislation (Section 12, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines) to prevent members from using their positions for ulterior purposes and dispel suspicions of impropriety in the performance of their functions.

Can a Senator or Representative hold another office?

Members of Congress cannot hold any other offices or be employed in or by the Government or any government subdivision, agency, or instrumentality (including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries) during their term without forfeiting their seats. Any such other office that is held is known as an incompatible office. Furthermore, members of Congress cannot hold any office that may have been created or the emoluments of which were increased during the term for which they were elected. These offices are known as forbidden office. Holding another office is not prohibited, but simultaneously holding another office and a seat in Congress is prohibited. Legislators may hold other government offices, but they must forfeit their seats in Congress (Section 13, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines; Adaza vs. Pacana (135 SCRA 431). This forestalls the possibility of a legislator owing loyalty to another branch of government, which could prejudice the independence of Congress and infringe upon the doctrine of separation of powers. Holding offices that are considered extensions of legislative positions or are in aid of legislative duties are, however, allowed. Membership in the electoral tribunals is allowed by the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. As to forbidden office, the intent is to prevent legislators from using their position to secure their future in government by creating lucrative positions and ensuring their appointment thereto during their incumbency.

Can the members appear as counsel?

Congress members are also prohibited from personally appearing as counsels before courts of justice or before electoral tribunals or quasi-judicial and administrative bodies, to prevent members from exerting undue influence on the tribunals or bodies before which they appear (Section 14, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). This issue was raised in the celebrated Vizconde Massacre trial, which involved the appearance therein of Senator Renato Cayetano as private counsel for the plaintiff. Personal appearance alone is proscribed by the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. Lawyer-legislators can engage in their profession and provide legal services to anyone with a pending case before any judicial or administrative body, but they cannot personally appear in trials and/or hearings related thereto. That the undue influence of legislators on judicial proceedings can be prevented simply by inhibiting their personal appearance before judicial and administrative bodies is, however, doubtful.

Legislators are similarly prohibited from having financial interests in any contract with the Government or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof (including government-owned or -controlled corporations) or any franchise or special privilege granted by any of these during legislators’ terms in office. Legislators are also prohibited from intervening in any matter before any office of the Government for pecuniary benefit. These prohibitions are intended to prevent legislators from taking advantage of their position to amass financial gain or profit from government service (Section 14, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines).

Who gets to discipline any member of Congress?

Under Article VI, Section 16 (3), of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, the Senate and the House have the power to determine the rules of their proceedings; punish their members for disorderly behavior; and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all members, suspend (for a period not exceeding 60 days) or expel a member. Congress alone can determine what constitutes disorderly behavior, and its determination cannot be judicially reviewed. The senate and house committees on ethics and privileges have jurisdiction over all matters relating to the discipline of members, and only upon their recommendation would a chamber vote be held to determine whether or not to impose disciplinary action on any member. Finding members guilty of and punishing them for disorderly behavior depends on the ability of complainants to secure enough votes in the committee and in plenary to adopt such a finding and approve the imposition of disciplinary action. Without a consensus of the minority and majority, members generally avoid disciplining their colleagues accused of disorderly behavior.


Congress exercises legislative and nonlegislative powers (Cruz, 1998). Legislative power includes lawmaking, appropriation, and taxation. The power of investigation and oversight are inherent to the power of lawmaking. Nonlegislative power includes the power to canvass presidential elections, declare war, concur with treaties and amnesties, propose constitutional amendments, and impeach officials (Section 4, Article VII; Section 23, Article VI; Section 21, Article VII; Section 1, Section 2, and Section 3, Article XVII; and Section 3, Article XI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). From express powers granted by the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, Congress derives its implied powers, such as the power to punish for contempt in legislative investigations.

Legislative Power

Legislative power is the power to enact laws and is exercised through the approval of a bill that, upon such approval, becomes a law or statute. The power to make laws includes the power to amend and repeal them. The legislative process, briefly, is as follows:

“Bills are introduced or filed by members of the House or Senate in respective chambers (According to Section 24, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, a bill may be introduced either in the House or in the Senate. Bills concerning the same subject may also be filed simultaneously and separately in the House and Senate. Bills concerning appropriation, revenue, or tariffs; bills authorizing increases in the public debt; bills of local application; and bills that are private must originate exclusively in the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, may propose or concur with amendments.). Each bill must relate to only one subject, and this subject should be expressed in the title (Section 26 (1), Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). Bills then undergo first readings in plenary, where their numbers and titles and the names of the authors are read. The speaker or senate president thereafter refers bills to the appropriate committees for study. Bills may be tabled or dispatched in committees or recommended for approval, with or without amendments or in consolidation with other bills of the same nature and/or purpose. In the latter case, bills are reported through committee reports (A committee prepares a report on a bill only if a committee decides to recommend a bill for approval by the House) and are deliberated upon by the Committee on Rules, which decides whether or not bills should be calendared for second readings. On second reading, a bill is read in its entirety, on the floor by the chair of the sponsoring committee and its authors, and subjected to debate and amendments as warranted. Amendments may be submitted by the committee or by individual members. Thereafter, the bill is subjected to voting on second reading. When approved on second reading, the bill is printed in its final form, and copies are distributed to the members at least 3 days before the same can be calendared for third reading. A bill can be recommitted to the committee of origin any time before its approval on third reading (According to Section 26 (2), Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, a bill must undergo three readings, on three separate days, except when the president certifies that bill as urgent to meet a public calamity or emergency). On third reading, no further debate or amendment is allowed. Members register their vote and may explain their votes in such manner as allowed by the rules of each chamber. After approval on third reading, the bill is transmitted to the other chamber, where it undergoes the same process (If a chamber has a counterpart bill to a bill passed by the other chamber and these bills have conflicting provisions, a bicameral conference committee composed of representatives from each chamber is formed to harmonize the conflicting provisions. Thereafter, a conference committee report is prepared for ratification or approval by both chambers). If approved by the other chamber, the bill is enrolled and printed as finally approved by Congress and transmitted to the president for final approval. The president may sign the bill into law or veto it. Should the president fail to act on a bill within 30 days of receiving it, that bill is deemed to have lapsed into law. If the bill is vetoed, the bill may still become a law if Congress decides to override the veto by a two-thirds vote of all itsmembers.”

The power of Legislative Investigation

This power, as provided in Section 21, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines is inherent in the legislative power and an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function (Watkins vs. United States, 354 S 178 [1957]) with its exercise coextensive with the range of legislative power (McGrain vs. Doherty [273 US 135]). Legislative power includes lawmaking, representation, consensus building, legitimizing, policy clarification, and legislative oversight (Davidson et al. 1987). Lawmaking is the traditional task of deliberating the actual content of policies; representation is the process of articulating the demands or interests of various constituencies; consensus building is a bargaining process through which various constituency demands are aggregated in such a way that no significant constituency is severely or permanently disadvantaged; legitimizing is the ratification of a measure or policy in a way that is appropriate, acceptable, and authoritative; policy clarification involves the identification, publicizing, or ventilation of policy concerns and issues; and legislative oversight is the review of the implementation of laws or legislative policies to either alter fundamental policies or introduce equity in their application (Davidson et al. 1987).

The purposes of congressional investigations are roughly classified into three categories: (i) those whose purpose is obtaining information bearing upon legislation; (ii) those that examine the operations of the executive and administrative branches with a view to determining their efficiency; and (iii) those that seek primarily to inform and mold public opinion (Rivera 1962).

Each chamber has rules governing inquiries in aid of legislation. Anyone who fails or refuses to attend a legislative investigation upon proper summons may be punished for contempt of court (Arnault vs. Nazareno, 87 Phil 29, [1950]). Questions that may be raised in a legislative inquiry need not be relevant to any pending measure. They need only be germane to the subject matter of the investigation, as the proceedings may result in a proposed legislation based on the findings of the investigating committee. In effect, virtually nothing is immune from legislative investigation. Under the Rules of the House governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation, not even the filing or pendency of a case before any court, tribunal, or quasi-judicial or administrative body can stop or abate any inquiry.

Legislative power also embraces the power to summon heads of executive departments to appear and be questioned before Congress in plenary sessions on any matter pertaining to their departments, through the conduct of a question hour (Section 22, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). Like the power of investigation, this power strengthens legislative oversight or congressional watchfulness over an executive department to ensure that laws are effectively implemented and enable the legislature to formulate remedial measures, should laws fail to respond to the needs they were intended to address.

Power of Appropriation

According to Section 25, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, Congress may not increase the budget recommended by the president for the operation of the Government. Congress can, however, reduce the same, provided that the budget of the Judiciary will not be reduced to a level lower than the preceding year’s appropriations (Section 3, Article VIII, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). Moreover, to be valid, an appropriation must be for a public purpose and not for the benefit of any private individual or interest. The sum authorized to be released must be determinate or determinable. Even discretionary funds should be disbursed for public purposes only and supported by appropriate vouchers. According to the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, however, the president, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of constitutional commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations. But any transfer of funds from one branch or department to another by the president subverts the doctrine of separation of powers and the will of the Legislature that enacted the measure. The president does not have the power to appropriate or to change the appropriations approved by Congress through a general appropriations act. Only Congress can make such transfers through an appropriations law.

Power of Taxation

Congress alone exercises the power of taxation. Members decide what to tax, how to tax, and how much tax will be imposed. The president only exercises such tax powers as may be delegated by Congress. Without legislative authorization, the president cannot increase or reduce taxes or diminish or expand the coverage of tax laws. The power of taxation is circumscribed by constitutional mandates stating that taxation shall be uniform, equitable, and progressive (Section 28 (1), Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). Uniformity in taxation means that people or things belonging to the same class shall be taxed at the same rate. Equality in taxation means that the tax imposed should be determined on the basis of the value of the property taxed. To be equitable means that the tax burden should be imposed on the basis of a taxpayer’s capacity to pay. A progressive system of taxation is essentially an equitable system of taxation and is suited to the economic conditions of the people.

War Power and Power of Concurrence

Congress, by a vote of two thirds of both houses, in joint session assembled, voting separately, has the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war (Section 23 (1), Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). The war power of Congress proceeds from a recognition that war has already begun or has been provoked by the enemy, and Congress is only affirming its existence. Any amnesty granted by the president and any treaty or international agreement the president entered into in behalf of the Government becomes valid and effective only upon concurrence of at least two thirds of all the members of the Senate (Section 19 and Section 21, Article VI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines does not distinguish between a treaty and an international agreement. Both are subject to the power of concurrence of Congress through the Senate. This underlies controversies on the validity of the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement between the United States and the Philippines. Billed as an executive agreement, it is, nonetheless, an international agreement that, under the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, requires Senate concurrence to be valid.

Impeachment Power

Cruz (1998) writes that impeachment is a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men. In reality, however, except where there is a strong public outcry against the respondent the decision to impeach is usually blocked by a protective majority on the basis of partisan or pragmatic considerations. As noted earlier, it is a fact of Philippine political history that no single President, or Vice- President has ever been impeached. Politics may also provoke the impeachment of an official who has incurred the hostility of the party in power, or even a hyperactive minority.

In the Philippines, the impeachable officers are the president, vice-president, members of the Supreme Court, members of constitutional commissions, and the ombudsman (Section 2, Article XI, of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines). The list is exclusive and may not be increased or reduced by legislative enactment. The grounds for impeachment are culpable violation of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, treason, bribery, other high crimes, graft and corruption, or betrayal of public trust. Culpable violation of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines is the willful, wrongful, and intentional disregard of the same. Treason is committed by any person who, owing allegiance to the Philippine Government, levies war against it or adheres to its enemies, giving them aid and comfort (Article 114 of the Revised Penal Code (Republic of the Philippines 1938). Bribery is committed by a public officer who agrees to perform any act, whether or not constituting a crime; refrains from performing an act that he or she is officially required to perform, in consideration of any offer, promise, gift, or present received by him or her, personally or through the mediation of another; or accepts gifts offered to him or her by reason of his or her office (Article 210 and Article 211 of the Revised Penal Code (Republic of the Philippines 1938). The term “other high crimes” refers to offenses that are of so serious and enormous a nature as to strike at the very life of the orderly workings of the Government. Graft and corruption are understood in the context of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in force at the time of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. Betrayal of public trust is a new ground for impeachment intended as a catch-all provision to cover all offenses unbecoming a public functionary that are not punishable under criminal statutes, such as inexcusable negligence of duty, tyrannical abuse of authority, cronyism, favoritism, and obstruction of justice (Volume 2, p.272 of the Records of the Constitutional Convention).

The House of Representatives has the sole power to initiate impeachment by a vote of at least one third of its members. Under the House Impeachment Rules following the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Francisco, et al. vs. the House of Representatives (General Record [GR] No. 160261,10 November 2003), impeachment is initiated when the complaint is filed and referred to the Committee on Justice. Within 1 year from the time impeachment is initiated, no impeachment complaint can prosper against the same official. An impeachment complaint may be filed through a verified complaint of a member of the House or through a verified complaint of any citizen that is endorsed via a resolution by a member of the House. These complaints are processed by the Committee on Justice, which determines the sufficiency in form and substance of such complaints. If it is found sufficient in form and substance, the impeachment complaint is endorsed by the House through the articles of impeachment that the House then transmits to the Senate, which has the power to try and decide the impeachment case. For an impeachment complaint to be directly transmitted to the Senate, serving already as the articles of impeachment, the complaint must be subscribed to and signed by at least one-third of the members of the House upon its filing.47 In the impeachment trial, the House, through a committee of 11 members (selected from among those who voted in favor of the impeachment), acts as the sole prosecutor in the impeachment case (The impeachment complaint against President Joseph Estrada, which was directly transmitted as articles of impeachment to the Senate through the action of then-Speaker Manuel Villar, was not subscribed to and signed by one-third of the total members at the time it was filed, as required by the House Impeachment Rules. The said complaint was appropriately filed as a complaint accompanied by a resolution of endorsement of a House member, which requires a finding of sufficiency in form and substance by the Committee on Justice, and approval by the House in plenary before it could be transmitted, together with the articles of impeachment, to the Senate). When the president is on trial, the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides but shall not vote. A conviction requires the concurrence of two-thirds of all members of the Senate.

Impeachment proceedings are judicial and penal in character. Thus, the rights of the accused to due process and against self-incrimination must be respected. The Rules of Court, while not strictly applicable, are, nonetheless, observed. As in ordinary criminal actions, proof beyond reasonable doubt is necessary for conviction (Cruz 1998). A judgment of conviction is not subject to judicial review. The official so convicted is not subject to the pardoning power of the president.

Power to Amend the Constitution

Amendments to or revision of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines may be proposed by Congress by a vote of three fourths of all its members. By a vote of two thirds of all its members, Congress can call a constitutional convention, or by a majority vote of all its members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention. Amendments refer to piecemeal changes, while revision entails a wholesale rewriting of the document. Any amendment or revision must be ratified by a majority of votes cast in a plebiscite, which shall be held not earlier than 60 days or later than 90 days after the approval of such amendment or revision.