Can the President legally refuse to review the decisions of the Secretary of Justice except under certain circumstances? Does that diminish the power of control of the President and bestow upon the Secretary of Justice, a subordinate officer, unfettered power?
In Judge Adoracion G. Angeles vs. Hon. Manuel B. Gaite, et al., G.R. No. 165276, November 25, 2009, the Provincial Prosecutor denied the recommendation of the Investigating Prosecutor that Michael Vistan be indicted for violation RA 7610. He also approved the recommendation for the dismissal of the charge of violation of PD 1829. The petitioner filed a petition for review with the Department of Justice, which eventually dismissed the petition.
The petitioner then filed a Petition for Review before the Office of President. The Office of the President dismissed the petition, citing Memorandum Circular No. 58 which bars an appeal or a petition for review of decisions, orders, and resolutions of the Secretary of Justice except those involving offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua or death.
The petitioner then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which dismissed the petition.
The petitioner argued before the Supreme Court that Memorandum Circular No. 58 is an invalid regulation because it diminishes the power of control of the President and bestows upon the Secretary of Justice, a subordinate officer, almost unfettered power.
The Supreme Court rejected this argument. It ruled:
This argument is absurd. The President’s act of delegating authority to the Secretary of Justice by virtue of said Memorandum Circular is well within the purview of the doctrine of qualified political agency, long been established in our jurisdiction.
Under this doctrine, which primarily recognizes the establishment of a single executive, “all executive and administrative organizations are adjuncts of the Executive Department; the heads of the various executive departments are assistants and agents of the Chief Executive; and, except in cases where the Chief Executive is required by the Constitution or law to act in person or the exigencies of the situation demand that he act personally, the multifarious executive and administrative functions of the Chief Executive are performed by and through the executive departments, and the acts of the secretaries of such departments, performed and promulgated in the regular course of business, are, unless disapproved or reprobated by the Chief Executive, presumptively the acts of the Chief Executive.” The CA cannot be deemed to have committed any error in upholding the Office of the President’s reliance on the Memorandum Circular as it merely interpreted and applied the law as it should be.”
. . . the President himself set the limits of his power to review decisions/orders/resolutions of the Secretary of Justice in order to expedite the disposition of cases. Petitioner’s argument that the Memorandum Circular unduly expands the power of the Secretary of Justice to the extent of rendering even the Chief Executive helpless to rectify whatever errors or abuses the former may commit in the exercise of his discretion is purely speculative to say the least. Petitioner cannot second- guess the President’s power and the President’s own judgment to delegate whatever it is he deems necessary to delegate in order to achieve proper and speedy administration of justice, especially that such delegation is upon a cabinet secretary – his own alter ego.
The Supreme Court observed that the President cannot delegate certain of her powers:
. . . the power of the President to delegate is not without limits. No less than the Constitution provides for restrictions. . .
These restrictions hold true to this day as they remain embodied in our fundamental law. There are certain presidential powers which arise out of exceptional circumstances, and if exercised, would involve the suspension of fundamental freedoms, or at least call for the supersedence of executive prerogatives over those exercised by co-equal branches of government. The declaration of martial law, the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and the exercise of the pardoning power, notwithstanding the judicial determination of guilt of the accused, all fall within this special class that demands the exclusive exercise by the President of the constitutionally vested power. The list is by no means exclusive, but there must be a showing that the executive power in question is of similar gravitas and exceptional import.
In the case at bar, the power of the President to review the Decision of the Secretary of Justice dealing with the preliminary investigation of cases cannot be considered as falling within the same exceptional class which cannot be delegated. Besides, the President has not fully abdicated his power of control as Memorandum Circular No. 58 allows an appeal if the imposable penalty is reclusion perpetua or higher. Certainly, it would be unreasonable to impose upon the President the task of reviewing all preliminary investigations decided by the Secretary of Justice. To do so will unduly hamper the other important duties of the President by having to scrutinize each and every decision of the Secretary of Justice notwithstanding the latter’s expertise in said matter.
Finally, the Court ruled that the memorandum circular do not deprive the President of her power of control:
Petitioner’s contention that Memorandum Circular No. 58 violates both the Constitution and Section 1, Chapter 1, Book III of EO No. 292, for depriving the President of his power of control over the executive departments deserves scant consideration. In the first place, Memorandum Circular No. 58 was promulgated by the Office of the President and it is settled that the acts of the secretaries of such departments, performed and promulgated in the regular course of business are, unless disapproved or reprobated by the Chief Executive, presumptively the acts of the Chief Executive. Memorandum Circular No. 58 has not been reprobated by the President; therefore, it goes without saying that the said Memorandum Circular has the approval of the President.