Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Tale of Two Tapes and the (Alleged) Inadequacy of the Internet

Ignorance of the law excuses no one. We have heard this legal maxim chanted often enough every single time we do something wrong but pretend ignorance in an attempt to get away with it.

When the MMDA gives you a ticket for speeding, you claim to not have seen the traffic sign boldly announcing to the world the requirement of observing 60 kph. Every time you drive your car straight to a flooded street, you vehemently protest that you were not informed of its danger. The minute you get caught stuffing the hotel pillows and blankets into your luggage for souvenir, you feign innocence insisting that you honestly thought it was part of the tariff you paid for.

We’ve all been guilty of these boo-boos at one point in our lives. Truth be told, we cannot certainly be blamed for our ignorance. After all, Congress does not go out of its way to inform the people of the existence and applicability of such laws. A case in point that would best illustrate this proposition is Garcillano v House of Representatives.

In Garcillano v House of Representatives, the controversy revolves around whether the Senate duly published its rules of procedure.

According to Section 21, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. Publication of the rules is mandated in order to satisfy the basic requirements of due process. Otherwise, “it will be the height of injustice to punish or otherwise burden a citizen for the transgression of a law or rule of which he had no notice whatsoever, not even a constructive one.”

What constitutes publication is set forth in Article 2 of the Civil Code, which provides that "laws shall take effect after 15 days following the completion of their publication either in the Official Gazette, or in a newspaper of general circulation in the Philippines."

In this case, Senate failed to publish its rules of procedure either in the Official Gazette, or in a newspaper of general circulation. The legislators attempted to wheedle their way out of this predicament by arguing that its rules were validly published by reason of its accessibility to the public at the Senates’ internet webpage. Moreover, they invoked the E-Commerce Act to support their claim of valid publication through the internet.

But alas, the court remained unpersuaded. The E-Commerce Act, explains the court, only recognizes the admissibility of electronic documents as evidence. It does not make the internet a medium for publishing laws, rules and regulations. Relying on a strict interpretation of the law, the Supreme Court insists that rules can only be validly published through the Official Gazette or newspapers of general circulation.

As much as I hate to say it, the court was right. The law is explicitly clear in indicating the methods by which a valid publication can be made. It does not matter that no one reads, much less have even seen, an Official Gazette. Dura lex sed lex. The law is harsh, but it is the law.

I can certainly understand the predicament faced by the legislators. Granted, they must have thought that publication in the internet was sufficient compliance with the publication requirement. After all, people are more likely to surf the internet rather than buy a newspaper. I myself read the news in the internet. For the life of me, I cannot remember the last time I actually picked up a newspaper, unless it came free with my McDo value meal. So obviously, publication in the internet should be perceived as sufficient compliance if the reason behind publication is to inform the people.

But of course, things are not as easy as it seems. The fact is, Congress should have known better. After all, it is their job to craft laws to make it more responsive to the changing needs and times of society. If it is truly their intention to allow publication through the internet as a valid publication in accordance with Article 2 of the Civil Code, they can easily do so by passing a law to that effect. That’s what they’re there for, right? Don’t blame the courts for your ineptitude. Congress, after all, has the power to make a difference.

Entry #14

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