Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. 202242               July 17, 2012

FRANCISCO I. CHAVEZ, Petitioner,
vs.
JUDICIAL AND BAR COUNCIL, SEN. FRANCIS JOSEPH G. ESCUDERO and REP. NIEL C. TUPAS, JR., Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

MENDOZA, J.:

The issue at hand has been in hibernation until the unexpected departure of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona on May 29, 2012, and the nomination of former Solicitor General Francisco I. Chavez (petitioner), as his potential successor, triggered the filing of this case. The issue has constantly been nagging legal minds, yet remained dormant for lack of constitutional challenge.

As the matter is of extreme urgency considering the constitutional deadline in the process of selecting the nominees for the vacant seat of the Chief Justice, the Court cannot delay the resolution of the issue a day longer. Relegating it in the meantime to the back burner is not an option.

Does the first paragraph of Section 8, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution allow more than one (1) member of Congress to sit in the JBC? Is the practice of having two (2) representatives from each house of Congress with one (1) vote each sanctioned by the Constitution? These are the pivotal questions to be resolved in this original action for prohibition and injunction.

Long before the naissance of the present Constitution, the annals of history bear witness to the fact that the exercise of appointing members of the Judiciary has always been the exclusive prerogative of the executive and legislative branches of the government. Like their progenitor of American origins, both the Malolos Constitution1 and the 1935 Constitution2 had vested the power to appoint the members of the Judiciary in the President, subject to confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. It was during these times that the country became witness to the deplorable practice of aspirants seeking confirmation of their appointment in the Judiciary to ingratiate themselves with the members of the legislative body.3

Then, with the fusion of executive and legislative power under the 1973 Constitution,4 the appointment of judges and justices was no longer subject to the scrutiny of another body. It was absolute, except that the appointees must have all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications.

Prompted by the clamor to rid the process of appointments to the Judiciary from political pressure and partisan activities,5 the members of the Constitutional Commission saw the need to create a separate, competent and independent body to recommend nominees to the President. Thus, it conceived of a body representative of all the stakeholders in the judicial appointment process and called it the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). Its composition, term and functions are provided under Section 8, Article VIII of the Constitution, viz:

Section 8. (1) A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the Supreme Court composed of the Chief Justice as ex officio Chairman, the Secretary of Justice, and a representative of the Congress as ex officio Members, a representative of the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, a retired Member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector.

(2) The regular members of the Council shall be appointed by the President for a term of four years with the consent of the Commission on Appointments. Of the Members first appointed, the representative of the Integrated Bar shall serve for four years, the professor of law for three years, the retired Justice for two years, and the representative of the private sector for one year.

(3) The Clerk of the Supreme Court shall be the Secretary ex officio of the Council and shall keep a record of its proceedings.

(4) The regular Members of the Council shall receive such emoluments as may be determined by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court shall provide in its annual budget the appropriations for the Council.

(5) The Council shall have the principal function of recommending appointees to the Judiciary. It may exercise such other functions and duties as the Supreme Court may assign to it.

In compliance therewith, Congress, from the moment of the creation of the JBC, designated one representative to sit in the JBC to act as one of the ex officio members.6 Perhaps in order to give equal opportunity to both houses to sit in the exclusive body, the House of Representatives and the Senate would send alternate representatives to the JBC. In other words, Congress had only one (1) representative.

In 1994, the composition of the JBC was substantially altered. Instead of having only seven (7) members, an eighth (8th) member was added to the JBC as two (2) representatives from Congress began sitting in the JBC - one from the House of Representatives and one from the Senate, with each having one-half (1/2) of a vote.7 Then, curiously, the JBC En Banc, in separate meetings held in 2000 and 2001, decided to allow the representatives from the Senate and the House of Representatives one full vote each.8 At present, Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero and Congressman Niel C. Tupas, Jr. (respondents) simultaneously sit in the JBC as representatives of the legislature.

It is this practice that petitioner has questioned in this petition,9 setting forth the following

GROUNDS FOR ALLOWANCE OF THE PETITION

I

Article VIII, Section 8, Paragraph 1 is clear, definite and needs no interpretation in that the JBC shall have only one representative from Congress.

II

The framers of the Constitution clearly envisioned, contemplated and decided on a JBC composed of only seven (7) members.

III

Had the framers of the Constitution intended that the JBC composed of the one member from the Senate and one member from the House of Representatives, they could have easily said so as they did in the other provisions of the Constitution.

IV

The composition of the JBC providing for three ex-officio members is purposely designed for a balanced representation of each of the three branches of the government.

V

One of the two (2) members of the JBC from Congress has no right (not even Ĺ right) to sit in the said constitutional body and perform the duties and functions of a member thereof.

VI

The JBC cannot conduct valid proceedings as its composition is illegal and unconstitutional.10

On July 9, 2012, the JBC filed its Comment.11 It, however, abstained from recommending on how this constitutional issue should be disposed in gracious deference to the wisdom of the Court. Nonetheless, the JBC was more than generous enough to offer the insights of various personalities previously connected with it.12

Through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), respondents defended their position as members of the JBC in their Comment13 filed on July 12, 2012. According to them, the crux of the controversy is the phrase "a representative of Congress."14 Reverting to the basics, they cite Section 1, Article VI of the Constitution15 to determine the meaning of the term

"Congress." It is their theory that the two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives, are permanent and mandatory components of "Congress," such that the absence of either divests the term of its substantive meaning as expressed under the Constitution. In simplistic terms, the House of Representatives, without the Senate and vice-versa, is not Congress.16 Bicameralism, as the system of choice by the Framers, requires that both houses exercise their respective powers in the performance of its mandated duty which is to legislate. Thus, when Section 8(1), Article VIII of the Constitution speaks of "a representative from Congress," it should mean one representative each from both Houses which comprise the entire Congress.17

Tracing the subject provisionís history, the respondents claim that when the JBC was established, the Framers originally envisioned a unicameral legislative body, thereby allocating "a representative of the National Assembly" to the JBC. The phrase, however, was not modified to

aptly jive with the change to bicameralism, the legislative system finally adopted by the Constitutional Commission on July 21, 1986. According to respondents, if the Commissioners were made aware of the consequence of having a bicameral legislature instead of a unicameral one, they would have made the corresponding adjustment in the representation of Congress in the JBC.18

The ambiguity having resulted from a plain case of inadvertence, the respondents urge the Court to look beyond the letter of the disputed provision because the literal adherence to its language would produce absurdity and incongruity to the bicameral nature of Congress.19 In other words, placing either of the respondents in the JBC will effectively deprive a house of Congress of its representation. In the same vein, the electorate represented by Members of Congress will lose their only opportunity to participate in the nomination process for the members of the Judiciary, effectively diminishing the republican nature of the government.20

The respondents further argue that the allowance of two (2) representatives of Congress to be members of the JBC does not render the latterís purpose nugatory. While they admit that the purpose in creating the JBC was to insulate appointments to the Judiciary from political influence, they likewise cautioned the Court that this constitutional vision did not intend to entirely preclude political factor in said appointments. Therefore, no evil should be perceived in the current set-up of the JBC because two (2) members coming from Congress, whose membership to certain political parties is irrelevant, does not necessarily amplify political partisanship in the JBC. In fact, the presence of two (2) members from Congress will most likely provide balance as against the other six (6) members who are undeniably presidential appointees.21

The Issues

In resolving the procedural and substantive issues arising from the petition, as well as the myriad of counter-arguments proffered by the respondents, the Court synthesized them into two:

(1) Whether or not the conditions sine qua non for the exercise of the power of judicial review have been met in this case; and

(2) Whether or not the current practice of the JBC to perform its functions with eight (8) members, two (2) of whom are members of Congress, runs counter to the letter and spirit of the 1987 Constitution.

The Power of Judicial Review

In its Comment, the JBC submits that petitioner is clothed with locus standi to file the petition, as a citizen and taxpayer, who has been nominated to the position of Chief Justice.22

For the respondents, however, petitioner has no "real interest" in questioning the constitutionality of the JBCís current composition.23 As outlined in jurisprudence, it is well-settled that for locus standi to lie, petitioner must exhibit that he has been denied, or is about to be denied, of a personal right or privilege to which he is entitled. Here, petitioner failed to manifest his acceptance of his recommendation to the position of Chief Justice, thereby divesting him of a substantial interest in the controversy. Without his name in the official list of applicants for the post, the respondents claim that there is no personal stake on the part of petitioner that would justify his outcry of unconstitutionality. Moreover, the mere allegation that this case is of transcendental importance does not excuse the waiver of the rule on locus standi, because, in the first place, the case lacks the requisites therefor. The respondents also question petitionerís belated filing of the petition.24 Being aware that the current composition of the JBC has been in practice since 1994, petitionerís silence for eighteen (18) years show that the constitutional issue being raised before the Court does not comply with the "earliest possible opportunity" requirement.

Before addressing the above issues in seriatim, the Court deems it proper to first ascertain the nature of the petition. Pursuant to the rule that the nature of an action is determined by the allegations therein and the character of the relief sought, the Court views the petition as essentially an action for declaratory relief under Rule 63 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.25

The Constitution as the subject matter, and the validity and construction of Section 8 (1), Article VIII as the issue raised, the petition should properly be considered as that which would result in the adjudication of rights sans the execution process because the only relief to be granted is the very declaration of the rights under the document sought to be construed. It being so, the original jurisdiction over the petition lies with the appropriate Regional Trial Court (RTC). Notwithstanding the fact that only questions of law are raised in the petition, an action for declaratory relief is not among those within the original jurisdiction of this Court as provided in Section 5, Article VIII of the Constitution.26

At any rate, due to its serious implications, not only to government processes involved but also to the sanctity of the Constitution, the Court deems it more prudent to take cognizance of it. After all, the petition is also for prohibition under Rule 65 seeking to enjoin Congress from sending two (2) representatives with one (1) full vote each to the JBC.

The Courtsí power of judicial review, like almost all other powers conferred by the Constitution, is subject to several limitations, namely: (1) there must be an actual case or controversy calling for the exercise of judicial power; (2) the person challenging the act must have "standing" to challenge; he must have a personal and substantial interest in the case, such that he has sustained or will sustain, direct injury as a result of its enforcement; (3) the question of constitutionality must be raised at the earliest possible opportunity; and (4) the issue of constitutionality must be the very lis mota of the case.27 Generally, a party will be allowed to litigate only when these conditions sine qua non are present, especially when the constitutionality of an act by a co-equal branch of government is put in issue.

Anent locus standi, the question to be answered is this: does the party possess a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that there is real, concrete and legal conflict of rights and duties from the issues presented before the Court? In David v. Macapagal-Arroyo,28 the Court summarized the rules on locus standi as culled from jurisprudence. There, it was held that taxpayers, voters, concerned citizens, and legislators may be accorded standing to sue, provided that the following requirements are met: (1) cases involve constitutional issues; (2) for taxpayers, there must be a claim of illegal disbursement of public funds or that the tax measure is unconstitutional; (3) for voters, there must be a showing of obvious interest in the validity of the election law in question; (4) for concerned citizens, there must be a showing that the issues raised are of transcendental importance which must be settled early; and (5) for legislators, there must be a claim that the official action complained of infringes upon their prerogatives as legislators.

In public suits, the plaintiff, representing the general public, asserts a "public right" in assailing an allegedly illegal official action. The plaintiff may be a person who is affected no differently from any other person, and can be suing as a "stranger," or as a "citizen" or "taxpayer." Thus, taxpayers have been allowed to sue where there is a claim that public funds are illegally disbursed or that public money is being deflected to any improper purpose, or that public funds are wasted through the enforcement of an invalid or unconstitutional law. Of greater import than the damage caused by the illegal expenditure of public funds is the mortal wound inflicted upon the fundamental law by the enforcement of an invalid statute.29

In this case, petitioner seeks judicial intervention as a taxpayer, a concerned citizen and a nominee to the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. As a taxpayer, petitioner invokes his right to demand that the taxes he and the rest of the citizenry have been paying to the government are spent for lawful purposes. According to petitioner, "since the JBC derives financial support for its functions, operation and proceedings from taxes paid, petitioner possesses as taxpayer both right and legal standing to demand that the JBCís proceedings are not tainted with illegality and that its composition and actions do not violate the Constitution."30

Notably, petitioner takes pains in enumerating past actions that he had brought before the Court where his legal standing was sustained. Although this inventory is unnecessary to establish locus standi because obviously, not every case before the Court exhibits similar issues and facts, the Court recognizes the petitionerís right to sue in this case. Clearly, petitioner has the legal standing to bring the present action because he has a personal stake in the outcome of this controversy.

The Court disagrees with the respondentsí contention that petitioner lost his standing to sue because he is not an official nominee for the post of Chief Justice. While it is true that a "personal stake" on the case is imperative to have locus standi, this is not to say that only official nominees for the post of Chief Justice can come to the Court and question the JBC composition for being unconstitutional. The JBC likewise screens and nominates other members of the Judiciary. Albeit heavily publicized in this regard, the JBCís duty is not at all limited to the nominations for the highest magistrate in the land. A vast number of aspirants to judicial posts all over the country may be affected by the Courtís ruling. More importantly, the legality of the very process of nominations to the positions in the Judiciary is the nucleus of the controversy. The Court considers this a constitutional issue that must be passed upon, lest a constitutional process be plagued by misgivings, doubts and worse, mistrust. Hence, a citizen has a right to bring this question to the Court, clothed with legal standing and at the same time, armed with issues of transcendental importance to society. The claim that the composition of the JBC is illegal and unconstitutional is an object of concern, not just for a nominee to a judicial post, but for all citizens who have the right to seek judicial intervention for rectification of legal blunders.

With respect to the question of transcendental importance, it is not difficult to perceive from the opposing arguments of the parties that the determinants established in jurisprudence are attendant in this case: (1) the character of the funds or other assets involved in the case; (2) the presence of a clear case of disregard of a constitutional or statutory prohibition by the public respondent agency or instrumentality of the government; and (3) the lack of any other party with a more direct and specific interest in the questions being raised.31 The allegations of constitutional violations in this case are not empty attacks on the wisdom of the other branches of the government. The allegations are substantiated by facts and, therefore, deserve an evaluation from the Court. The Court need not elaborate on the legal and societal ramifications of the issues raised. It cannot be gainsaid that the JBC is a constitutional innovation crucial in the selection of the magistrates in our judicial system.

The Composition of the JBC

Central to the resolution of the foregoing petition is an understanding of the composition of the JBC as stated in the first paragraph of Section 8, Article VIII of the Constitution. It reads:

Section 8. (1) A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the Supreme Court composed of the Chief Justice as ex officio Chairman, the Secretary of Justice, and a representative of the Congress as ex officio Members, a representative of the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, a retired Member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector.

From a simple reading of the above-quoted provision, it can readily be discerned that the provision is clear and unambiguous. The first paragraph calls for the creation of a JBC and places the same under the supervision of the Court. Then it goes to its composition where the regular members are enumerated: a representative of the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, a retired member of the Court and a representative from the private sector. On the second part lies the crux of the present controversy. It enumerates the ex officio or special members of the JBC composed of the Chief Justice, who shall be its Chairman, the Secretary of Justice and "a representative of Congress."

As petitioner correctly posits, the use of the singular letter "a" preceding "representative of Congress" is unequivocal and leaves no room for any other construction. It is indicative of what the members of the Constitutional Commission had in mind, that is, Congress may designate only one (1) representative to the JBC. Had it been the intention that more than one (1) representative from the legislature would sit in the JBC, the Framers could have, in no uncertain terms, so provided.

One of the primary and basic rules in statutory construction is that where the words of a statute are clear, plain, and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation.32 It is a well-settled principle of constitutional construction that the language employed in the Constitution must be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed. As much as possible, the words of the Constitution should be understood in the sense they have in common use. What it says according to the text of the provision to be construed compels acceptance and negates the power of the courts to alter it, based on the postulate that the framers and the people mean what they say.33 Verba legis non est recedendum Ė from the words of a statute there should be no departure.34

The raison dí être for the rule is essentially two-fold: First, because it is assumed that the words in which constitutional provisions are couched express the objective sought to be attained;35 and second, because the Constitution is not primarily a lawyerís document but essentially that of the people, in whose consciousness it should ever be present as an important condition for the rule of law to prevail. 36

Moreover, under the maxim noscitur a sociis, where a particular word or phrase is ambiguous in itself or is equally susceptible of various meanings, its correct construction may be made clear and specific by considering the company of words in which it is founded or with which it is associated.37 This is because a word or phrase in a statute is always used in association with other words or phrases, and its meaning may, thus, be modified or restricted by the latter.38 The particular words, clauses and phrases should not be studied as detached and isolated expressions, but the whole and every part of the statute must be considered in fixing the meaning of any of its parts and in order to produce a harmonious whole. A statute must be so construed as to harmonize and give effect to all its provisions whenever possible.39 In short, every meaning to be given to each word or phrase must be ascertained from the context of the body of the statute since a word or phrase in a statute is always used in association with other words or phrases and its meaning may be modified or restricted by the latter.

Applying the foregoing principle to this case, it becomes apparent that the word "Congress" used in Article VIII, Section 8(1) of the Constitution is used in its generic sense. No particular allusion whatsoever is made on whether the Senate or the House of Representatives is being referred to, but that, in either case, only a singular representative may be allowed to sit in the JBC. The foregoing declaration is but sensible, since, as pointed out by an esteemed former member of the Court and consultant of the JBC in his memorandum,40 "from the enumeration of the membership of the JBC, it is patent that each category of members pertained to a single individual only."41

Indeed, the spirit and reason of the statute may be passed upon where a literal meaning would lead to absurdity, contradiction, injustice, or defeat the clear purpose of the lawmakers.42 Not any of these instances, however, is present in the case at bench. Considering that the language of the subject constitutional provision is plain and unambiguous, there is no need to resort extrinsic aids such as records of the Constitutional Commission.

Nevertheless, even if the Court should proceed to look into the minds of the members of the Constitutional Commission, it is undeniable from the records thereof that it was intended that the JBC be composed of seven (7) members only. Thus:

MR. RODRIGO: Let me go to another point then.

On page 2, Section 5, there is a novel provision about the appointments of members of the Supreme Court and judges of the lower courts. At present it is the President who appoints them. If there is a Commission on Appointments, then it is the President with the confirmation of the Commission on Appointment. In this proposal, we would like to establish a new office, a sort of a board composed of seven members called the Judicial and Bar Council. And while the President will still appoint the member of the judiciary, he will be limited to the recommendees of this Council.

x x x           x x x          x x x

MR. RODRIGO. Of the seven members of the Judicial and Bar Council, the President appoints four of them who are regular members.

x x x           x x x          x x x

MR. CONCEPCION. The only purpose of the Committee is to eliminate partisan politics.43

x x x           x x x          x x x

MR. RODRIGO. If my amendment is approved, then the provision will be exactly the same as the provision in the 1935 Constitution, Article VIII, Section 5.

x x x           x x x          x x x

If we do not remove the proposed amendment on the creation of the Judicial and Bar Council, this will be a diminution of the appointing power of the highest magistrate of the land, of the

President of the Philippines elected by all the Filipino people. The appointing power will be limited by a group of seven people who are not elected by the people but only appointed.

Mr. Presiding Officer, if this Council is created, there will be no uniformity in our constitutional provisions on appointments. The members of the Judiciary will be segregated from the rest of the government. Even a municipal judge cannot be appointed by the President except upon recommendation or nomination of the three names by this Committee of seven people, commissioners of the Commission on Elections, the COA and the Commission on Civil ServiceÖeven ambassadors, generals of the Army will not come under this restriction. Why are we going to segregate the Judiciary from the rest of our government in the appointment of high-ranking officials?

Another reason is that this Council will be ineffective. It will just besmirch the honor of our President without being effective at all because this Council will be under the influence of the President. Four out of seven are appointees of the President and they can be reappointed when their term ends. Therefore, they would be kowtow the President. A fifth member is the Minister of Justice, an alter ego of the President. Another member represents the Legislature. In all probability, the controlling part in the legislature belongs to the President and, therefore, this representative form the National Assembly is also under the influence of the President. And may I say, Mr. Presiding Officer, that event the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is an appointee of the President. So it is futile he will be influence anyway by the President.44 [Emphases supplied]

At this juncture, it is worthy to note that the seven-member composition of the JBC serves a practical purpose, that is, to provide a solution should there be a stalemate in voting. This underlying reason leads the Court to conclude that a single vote may not be divided into half (1/2), between two representatives of Congress, or among any of the sitting members of the JBC for that matter. This unsanctioned practice can possibly cause disorder and eventually muddle the JBCís voting process, especially in the event a tie is reached. The aforesaid purpose would then be rendered illusory, defeating the precise mechanism which the Constitution itself created. While it would be unreasonable to expect that the Framers provide for every possible scenario, it is sensible to presume that they knew that an odd composition is the best means to break a voting deadlock.

The respondents insist that owing to the bicameral nature of Congress, the word "Congress" in Section 8(1), Article VIII of the Constitution should be read as including both the Senate and the House of Representatives. They theorize that it was so worded because at the time the said provision was being drafted, the Framers initially intended a unicameral form of Congress.

Then, when the Constitutional Commission eventually adopted a bicameral form of Congress, the Framers, through oversight, failed to amend Article VIII, Section 8 of the Constitution.45 On this score, the Court cites the insightful analysis of another member of the Court and JBC consultant, retired Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago.46 Thus:

A perusal of the records of the Constitutional Commission reveals that the composition of the JBC reflects the Commissionís desire "to have in the Council a representation for the major elements of the community." xxx The ex-officio members of the Council consist of representatives from the three main branches of government while the regular members are composed of various stakeholders in the judiciary. The unmistakeable tenor of Article VIII, Section 8(1) was to treat each ex-officio member as representing one co-equal branch of government. xxx Thus, the JBC was designed to have seven voting members with the three ex-officio members having equal say in the choice of judicial nominees.

x x x           x x x          x x x

No parallelism can be drawn between the representative of Congress in the JBC and the exercise by Congress of its legislative powers under Article VI and constituent powers under Article XVII of the Constitution. Congress, in relation to the executive and judicial branches of government, is constitutionally treated as another co-equal branch of in the matter of its representative in the JBC. On the other hand, the exercise of legislative and constituent powers requires the Senate and House of Representatives to coordinate and act as distinct bodies in furtherance of Congressí role under our constitutional scheme. While the latter justifies and, in fact, necessitates the separateness of the two houses of Congress as they relate inter se, no such dichotomy need be made when Congress interacts with the other two co-equal branches of government.

It is more in keeping with the co-equal nature of the three governmental branches to assign the same weight to considerations that any of its representatives may have regarding aspiring nominees to the judiciary. The representatives of the Senate and the House of Representatives act as such for one branch and should not have any more quantitative influence as the other branches in the exercise of prerogatives evenly bestowed upon the three. Sound reason and principle of equality among the three branches support this conclusion. [Emphases and underscoring supplied]

More than the reasoning provided in the above discussed rules of constitutional construction, the Court finds the above thesis as the paramount justification of the Courtís conclusion that "Congress," in the context of JBC representation, should be considered as one body. It is evident that the definition of "Congress" as a bicameral body refers to its primary function in government - to legislate.47 In the passage of laws, the Constitution is explicit in the distinction of the role of each house in the process. The same holds true in Congressí non-legislative powers such as, inter alia, the power of appropriation,48 the declaration of an existence of a state of war,49 canvassing of electoral returns for the President and Vice-President,50 and impeachment.51 In the exercise of these powers, the Constitution employs precise language in laying down the roles which a particular house plays, regardless of whether the two houses consummate an official act by voting jointly or separately. An inter-play between the two houses is necessary in the realization of these powers causing a vivid dichotomy that the Court cannot simply discount. Verily, each house is constitutionally granted with powers and functions peculiar to its nature and with keen consideration to 1) its relationship with the other chamber; and 2) in consonance with the principle of checks and balances, to the other branches of government.

This, however, cannot be said in the case of JBC representation because no liaison between the two houses exists in the workings of the JBC. No mechanism is required between the Senate and the House of Representatives in the screening and nomination of judicial officers. Hence, the term "Congress" must be taken to mean the entire legislative department. A fortiori, a pretext of oversight cannot prevail over the more pragmatic scheme which the Constitution laid with firmness, that is, that the JBC has a seat for a single representative of Congress, as one of the co-equal branches of government.

Doubtless, the Framers of our Constitution intended to create a JBC as an innovative solution in response to the public clamor in favor of eliminating politics in the appointment of members of the Judiciary.52 To ensure judicial independence, they adopted a holistic approach and hoped that, in creating a JBC, the private sector and the three branches of government would have an active role and equal voice in the selection of the members of the Judiciary.

Therefore, to allow the Legislature to have more quantitative influence in the JBC by having more than one voice speak, whether with one full vote or one-half (1/2) a vote each, would, as one former congressman and member of the JBC put it, "negate the principle of equality among the three branches of government which is enshrined in the Constitution."53

To quote one former Secretary of Justice:

The present imbalance in voting power between the Legislative and the other sectors represented in the JBC must be corrected especially when considered vis-à-vis the avowed purpose for its creation, i.e., to insulate the appointments in the Judiciary against political influence. By allowing both houses of Congress to have a representative in the JBC and by giving each representative one (1) vote in the Council, Congress, as compared to the other members of the JBC, is accorded greater and unwarranted influence in the appointment of judges.54 [Emphasis supplied]

It is clear, therefore, that the Constitution mandates that the JBC be composed of seven (7) members only. Thus, any inclusion of another member, whether with one whole vote or half (1/2) of it, goes against that mandate. Section 8(1), Article VIII of the Constitution, providing Congress with an equal voice with other members of the JBC in recommending appointees to the Judiciary is explicit. Any circumvention of the constitutional mandate should not be countenanced for the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The Constitution is the basic and paramount law to which all other laws must conform and to which all persons, including the highest officials of the land, must defer. Constitutional doctrines must remain steadfast no matter what may be the tides of time. It cannot be simply made to sway and accommodate the call of situations and much more tailor itself to the whims and caprices of the government and the people who run it.55 Hence, any act of the government or of a public official or employee which is contrary to the Constitution is illegal, null and void.

As to the effect of the Courtís finding that the current composition of the JBC is unconstitutional, it bears mentioning that as a general rule, an unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office; it is inoperative as if it has not been passed at all.56 This rule, however, is not absolute. In the interest of fair play under the doctrine of operative facts, actions previous to the declaration of unconstitutionality are legally recognized. They are not nullified. In Planters Products, Inc. v. Fertiphil Corporation,57 the Court explained:

The doctrine of operative fact, as an exception to the general rule, only applies as a matter of equity and fair play.1‚wphi1 It nullifies the effects of an unconstitutional law by recognizing that the existence of a statute prior to a determination of unconstitutionality is an operative fact and may have consequences which cannot always be ignored. The past cannot always be erased by a new judicial declaration.

The doctrine is applicable when a declaration of unconstitutionality will impose an undue burden on those who have relied on the invalid law. Thus, it was applied to a criminal case when a declaration of unconstitutionality would put the accused in double jeopardy or would put in limbo the acts done by a municipality in reliance upon a law creating it.

Considering the circumstances, the Court finds the exception applicable in this case and holds that notwithstanding its finding of unconstitutionality in the current composition of the JBC, all its prior official actions are nonetheless valid.

At this point, the Court takes the initiative to clarify that it is not in a position to determine as to who should remain as the sole representative of Congress in the JBC. This is a matter beyond the province of the Court and is best left to the determination of Congress.

Finally, while the Court finds wisdom in respondents' contention that both the Senate and the House of Representatives should be equally represented in the JBC, the Court is not in a position to stamp its imprimatur on such a construction at the risk of expanding the meaning of the Constitution as currently worded. Needless to state, the remedy lies in the amendment of this constitutional provision. The courts merely give effect to the lawgiver's intent. The solemn power and duty of the Court to interpret and apply the law does not include the power to correct, by reading into the law what is not written therein.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The current numerical composition of the Judicial and Bar Council IS declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL. The Judicial and Bar Council is hereby enjoined to reconstitute itself so that only one ( 1) member of Congress will sit as a representative in its proceedings, in accordance with Section 8( 1 ), Article

VIII of the 1987 Constitution.

This disposition is immediately executory.

SO ORDERED.

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

(No part)
I am a nominee to the CJ position
ANTONIO T. CARPIO*
Senior Associate Justice

(No part)
I am considered for
nomination by the JBC.
PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.*
Associate Justice
(No part)
I am one of the incumbent
Justices being considered by the JBC for
nomination to CJ position
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
Associate Justice
(No part)
(On Leave)
ARTURO D. BRION**
Associate Justice
DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Associate Justice
I join the dissent of J. Abad
MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
Associate Justice
See my dissenting opinion
ROBERTO A. ABAD
Associate Justice
MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
Associate Justice
JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ
Associate Justice
(No part)
a nominee for CJ
MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO
Associate Justice

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Senior Associate Justice
(Per Section 12, R.A. No. 296, The Judiciary Act of 1948, as amended)


Footnotes

* No Part - Inhibited for being a JBC applicant.

** On leave. Also no part- lnhibited for being a JBC applicant.

1 Article 80 Title X of the Malolos Constitution provides: "The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Solicitor-General shall be chosen by the National Assembly in concurrence with the President of the Republic and the Secretaries of the Government, and shall be absolutely independent of the Legislative and Executive Powers."

2 Section 5 Article VIII of the 1935 Constitution provides: "The Members of the Supreme Court and all judges of inferior courts shall be appointed by the President with the consent of the Commission on Appointments."

3 Records of the Constitutional Commission Proceedings and Debates, 437.

4 Section 4 Article X of the 1973 Constitution provides: "The Members of the Supreme Court and judges of inferior courts shall be appointed by the President."

5 Records, Constitutional Commission, Proceedings and Debates, p. 487.

6 List of JBC Chairpersons, Ex-Officio and Regular Members, Ex Officio Secretaries and Consultants, issued by the Office of the Executive Officer, Judicial and Bar Council, rollo, pp. 62-63.

7 Id.

8 Comment of the JBC, p. 80, citing Minutes of the 1st En Banc Executive Meeting, January 12, 2000 and Minutes of the 12th En Banc Meeting, May 30, 2001.

9 Rollo, pp. 3-69.

10 Id. at 17-18.

11 Id. at 76-106.

12 Id. at 80.

13 Id. at 117-163.

14 Id. at 142.

15 "The legislative power shall be vested in the Congress of the Philippines which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives, except to the extent reserved to the people by the provision on initiative and referendum."

16 Id.

17 Rollo, p. 143.

18 Id. at 148.

19 Id.

20 Id.

21 Id. at 150-153.

22 Id. at 78.

23 Id. at 131.

24 Id. at 131-133.

25 Section 1. Who may file petition.óAny person interested under a deed, will, contract or other written instrument, whose rights are affected by a statute, executive order or regulation, ordinance, or any other governmental regulation may, before breach or violation thereof, bring an action in the appropriate Regional Trial Court to determine any question of construction or validity arising, and for a declaration of his rights or duties, thereunder.

x x x

26 1) Exercise original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus.

(2) Review, revise, reverse, modify, or affirm on appeal or certiorari, as the law or the Rules of Court may provide, final judgments and orders of lower courts.

(a) All cases in which the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation is in question.

(b) All cases involving the legality of any tax, impost, assessment, or toll, or any penalty imposed in relation thereto.

(c) All cases in which the jurisdiction of any lower court is in issue.

(d) All criminal cases in which the penalty imposed is reclusion perpetua or higher.

(e) All cases in which only an error or question of law is involved.

(3) Assign temporarily judges of lower courts to other stations as public interest may require. Such temporary assignment shall not exceed six months without the consent of the judge concerned.

(4) Order a change of venue or place of trial to avoid a miscarriage of justice.

(5) Promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar, and legal assistance to the under-privileged. Such rules shall provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases, shall be uniform for all courts of the same grade, and shall not diminish, increase, or modify substantive rights. Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court.

(6) Appoint all officials and employees of the Judiciary in accordance with the Civil Service Law.

27 Senate of the Philippines v. Ermita, 522 Phil. 1, 27 (2006).

28 522 Phil. 705 (2006).

29 LAMP v. The Secretary of Budget and Management, G.R. No. 164987, April 24, 2012.

30 Rollo, p. 6.

31 Francisco, Jr. v. House of Representatives, 460 Phil. 830, 899 (2003), citing Kilosbayan v. Guingona, G.R. No. 113375, May 5, 1994, 232 SCRA 110, 155-157.

32 National Food Authority (NFA) v. Masada Security Agency, Inc., 493 Phil. 241, 250 (2005); Philippine National Bank v. Garcia, Jr., 437 Phil. 289 (2002).

33 Francisco, Jr. v. House of Representatives, supra note 31 at 885, citing J.M. Tuason & Co., Inc. v. Land Tenure Administration, L-21064, February 18, 1970, 31 SCRA 413.

34 Id.

35 Id.

36 Id.

37 Coca-Cola Bottlers, Phils., Inc. (CCBPI), Naga Plant v. Gomez, G.R. No. 154491, November 14, 2008, 571 SCRA 18, 37; People v. Delantar, G.R. No. 169143, February 2, 2007, 514 SCRA 115, 139; and Republic v. Sandiganbayan, 255 Phil. 71 (1989), citing Co Kim Chan v. Valdez Tan Keh and Dizon, 75 Phil. 371 (1945).

38 People v. Delantar, G.R. No. 169143, February 2, 2007, 514 SCRA 115, 139; Republic v. Sandiganbayan, 255 Phil. 71 (1989), citing Co Kim Chan v. Valdez, 75 Phil. 371 (1945).

39 Uy v. Sandiganbayan, 407 Phil. 154, 180 (2001).

40 Memorandum of Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisimbing, dated March 14, 2007; rollo, p. 95-103.

41 Id. at 103

42 Ursua v. Court of Appeals, 326 Phil. 157, 163 (1996).

43 Records of the Constitutional Commission Proceedings and Debates, p. 445.

44 Records of the Constitutional Commission Proceedings and Debates, pp.486-487.

45 Comment of Respondents, rollo, pp. 142-146.

46 Comment of JBC; id. at 91-93.

47 1987 Constitution, Article 6 Section 27(1) - Every bill passed by the Congress shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President. If he approves the same, he shall sign it; otherwise, he shall veto it and return the same with his objections to the House where it originated, which shall enter the objections at large in its Journal and proceed to reconsider it. If, after such reconsideration, two-thirds of all the Members of such House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two-thirds of all the Members of that House, it shall become a law. In all such cases, the votes of each House shall be determined by yeas or nays, and the names of the Members voting for or against shall be entered in its Journal. The President shall communicate his veto of any bill to the House where it originated within thirty days after the date of receipt thereof; otherwise, it shall become a law as if he had signed it.

48 1987 Constitution, Article 6 Section 24 - All appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of public debt, bills of local application, and private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments.

49 1987 Constitution, Article 6 Section 23 (1) - The Congress, by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses in joint session assembled, voting separately, shall have the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war.

50 1987 Constitution, Article 7 Section 4 - The returns of every election for President and Vice-President, duly certified by the board of canvassers of each province or city, shall be transmitted to the Congress, directed to the President of the Senate. Upon receipt of the certificates of canvass, the President of the Senate shall, not later than thirty days after the day of the election, open all certificates in the presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives in joint public session, and the Congress, upon determination of the authenticity and due execution thereof in the manner provided by law, canvass the votes. The person having the highest number of votes shall be proclaimed elected, but in case two or more shall have an equal and highest number of votes, one of them shall forthwith be chosen by the vote of a majority of all the Members of both Houses of the Congress, voting separately.

51 1987 Constitution, Article 11 Section 3 (1) - The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.

xxx

(6) The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment. When sitting for that purpose, the Senators shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the Philippines is on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside, but shall not vote. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.

52 Records of the Constitutional Commission Proceedings and Debates Records of the Constitutional Convention, p. 487.

53 Comment of the JBC, rollo, p. 104.

54 Memorandum of Justice Secretary Agnes VST Devanadera, Comment of the JBC, id. at 105-106.

55 Louis "Barok" C. Biraogo v. The Philippine Truth Commission of 2010, G.R. No. 192935, December 7, 2010, 637 SCRA 78, 137-138, citing Cruz, Philippine Political law, 2002 ed. p. 12.

56 Claudio S. Yap v. Thennamaris Ship's Management and Intermare Maritime Agencies Inc., G.R. No. 179532, May 30, 2011, 649 SCRA 369, 380.

57 G.R. No. 166006, March 14, 2008, 548 SCRA 485, 516-517.


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DISSENTING OPINION

ABAD, J.:

Some of my colleagues who have been nominated to the position of Chief Justice like me have inhibited themselves from this case at the outset. I respect their judgments. I, on the other hand, chose not to inhibit myself from the case since I have found no compelling reason for doing so.

I take no issue with the majority of the Court on the threshold question of whether or not the requisite conditions for the exercise of its power of judicial review have been met in this case. I am satisfied that those conditions are present.

It is the main question that concerns me: whether or not each of the Senate and the House of Representatives is entitled to one representative in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), both with the right to vote independently like its other members.

The problem has arisen because currently one representative each from the Senate and the House of Representatives take part as members of the JBC with each casting one vote in its deliberations. Petitioner Francisco I. Chavez challenges this arrangement, however, citing Section 8( 1) of Article VI II of the 1987 Constitution∑ which literally gives Congress just one representative in the JBC. Thus:

"Article VIII, Section 8. (l) A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the Supreme Court composed of the Chief Justice as ex officio Chairman, the Secretary of Justice, and a representative of the Congress as ex officio Members, a representative of the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, a retired Member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector."1 (Emphasis ours)

The majority heavily relies on the wordings of Section 8(1) above. According to them, the framers of the 1987 Constitution used plain, unambiguous, and certain terms in crafting that section and, therefore, it calls for no further interpretation. The provision uses the indefinite article "a" signifying "one" before the word "representative" which in itself is in singular form. Consequently, says the majority, Congress should have but just one representative in the JBC. Section 8(1) uses the term "Congress" in its generic sense, without any special and specific mention of the two houses that compose it, namely the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The majority also invokes the doctrine of noscitur a sociis which states that a proper interpretation may be had by considering the words that accompany the term or phrase in question.2 By looking at the enumeration in Section 8(1) of who the JBC members are, one can readily discern that every category of membership in that body refers just to a single individual.

There are three well-settled principles of constitutional construction: first, verba legis, that is, wherever possible, the words used in the Constitution should be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed; second, where there is ambiguity, ratio legis est anima, meaning that the words of the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with the intent of its framers; and third, ut magis valeat quam pereat, meaning that the Constitution is to be interpreted as a whole.3

There is no question that when the Constitutional Commission (ConCom) deliberated on the provisions regarding the composition of the JBC, the members of the commission thought, as the original draft of those provisions indicates, that the country would have a unicameral legislative body, like a parliament. For this reason, they allocated the three "ex officio" membership in the council to the Chief Justice, the Secretary of Justice, and a representative from the National Assembly, evidently to give representation in the JBC to the three great branches of government.

Subsequently, however, the ConCom decided, after a very close vote of 23 against 22, to adopt a bicameral legislative body, with a Senate and a House of Representatives. Unfortunately, as Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a member of the ConCom, admits, the committee charged with making adjustments in the previously passed provisions covering the JBC, failed to consider the impact of the changed character of the legislature on the inclusion of "a representative of the Congress" in the membership of the JBC.4

Still, it is a basic principle in statutory construction that the law must be given a reasonable interpretation at all times.5 The Court may, in some instances, consider the spirit and reason of a statute, where a literal meaning would lead to absurdity, contradiction, or injustice, or would defeat the clear purpose of the law makers.6 Applying a verba legis or strictly literal interpretation of the constitution may render its provisions meaningless and lead to inconvenience, an absurd situation, or an injustice. To obviate this aberration, and bearing in mind the principle that the intent or the spirit of the law is the law itself, resort should be made to the rule that the spirit of the law controls its letter.7

To insist that only one member of Congress from either the Senate or the House of Representatives should sit at any time in the JBC, is to ignore the fact that while these two houses of Congress are involved in the common task of making laws, they are separate and distinct.8 Senators are elected by the people at large, while the Members of the House of Representatives, by their respective districts or sectors. They have detached administrative organizations and deliberate on laws separately, indeed, often coming up with dissimilar drafts of those laws. Clearly, neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives can by itself claim to represent the Congress. Those who drafted Section 8(1) did not intend to limit the term "Congress" to just either of the two Houses.

Notably, the doctrine that a proper interpretation may be had by considering the words that accompany the term or phrase in question should apply to this case. While it is true that Section 8(1) provides for just "a representative of the Congress," it also provides that such representation is "ex officio." "Ex officio" is a Latin term, meaning "by virtue of oneís office, or position."9 This is not too different from the idea that a man, by virtue of being a husband to his wife, is also a father to their children. So in Section 8(1), whoever occupies the designated office or position becomes an "ex officio" JBC member. For instance, if the President appoints Mr. X as Chief Justice, Mr. X automatically becomes the chairman of the JBC, an attached function, by virtue of his being the Chief Justice. He replaces the former Chief Justice without need for another appointment or the taking of a separate oath of office. In the same way, if the President appoints Mr. Y as Secretary of Justice, Mr. Y also automatically becomes a member of the JBC, also an attached function, by virtue of his being the Secretary of Justice.

Now, under the rules of the Senate, the Chairman of its Justice Committee is automatically the Senate representative to the JBC. In the same way, under the rules of the House of Representatives, the Chairman of its Justice Committee is the House representative to the JBC. Thus, there are two persons in Congress, not just one, who hold separate offices or positions with the attached function of sitting in the JBC. Section 8(1) cannot be literally applied simply because there is no office, serving both the Senate and the House of Representatives, with the attached function of sitting as member in the JBC.

Inevitably, if the Court were to stick to the literal reading of Section 8(1), which restricts JBC representation to just one person holding office in Congress and working under both houses, no one will qualify as "ex officio" member of JBC. No such individual exists. Congress would consequently be denied the representation that those who drafted the Constitution intended it to have.

Allowing a Senator and a Congressman to sit alternately at any one time cannot be a solution since each of them would actually be representing only his half of Congress when he takes part in JBC deliberations. Allowing both, on the other hand, to sit in those deliberations at the same time with half a vote each is absurd since that would diminish their standing and make them second class members of JBC, something that the Constitution clearly does not contemplate. It is presumed when drafting laws that the legislature does not intend to produce undesirable consequences. Thus, when a literal translation would result to such consequences, the same is to be utterly rejected.10

Indeed, the JBC abandoned the half-a-vote practice on January 12, 2000 and recognized the right of the Senator and the Congressman attending their deliberations to cast one vote each. Only by recognizing this right can the true spirit and intent of Section 8(1) be attained.

With respect to the seven-man membership of the JBC, the majority assumes that by providing for an odd-numbered composition those who drafted the Constitution sought to prevent the possibility of a stalemate in voting and that, consequently, an eight-man membership is out of the question. But a tie vote does not pose a problem. The JBCís main function is to choose at least three nominees for each judicial position from which the President will select the one he would want to appoint. Any tie in the voting is immaterial since this is not a yes or no proposition. Very often, those in the shortlist submitted to the President get even votes. On the other hand, when a yes or no proposition is voted upon and there is a tie, it merely means that the proposition is lost for failure to get the plurality of votes.

The majority points out that the framers of the 1987 Constitution created the JBC as a response to a public clamor for removing partisan politics from the selection process for judges and justices of the courts. It thus results that the private sector and the three branches of government have been given active roles and equal voices in their selection. The majority contends that, if it were to allow two representatives from the Congress in the JBC, the balance of power within that body will tilt in favor of Congress.

But, it is not partisan politics per se that Section 8(1) intends to remove from the appointment process in the judiciary, but partisan domination of the same. Indeed, politicians have distinct roles in that process. For instance, it is the President, a politician, who appoints the six regular members of the JBC. And these appointees have to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointment, composed of politicians. What is more, although it is the JBC that screens candidates for positions in the judiciary, it is the President who eventually appoints them.

Further, if the idea was to absolutely eliminate politics from the JBC selection process, the framers of the Constitution could simply have barred all politicians from it. But the Constitution as enacted allows the Secretary of Justice, an alter-ego of the President, as well as representatives from the Congress to sit as members of JBC. Evidently, the Constitution wants certain representatives of the people to have a hand in the selection of the members of the judiciary.

The majority also holds the view that allowing two members of the Congress to sit in the JBC would undermine the Constitutionís intent to maintain the balance of power in that body and give the legislature greater and unwarranted influence in the appointment of members of the Judiciary.

But this fear is unwarranted. The lawmakers hold only two positions in that eight-man body. This will not give them greater power than the other six members have. Besides, historically, the representatives from the Senate and the lower house have frequently disagreed in their votes. Their outlooks differ.

Actually, if the Court would go by numbers, it is the President who appoints six of the members of the JBC (the Chief Justice, the Secretary of Justice, and the four regular members), thus establishing an edge in favor of presidential appointees. Placing one representative each from the Senate and the House of Representatives rather than just one congressional representative somewhat blunts that edge. As the OSG correctly points out, the current practice contributes two elective officials in the JBC whose membership is totally independent from the Office of the President.

Lastly, the presence of an elected Senator and an elected member of the House of Representatives in the JBC is more consistent with the republican nature of our government where all government authority emanates from the people and is exercised by representatives chosen by them.

For the above reasons, I vote to DISMISS the petition.

ROBERTO A. ABAD
Associate Justice


Footnotes

1 The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.

2 Government Service Insurance System v. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 162372, October 19, 2011.

3 Francisco v. House of Representatives, G.R. No. 160261, November 10, 2003.

4 http://opinion.inquirer.net/31813/jbc-odds-and-ends (last accessed 18 July 2012).

5 Millares v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 110524, July 29, 2002.

6 People v. Manantan, G.R. No. 14129, July 31, 1962, citing Crawford, Interpretation of Laws, Sec. 78, p. 294.

7 Navarro v. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 180050, February 10, 2010, dissenting opinion of J. Perez.

8 Supra note 1, Article VI, Section 1.

9 Websterís New World College Dictionary, 3rd Edition, p. 477.

10 Supra note 5.


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