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STATUTES : Strict and Liberal Constructions and Prospective and Retrospective Effects

The judiciary, as a co-equal body of the two other branches of the Philippine government has the power to interpret and apply the law. To properly apply the law, it needs to interpret it and render judgment based on justice. Whenever there are ambiguities in the law, the judiciary resorts to construction. In doing it so, judges and justices are able to draw conclusions with respect to the subjects that are beyond the direct expressions of the texts of the law. However, in every construction that the judiciary does to fully apply the law, render justice and settle controversies, it is imperative that legislative intent should always be upheld.

Laws can be construed either strictly or liberally. In strict construction, the law should be understood only within the meaning of the language used. Liberal construction, on the other hand, extends the meaning of the statute to matters which come within the spirit or reason of the law.

There are many statutes which should be liberally construed. However, liberal interpretation or construction of the law or rules applies only in proper cases and under justifiable causes and circumstances. And while it is true that litigation is not a game of technicalities, it is equally true that every case must be prosecuted in accordance with the prescribed procedure to insure an orderly and speedy administration of justice.

ON LIBERAL CONSTRUCTION AND INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES

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Penal Statutes

Penal laws are to be construed strictly against the state and in favor of the accused. In the interpretation of a penal statute, judges subject it to careful scrutiny and construes it to safeguard the right of the accused. If the statute is ambiguous and admits two reasonable but contradictory constructions, the provision which operates in favor of the accused is preferred.

However, even if penal statutes are liberally construed against the state and in favor of the accused, it does not mean that the statute should be used to shield the accused from criminal liabilities.

Tax Laws

Tax is both a burden and a duty. As a power of the state, it is considered destructive as it enables the state to interfere with the personal and property rights of the people and takes from them a portion of their property for the support of the government. The legislative is primarily given the power to tax, but the local legislative may also impose taxation rules in their specific jurisdictions subject to the limitations as the congress provides.

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Tax is a burden because the people are compulsory taxed and are forcefully obliged to pay tribute a portion of their properties and income to the government. However, paying an honest tax is also a duty that each and every citizen of the country must adhere to ensure the sustenance of the state- as tax is the lifeblood of the country.

In liberally construing tax statutes, it is constructed against the government and in favor of the taxpayer, for taxes, being burdens, are not to be presumed beyond what the applicable statute expressly and clearly declares. However, claims for exemption from a tax statute is strictly construed against the taxpayer and liberally in favor of the state as it is primarily, also a duty and each enjoys the protection and benefits of being a citizen of a country financed by taxes.

Naturalization Law

Naturalization laws should be rigidly enforced and strictly construed in favor of the government and against the applicant.

It is because becoming a citizen is costly to the state. If one is to become a citizen of the Philippines, he will be clothed with the rights, privileges, benefits and protection that each and every Filipino enjoys- at the expense of the state.

While the Philippine government is tolerant of dual citizenship, it does not, however tolerate dual allegiance. And that is the reason why, any person who wishes to be naturalized as a Filipino is subjected to the scrutiny of the authorities to ensure that his allegiance is to the Philippines alone.

Insurance Law

Contracts of Insurance are to be construed liberally in favor of the insured and strictly against the insurer. Whenever an insurer aims to delimit claims by the insured due to technicalities, the court rules in favor of the insured. As reflective of the Civil Code, “The interpretation of obscure words or stipulations in a contract shall not favor the party who caused the obscurity.”

In this view, as the one who creates policies, the insurer is never favored in insurance disputes with the insured whenever obscurities in the policy arises as ambiguity in the words of an insurance contract should be interpreted in favor of its beneficiary.

Labor And Social Legislations

The sympathy of the law on social security is towards its beneficiaries and the law by its own terms, requires a construction of utmost liberality in their favor. So whenever doubts in the interpretation of Workmen’s Compensation and Labor Code arise, it is resolved in favor of the worker. It should be liberally construed to attain their laudable objective, i.e., to give relief to the workman and/or his dependents in the event that the former should die or sustain in an injury.

This is so because, as a social legislation, the Workmen’s Compensation and Labor Code are created to benefit the working class and ensure that their families and dependents are supported should an unfortunate event befall the worker.

Retirement Laws

Retirement laws are liberally interpreted in favor of the retiree because the intention is to provide for the retiree’s sustenance and comfort, when he is no longer capable of earning his livelihood. As persons who invested half their lifetime to contribute to the success of the institution they are working for, retirees should be entitled to full benefits and privileges as compensation of their immeasurable contributions.

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Liberally construing retirement laws and administering it in favor of the retiree likewise achieves its humanitarian purpose in the first place. Retirement benefits entice competent workers to work both in the government and private sectors and it should be kept as such and they should be given as what has been promised because it is what is due. Retirement benefits are not only for the security of those who have received vigor but more so for those workers who have been incapacitated by illness or accidents.

Election Rules

Statute providing for election contests are to be liberally construed to the end that the will of the people in the choice of public officer may not be defeated by mere technical objections. This is so because technicalities should not be made to stand in the true will of the electorate.

As election contests involve public interests, technicalities and procedural barriers should not be made to hinder the choice of the electorate. So while the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) promulgates rules in the conduct of elections and the declaration of winners, the qualifications of the candidates are prescribed by the constitution and other pertinent election laws in the country.

Rules Of Court

Rules of court shall be liberally construed in order to promote their objective of securing a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.

As rules of court take part of the judicial system, it is but imperative that it shall be construed in favor of justice and speedy and inexpensive disposition to benefit both of the parties involved in a controversy because as the cliché goes, justice delayed is justice denied.

ON PROSPECTIVE AND RETROSPECTIVE STATUTES

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A sound canon of statutory construction is that statutes operate prospectively only and never retrospectively, unless the legislative intent to the contrary is manifested either by the express terms of the statute or by necessary implication.

A Prospective Statute is a statute which operates upon acts and transactions which have not occurred when the statute takes effect, that is, which regulates the future while a retrospective or retroactive statute is one which takes away or impairs vested rights acquired under existing laws, or creates new obligations and imposes new duties, or attaches new disabilities in respect of transaction already past.

The Civil Code of the Philippines states that “Laws shall have no retroactive effect, unless the contrary is provided.” So it is imperative that all laws are prospective in nature unless otherwise specially provided by the law itself.

Retroactive legislation is looked upon with disfavor, as a general rule and properly so because of its tendency to be unjust and oppressive. Example of this are Penal Laws. In the Revised Penal Code, it is a noted maxim that “There is no crime where there is no law punishing it.” Therefore, a crime cannot have been considered to have been committed before a law forbidding it and providing its penalties are enacted. Likewise, in the Constitution, it is also explicitly stated that no “Ex Post Facto Law” or “Bill of Attainder” shall be enacted.

Penal Statutes

Penal statutes, as a rule, are applied prospectively. Felonies and misdemeanors are punished under the laws in force at the time of their commission. This is a principle enshrined in the Revised Penal Code.

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Providing Penal Statutes with retroactive effect could harm a person’s civil liberties and could undermine his rights to due process as people need to be well informed of a statute that forbids an action to be done, as stated in the Civil Code. Likewise, punishing a person with an act previously committed before it has been called a crime would be unconstitutional as it would equate to “Ex Post Facto Law”.

However, as an exception, Penal Statues can be given retroactive effect if it is favorable to the accused who is not a habitual criminal. This is another principle enshrined in the Revised Penal Code.

Procedural Laws

Statutes regulating the procedure of the Court will be construed as applicable to actions pending and undermined at the time of their passage. This is so because Procedural Laws has always been retrospective. Procedural provisions of the Local Government Code are likewise retrospective.

However, Rules of Procedure should not be given retroactive effect if it would result in great injustice and impair substantive right. As exemplars of justice, it is the duty of judges and justices to apply the procedural rule with fairness, so if ever procedural laws are to be applied retrospectively but would render injustice, the court may do so otherwise.

Curative Statutes

Curative statutes are those which undertake to cure errors and irregularities and administrative proceedings, and which are designed to give effect to contracts and other transactions between private parties which otherwise would fail to produce their intended consequences by reason of some statutory disability or failure to comply with some technical requirement. Curative statutes are commonly enacted to cure defects in the prior law or to validate legal proceedings which would otherwise be void for want of conformity with certain legal requirements.

Curative statutes are retroactive in character. It does not only enable the legislature to correct previously enacted laws and proceedings, but as well as jurisprudence. By ratifying, validating and confirming an act it could have authorized in the first place, but did not because of an existing law, it directly affect and repeal the law, its proceedings and its jurisprudence.

The retrospective nature of curative statutes however is not absolute. As should a curative statute impair a vested right, it may also be subjected to another curative statute.

Reference:
Diaz, N. (2016). Statutory Construction. Central Books

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N.B. This article was published by the author as an output for the Statutory Construction class of Atty. Neryl Deris, Law Professor, UNEP School of Law

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Michael is a Teacher and a University Lecturer. He is presently taking his Juris Doctor and he delights himself with traveling, writing and telling stories.

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Michael Postrado Vale

Michael Postrado Vale

Michael is a Teacher and a University Lecturer. He is presently taking his Juris Doctor and he delights himself with traveling, writing and telling stories.

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