By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
Due process of Law
posted 12-Oct-2015  ·  
7,702 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

The very first section of the Bill of Rights (Sec. 1, Art. III of the Philippine Constitution) states: “Sec.1. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or  property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” The due process clauses in the American and Philippine Constitutions are not only worded in exactly identical language and terminology, but more importantly, they are alike in what their respective Supreme Courts have expounded as the spirit with which the provisions are informed and impressed, the elasticity in their interpretation, their dynamic and resilient character which make them capable of meeting every modern problem, and their having been designed from earliest time to the present to meet the exigencies of an undefined and expanding future.

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As early as 1884, the United States Supreme Court ruled that "any legal proceeding enforced by public authority, whether sanctioned by age or custom, or newly devised in the discretion of the legislative power, in furtherance of the general public good, which regards and preserves these principles of liberty and justice, must be held to be due process of law". The Philippine Supreme Court, in turn, as far back as 1908, affixed the imprimatur of its approval on Webster's definition of procedural due process, thus:  'By the law of the land is more clearly intended the general law, a law which hears before it condemns, which proceeds upon inquiry and renders judgment only after trial.'. Also, in a 1924 decision, after quoting the above, the Philippine Supreme Court added that due process “contemplates notice and opportunity to be heard before judgment is rendered, affecting one's person or property.”. The number of cases subsequent to this reiterating the importance of what was referred to by Justice Laurel as the "cardinal concept of due process" is legion. The Philippine Supreme Court also held that, capsulized, due process refers to "the embodiment of the sporting idea of fair play".

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Although the courts have in many instances defined what due process of law really means, they have also allowed the meaning of the phrase to evolve with time. A decision of the U.S. Supreme Court held that in order to avoid the confines of a legal straitjacket, the courts instead prefer to have the meaning of the due process clause "gradually ascertained by the process of inclusion and exclusion in the course of the decisions of cases as they arise". Thus, due process are interpreted in both the United States and the Philippines as not denying to the law the capacity for progress and improvement.

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Due process is comprised of two components – substantive due process which requires the intrinsic validity of the law in interfering with the rights of the person to his life, liberty, or property, and procedural due process which consists of the two basic rights of notice and hearing, as well as the guarantee of being heard by an impartial and competent tribunal (Cruz, Constitutional Law, 1993 Ed., pp. 102-106). In essence, procedural due process refers to the method or manner by which the law is enforced. The Philippine Supreme Court once forcefully said that it will not tolerate the least disregard of constitutional guarantees in the enforcement of a law.

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True to the mandate of the due process clause, the basic rights of notice and hearing pervade not only in criminal and civil proceedings, but in administrative proceedings as well. Non-observance of these rights will invalidate the proceedings. Individuals are entitled to be notified of any pending case affecting their interests, and upon notice, they may claim the right to appear therein and present their side and to refute the position of the opposing parties. The basic principles of administrative law instruct us that "the essence of due process in administrative proceedings is an opportunity to explain one’s side or an opportunity to seek reconsideration of the actions or ruling complained of.

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These twin rights may, however, be considered dispensable in certain instances. Some examples are:: In proceedings where there is an urgent need for immediate action, like the summary abatement of a nuisance per se (Article 704, Civil Code); the preventive suspension of a public servant facing administrative charges (Section 63, Local Government Code, B. P. Blg. 337), the padlocking of filthy restaurants or theaters showing obscene movies or like establishments which are immediate threats to public health and decency, and the cancellation of a passport of a person sought for criminal prosecution; where there is tentativeness of administrative action, that is, where the respondent is not precluded from enjoying the right to notice and hearing at a later time without prejudice to the person affected, such as the summary distraint and levy of the property of a delinquent taxpayer, and the replacement of a temporary appointee; and where the twin rights have previously been offered but the right to exercise them had not been claimed.

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Of analogous application are the rulings in a 1991 and a 1997 cases where the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that in summary proceedings under Presidential Decree No. 807 (regarding the organization of the Civil Service Commission), and Presidential Decree No. 971, which provides legal assistance to members of the Integrated National Police who may be charged for service-connected offenses, it was held that although summary dismissals may be effected without the necessity of a formal investigation, the minimum requirements of due process still operate.  Said summary dismissal proceedings are also non-litigious in nature, yet the Supreme Court upheld the due process rights of the respondent.

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