The System of Checks and Balances in the Philippines

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The separation of powers, as essential feature of a constitutional government, was classically expounded by Montesquieu in a much celebrated chapter of the Espirit de lois. In his discussion of the English Constitution, he drew a sharp and logical distinction between the legislative, the executive and the judicial powers and insisted that they should be handled by separate and distinct bodies.

The principle of the separation of powers has been adopted in the Philippines in order to avoid arbitrary rule and abuse of authority. The so called checks and balances among the three major departments of the government - executive, legislative and the judiciary – are no more than means of control by each and upon each of the departments. It is the duty of the departments to exercise moderation in their dealings with one another and their treatment of the public interest.This principle was instituted in the Philippine constitution for the purpose of impeding each branch from trespassing and seizing the power vested to others. Moreover, the provisions of the constitution in establishing limitations on the exercise of government authority also provide means of moderation. The principle of the separation of powers does not necessarily mean that absolute exclusivity with respect to such powers as properly belongs to each branch. In a democratic system this maybe shared by two or more of the other branches.

In this system, the judiciary, in terms of political and financial strength, is the weakest of the three co equal branches of the government. The judicial department having neither the power neither of the purse nor of the sword is considered as the weakest of the three main departments of government. On the contrary, however, it is tasked with the burden of refeering endless political disputes and conflicts among the more contentious branches – the legislative and the executive. The Supreme Court also possesses the power to decide cases and controversies. The Supreme Court cannot and will not allow itself to be made as instrument of politics, nor be a privy to any attempt at the perpetration of injustice.

Even though the Supreme Court is considered as the weakest among the three departments, the 1987 Constitution strengthens it by providing for a broadened power of political review over political questions, granting fiscal autonomy and reducing the role requirement for a declaration of unconstitutionality to the concurrence of a simple majority of the members who actually took part in the deliberation on the issues in the case and voted thereon.

The principle of prospectivity has also been applied to judicial decisions which, although in themselves not laws, are nevertheless evidence of what the laws mean. A compelling rationalization of prospectivity principle of judicial decisions is well set forth in the off-cited case of Chicot county Drainage District v. Baxter States Bank. The Chicot Doctrine advocates the imperative necessity to take account of the actual existence of a statute prior to its nullification, as an operative fact negating acceptance of a principle of absolute invalidity.

Since the power of the Supreme Court to declare acts of both the executive and the legislative branches of the government as null and void is bestowed directly in the Philippines constitution, it can be inferred, therefore, that the supreme court is superior over the other two departments. To some extent, this is quite true. However, the power of the judiciary to declare the validity or constitutionality of the acts of the executive and the legislative does not necessarily reflect the superiority of the judicial department. Instead, it indicates the supremacy of the constitution over a statute, treaty or presidential act which violates the constitution. The Supreme Court commonly nullifies the acts of legislatures and executives that conflict with the state constitution. Since the constitution is the supreme law of the land, the courts, in deciding cases, must be able to make final, fair and binding interpretations of the law.


  1. is it really important in the Philippine Government?


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