Public Officers in the perfect world execute laws with strict conscientiousness. Adherance to the intricacies  of statute is a Constitutional mandate :

Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.– The Constitution, Article XI, Section 1

Clearly, the sovereign people hold true power in a democratic society. The nation’s most powerful man is himself accountable to his constituents with the solemn duty to faithfully uphold the constitution and its laws. Article 6, Section 17 provides

Section 17. The President shall have control of all the executive departments, bureaus, and offices. He shall ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.

Faithfully executed clause is critical to the Take Care Doctrine which admonishes the President and his men to execute only what the law states, and not what he wants it to state. Even if the President opines that a specific statute is too weak or too harsh, he cannot modify the same.

The duty to abide by the letter of the law extends to all branches of government including the courts. Judicial officers cannot add or subtract words to a statute or read something into it which is not there. It cannot rewrite or recast legislation. It is also necessary to determine that there exists a presumption that the legislature has not used any superfluous words and in that case, the real intention of the legislation must be gathered from the words used and the intention of the legislation must be found out from the scheme of the Act[Consortium Self Financing v. State of TN – WP.20212 of 2007 [2007] INTNHC 2130 (2 July 2007)]

What then is the remedy of the average lay person when low-level public officers add or subtract to the laws or ordinances they are tasked to enforce? The following are common-place examples:

  • Whereby the Registry of Deeds demands tax documents dating two decades for the transfer of Land Titles which are not required in statute
  • Whereby the BIR insists in extra processing fees to expedite the closure of open cases where such fees are not mandated in the NIRC
  • Whereby traffic enforcers demand the presentation of deed of sale of a vehicle at checkpoints notwithstanding that the LTO requires only the OR and CR

The Philippines is a democratic society and our civilization is predicated on the belief that a just government cannot condone methods of law enforcement which are themselves lawless. Accordingly, the point at which public officers trespass their official stewardship that they are stripped of the law enforcement justification
is also the point at which government conduct can be termed outrageous enough to warrant the due process defense.

Let this sink in. The excess of authority hallmarked by demands to comply with non-existent provisions of the law strips officers of the power to enforce compliance.

Analyzing due process from the other side-via the law enforcement justification-would allow courts to objectively judge the government’s actions without the strong bias against granting the defense no matter what the underlying factual circumstances. Such an approach would provide a principled basis for the delineation
of the due process defense.

Legal Solution to Abuse of Authority is Clear: Question the Basis

The remedy of a layperson bullied into submission to non-existent laws is simple and powerful. Simply stop the public officer, state that the demands go beyond the letter of the law and conclude that you have no legal obligation to follow unlawful orders. If the officer insists, demand for the legal basis. Silence greeting the query implies that you have basis to deny the officer.

Allow me to close today’s legal advice with a screenshot of how  Engr Norberto Claudio PhD , a good friend, and underbar handled a similar situation with the finesse of a real lawyer

execution of laws

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