The institution of legislative check on the President’s power to appoint was introduced during the US occupation of the Philippines after Spain ceded the country to the US. In 1901, the US President created the Philippine Commission, which served as the sole legislative body of the Philippines until 1907. The US President, with the advice and consent of the US Congress, appointed the Members of the Commission which included three Filipinos. The passage of the Cooper Act or the Philippine Bill of 1902 provided, among others, for the general election in 1907 of the first Philippine Assembly, which may be likened to the present House of Representatives. On the other hand, the Philippine Commission, whose membership continued to be subject to confirmation by the US Senate, served as the Upper Chamber. The Executive authority belonged solely to the American governor-general who enjoyed unlimited veto power. The Spanish judicial system was retained.

The Jones Law

In 1916, the US Congress passed the Jones Law or the Philippine Autonomy Act, which institutionalized the Bicameral Philippine Legislature consisting of the Senate with 24 Senators and a House of Representative with 90 members, in lieu of the Philippine Commission and the Philippine Assembly, respectively. The Jones Law conferred upon the Philippine Senate the power to confirm appointments made by the governor-general.

The Tydings-Mcduffie Law

In 1935, the Tydings-Mcduffie Law superseded the Jones Law and authorized the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth. The 1935 Constitution was ratified on May 14 of that year and led to the inauguration of the Commonwealth Government on November 15, 1935 with Manuel L. Quezon as President.

The 1935 Constitutional Convention convened and it was proposed here that the power to confirm appointments be vested in a permanent commission, which would recommend laws and initiate impeachment proceedings. In addition, such confirmation power was to be vested on the entire National Assembly. These proposals were rejected but the task was reduced to the review and approval of executive appointments by a small body, now known as the Commission on Appointments (CA).

In the original 1935 Constitution, the CA was composed of 21 Members elected from among the National Assembly Members. With the 1940 Amendment restoring the Bicameral Legislature, however, the CA eventually became a joint Senate-House Body with 25 members (the Senate President as ex-officio Chairman, 12 Senators and 12 Representatives from the House of Congress).

The Eclipse of Democracy

With the declaration of Martial Law by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos and the eventual adoption of a modified parliamentary form of Government under the 1973 Constitution, the CA ceased to exist. The Prime Minister was head of Government and the Members of his Cabinet, who were chosen from among the Members of the National Assembly, were accountable to the President at all times. There was no check and balance mechanism in Government, particularly on the appointments made by the President to the Judiciary, Military and other sensitive positions.

1987 Philippine Constitution

In February 11, 1987, through the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, via a nationwide plebiscite, a new Constitution evolved, providing for the return of the Bicameral Legislature and the rebirth of the CA.

The rebirth of the Commission on Appointments under the 1935 Constitution, as amended, is a manifestation that absolute power is not vested in any one branch of the government and that legislative check can and should be applied to executive appointments. The 1987 Constitution, though, has restricted the scope of power of the CA, as it has no more power over appointments to the Judiciary, among others.

The 1935 Philippine Constitution vs. the 1987 Philippine Constitution

The 1987 Constitution, relative to the 1935 Constitution, limits the scope of the CA’s authority. The CA no longer has power over appointments to the Judiciary. It used to be that Members of the Supreme Court and all judges of inferior courts pass through the CA. This change resulted from a desire to safeguard the independence of the Judges and Justices. The 1987 Constitution, though, created the Judicial and Bar Council, with its Membership chosen by the President that needs CA confirmation.  The CA also lost its jurisdiction over the heads of the executive departments and bureaus under the current Constitution. Despite the setbacks, the CA’s power to confirm presidential appointments remains crucial. Its role in maintaining the substance of our democracy cannot be undermined. CA’s significance even traces its way back in history.