Funa vs Agra (G.R. No. 191644 February 19, 2013)

Funa vs Agra
G.R. No. 191644 February 19, 2013

Facts: The petitioner alleges that on March 1, 2010, President Gloria M. Macapagal Arroyo appointed Agra as the Acting Secretary of Justice following the resignation of Secretary Agnes VST Devanadera in order to vie for a congressional seat in Quezon Province; that on March 5, 2010, President Arroyo designated Agra as the Acting Solicitor General in a concurrent capacity; that on April 7, 2010, the petitioner, in his capacity as a taxpayer, a concerned citizen and a lawyer, commenced this suit to challenge the constitutionality of Agra’s concurrent appointments or designations, claiming it to be prohibited under Section 13, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution; that during the pendency of the suit, President Benigno S. Aquino III appointed Atty. Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz as the Solicitor General; and that Cadiz assumed as the Solicitor General and commenced his duties as such on August 5, 2010. Agra renders a different version of the antecedents. He represents that on January 12, 2010, he was then the Government Corporate Counsel when President Arroyo designated him as the Acting Solicitor General in place of Solicitor General Devanadera who had been appointed as the Secretary of Justice; that on March 5, 2010, President Arroyo designated him also as the Acting Secretary of Justice vice Secretary Devanadera who had meanwhile tendered her resignation in order to run for Congress representing a district in Quezon Province in the May 2010 elections; that he then relinquished his position as the Government Corporate Counsel; and that pending the appointment of his successor, Agra continued to perform his duties as the Acting Solicitor General. Notwithstanding the conflict in the versions of the parties, the fact that Agra has admitted to holding the two offices concurrently in acting capacities is settled, which is sufficient for purposes of resolving the constitutional question that petitioner raises herein.

Issue: Whether or not Agra’s holding of concurrent position is unconstitutional.

Held: Yes. At the center of the controversy is the correct application of Section 13, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, viz:

Section 13. The President, Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, and their deputies or assistants shall not, unless otherwise provided in this Constitution, hold any other office or employment during their tenure. They shall not, during said tenure, directly or indirectly practice any other profession, participate in any business, or be financially interested in any contract with, or in any franchise, or special privilege granted by the Government or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries. They shall strictly avoid conflict of interest in the conduct of their office.

A relevant and complementing provision is Section 7, paragraph (2), Article IX-B of the 1987 Constitution, to wit:

Section 7. x x x Unless otherwise allowed by law or the primary functions of his position, no appointive official shall hold any other office or employment in the Government or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries.

Being designated as the Acting Secretary of Justice concurrently with his position of Acting Solicitor General, therefore, Agra was undoubtedly covered by Section 13, Article VII, supra, whose text and spirit were too clear to be differently read. Hence, Agra could not validly hold any other office or employment during his tenure as the Acting Solicitor General, because the Constitution has not otherwise so provided.

It was of no moment that Agra’s designation was in an acting or temporary capacity. The text of Section 13, supra, plainly indicates that the intent of the Framers of the Constitution was to impose a stricter prohibition on the President and the Members of his Cabinet in so far as holding other offices or employments in the Government or in government-owned or government controlled-corporations was concerned. In this regard, to hold an office means to possess or to occupy the office, or to be in possession and administration of the office, which implies nothing less than the actual discharge of the functions and duties of the office. Indeed, in the language of Section 13 itself, supra, the Constitution makes no reference to the nature of the appointment or designation. The prohibition against dual or multiple offices being held by one official must be construed as to apply to all appointments or designations, whether permanent or temporary, for it is without question that the avowed objective of Section 13, supra, is to prevent the concentration of powers in the Executive Department officials, specifically the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet and their deputies and assistants. To construe differently is to “open the veritable floodgates of circumvention of an important constitutional disqualification of officials in the Executive Department and of limitations on the Presidents power of appointment in the guise of temporary designations of Cabinet Members, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries as officers-in-charge of government agencies, instrumentalities, or government-owned or controlled corporations.

It is not amiss to observe, lastly, that assuming that Agra, as the Acting Solicitor General, was not covered by the stricter prohibition under Section 13, supra, due to such position being merely vested with a cabinet rank under Section 3, Republic Act No. 9417, he nonetheless remained covered by the general prohibition under Section 7, supra. Hence, his concurrent designations were still subject to the conditions under the latter constitutional provision. In this regard, the Court aptly pointed out in Public Interest Center, Inc. v. Elma:

The general rule contained in Article IX-B of the 1987 Constitution permits an appointive official to hold more than one office only if “allowed by law or by the primary functions of his position.” In the case of Quimson v. Ozaeta, this Court ruled that, “[t]here is no legal objection to a government official occupying two government offices and performing the functions of both as long as there is no incompatibility.” The crucial test in determining whether incompatibility exists between two offices was laid out in People v. Green – whether one office is subordinate to the other, in the sense that one office has the right to interfere with the other.

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