Law on Statutory Construction : Student Case Digest

The Law Student Digest:
Reviewer Source from Agpalo

Chapter 1

Preliminary Considerations Statutory 

Construction Defined: as the  art or process of discovering and expounding the meaning and intention of the authors of the law with respect to its application to a given case, where that intention is rendered doubtful, among others, by reason of the fact that the given case is not explicitly provided for in the law.  #

-statutory construction as the art of seeking the intention of the legislature in enacting a statute and applying it to a given state of facts.  A judicial function is required when a statute is invoked and different interpretations are in contention. (Justice Martin) 

Difference between judicial legislation and statutory construction:  

  • Where legislature attempts to do several things one which is invalid, it may be discarded if the remainder of the act is workable and in no way depends upon the invalid portion, but if that portion is an integral part of the act, and its excision changes the manifest intent of the act by broadening its scope to include subject matter or territory which was not included therein as enacted, such excision is “judicial legislation” and not “statutory construction”.  

Construction And Interpretation, Distinguished  Construction is the drawing of conclusions with respect to subjects that are beyond the direct expression of the text, while interpretation is the process of discovering the true meaning of the language used.  Interpretation is limited to exploring the written text. Construction on the other hand is the drawing of conclusions, respecting subjects that lie beyond the direct expressions of the text.  Situs Of Construction And Interpretation  


In our system of government: 

  •  Legislative power is vested in the Congress of the Philippines – the Senate and the House of the Representatives
  • Executive power is vested in the President of the Republic of the Philippines (Art. VII, Sec.1, Phil. Const.)  
  • Judicial power is vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law. (Art VIII, Sec. 1, Phil. Const.)  Legislative – makes the law  Executive – executes the law  Judicial – interprets the law  Simply stated, the situs of construction and interpretation of written laws belong to the judicial department.  It is the duty of the Courts of Justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government. 
  • The Supreme Court is the one and only Constitutional Court and all other lower courts are statutory courts and such lower courts have the power to construe and interpret written laws.  

Duty Of The Courts To Construe And Interpret The Law


  1. There must be an actual case or controversy;
  2. There is ambiguity in the law involved in the controversy.  Ambiguity exists if reasonable persons can find different meanings in a statute, document, etc.  A statute is ambiguous if it is admissible of two or more possible meanings.  If the law is clear and unequivocal, the Court has no other alternative but to apply the law and not to interpret.  Construction and interpretation of law come only after it has been demonstrated that application is impossible or inadequate without them.  

Different Kinds Of Construction And Interpretation  

Hermeneutics – the science or art of construction and interpretation.  

Legal hermeneutics – is the systematic body of rules which are recognized as applicable to the construction and interpretation of legal writings.  Dr. Lieber in his work on Hermeneutics gives the following classification of the different kinds of interpretation:  

  • 1. Close interpretation – adopted if just reasons connected with the character and formation of the text induce as to take the words in the narrowest meaning. This is generally known as “literal” interpretation.  
  • 2. Extensive interpretation – also called as liberal interpretation, it adopts a more comprehensive signification of the words.  
  • 3. Extravagant interpretation – substitutes a meaning evidently beyond the true one. It is therefore not genuine interpretation.  
  • 4. Free or unrestricted interpretation – proceeds simply on he general principles of interpretation in good faith, not bound by any specific or superior principle. 
  • 5. Limited or restricted interpretation – influenced by other principles than the strictly hermeneutic ones. 
  • 6. Predestined interpretation – takes place when the interpreter, laboring under a strong bias of mind, makes the text subservient to his preconceived views and desires. 


Reason Why An Ordinance Should Not Contravene A Statute  Local councils exercise only delegated legislative powers conferred on them by Congress as the national law making body.  The delegate cannot be superior to the principal.  

Role Of Foreign Jurisprudence  Philippine laws must necessarily be construed in accordance with the intention of its own law makers and such intent may be deduced from the language of each law and the context of other local legislation related thereof.  


Basic Guidelines In The Construction And Interpretation Of Laws Legislative Intent The object of all interpretation and construction of statutes is to ascertain the meaning and intention of the legislature, to the end that the same may be enforced.  Legislative intent is determined principally from the language of the statute.  

Verba Legis  If the language of the statute is plain and free from ambiguity, and expresses a single, definite, and sensible meaning, that meaning is conclusively presumed to be the meaning which the legislature intended to convey.  

Statutes As A Whole  A cardinal rule in statutory construction is that legislative intent must be ascertained from a consideration of the statute as a whole and not merely of a particular provision. A word or phrase might easily convey a meaning which is different from the one actually intended.  A statute should be construed as a whole because it is not to be presumed that the legislature has used any useless words, and because it is dangerous practice to base the construction upon only a part of it, since one portion may be qualified by other portions.  


Spirit And Purpose Of The Law 

  •  When the interpretation of a statute according to the exact and literal import of its words would lead to absurd or mischievous consequences, or would thwart or contravene the manifest purpose of the legislature in its enactment, it should be construed according to its spirit and reason, disregarding or modifying, so far as may be necessary, the strict letter of the law.  • 
  • When the reason of the law ceases, the law itself ceases.  
  • Doctrine of necessary implications. What is implied in a statute is as much a part thereof as that which is expressed.  

Casus Omissus  When a statute makes specific provisions in regard to several enumerated cases or objects, but omits to make any provision for a case or object which is analogous to those enumerated, or which stands upon the same reason, and is therefore within the general scope of the statute, and it appears that such case or object was omitted by inadvertence or because it was overlooked or unforeseen, it is called a “casus omissus”. Such omissions or defects cannot be supplied by the courts.  

The rule of “casus omissus pro omisso habendus est” can operate and apply only if and when the omission has been clearly established.  

Stare Decisis  It is the doctrine that, when court has once laid down a principle, and apply it to all future cases, where facts are substantially the same, regardless of whether the parties and properties are the same.  

  • Stare Decisis. Follow past precedents and do not disturb what has been settled. Matters already decided on the merits cannot be relitigated again and again.  “Stare decisis et non quieta movere” (follow past precedents and do not disturb what has been settled.  

Chapter iv


Construction And Interpretation Of Words And Phrases When The Law Does Not Distinguish, Courts Should Not Distinguish  

  • When the law does not distinguish, courts should not distinguish. The rule, founded on logic, is a corollary of the principle that general words and phrases of a statute should ordinarily be accorded their natural and general significance.  The courts should administer the law not as they think it ought to be but as they find it and without regard to consequences.  • If the law makes no distinction, neither should the Court.  
  • Exceptions In The Statute  When the law does not make any exception, courts may not except something unless compelling reasons exist to justify it.  
  • General And Special Terms  General terms in a statute are to receive a general construction, unless restrained by the context or by plain inferences from the scope and purpose of the act.  General terms or provisions in a statute may be restrained and limited by specific terms or provisions with which they are associated. Special terms in a statute may sometimes be expanded to a general signification by the consideration that the reason of the law is general. 

General Terms Following Special Terms (Ejusdem Generis)  

  • It is a general rule of statutory construction that where general words follow an enumeration of persons or things, by words of a particular and specific meaning, such general words are not to be construed in their widest extent, but are to be held as applying only to persons or things of the same general kind or class as those specifically mentioned. But this rule must be discarded where the legislative intention is plain to the contrary.  This rule is commonly called the “ejusdem generis” rule, because it teaches us that broad and comprehensive expressions in an act, such as “and all others”, or “any others”, are usually to be restricted to persons or things “of the same kind” or class with those specially named in the preceding words.  Rule of ejusdem generis merely a tool of statutory construction resorted to when legislative intent is uncertain.  
  • Express Mention And Implied Exclusion  It is a general rule of statutory construction that the express mention of one person, thing, or consequence is tantamount to an express exclusion of all others. “Expressio unius est exclusio alterius”.  Except:  • When there is manifest of injustice  • When there is no reason for exception.  
  • Associated Words (Noscitur Sociis)  Where a particular word is equally susceptible to various meanings, its correct construction may be made specific by considering the company of terms in which it is found or with which it is associated.  
  • Use Of Negative Words  Negative words and phrases regarded as mandatory while those affirmative are mere directory.  
    • The word “shall” emphasizes mandatory character and means imperative, operating to impose a duty which may be enforced. 
    • The Use Of The Word “May” And “Shall” In The Statute  Use of the word “may” in the statute generally connotes a permissible thing, and operates to confer discretion while the word “shall” is imperative, operating to impose a duty which may be enforced.  The term “shall” may be either as mandatory or directory depending upon a consideration of the entire provision in which it is found, its object and consequences that would follow from construing it one way or the other.  
    • Use Of The Word “Must”  The word “must” in a statute like “shall” is not always imperative and may be consistent with an exercise discretion.  The Use Of The Term “And” And The Word “Or”  “And” means conjunction connecting words or phrases expressing the idea that the latter is to be added or taken along with the first.  “Or” is a disjunctive particle used to express as alternative or to give a choice of one among two or more things. It is also used to clarify what has already been said, and in such cases, means “in other words,” “to wit,” or “that is to say.”  
    • Computation Of Time  When the laws speak of years, months, days or nights, it shall be understood that :
  • years are of three hundred sixty five days each; 
  • months of thirty days; 
  • days of twenty –four hours;
  •  and nights from sunset to sunrise. 
  • If months are designated by their name, they shall be computed by the number of days which they respectively have.  In computing a period, the first day shall be excluded, and the last day included (Art. 13, New Civil Code).  #
  • A “week” means a period of seven consecutive days without regard to the day of the week on which it begins.  

Function Of The Proviso  Proviso is a clause or part of a clause in the statute, the office of which is either to except something from the enacting clause, or to qualify or restrain its generality, or to exclude some possible ground of misinterpretation of its extent.  “Provided” is the word used in introducing a proviso.  

Chapter V : Presumptions In Aid Of Construction And Interpretation Presumptions

  • In construing a doubtful or ambiguous statute, the Courts will presume that it was the intention of the legislature to enact a valid, sensible and just law, and one which should change the prior law no further than may be necessary to effectuate the specific purpose of  the act in question. 
  • Presumption Against Unconstitutionality  Laws are presumed constitutional. To justify nullification of law, there must be a clear and unequivocal breach of the constitution.  The theory is that, as the joint act of the legislative and executive authorities, a law is supposed to have been carefully studied and determined to be constitutional before it was finally enacted.  All laws are presumed valid and constitutional until or unless otherwise ruled by the Court.  
  • Presumption Against Injustice ; The law should never be interpreted in such a way as to cause injustice as this never within the legislative intent.  We interpret and apply the law in consonance with justice.  Judges do not and must not unfeelingly apply the law as it is worded, yielding like robots to the literal command without regard to its cause and consequence.  
  • Presumption Against Implied Repeals  The two laws must be absolutely incompatible, and clear finding thereof must surface, before the inference of implied repeal may be drawn.  In the absence of an express repeal, a subsequent law cannot be construed as repealing a prior law unless an irreconcilable inconsistency and repugnancy exists in terms of the new and old laws.  
  • Presumption Against Ineffectiveness:  In the interpretation of a statute, the Court should start with the assumption that the legislature intended to enact an effective statute.  
  • Presumption Against Absurdity:  Statutes must receive a sensible construction such as will give effect to the legislative intention so as to avoid an unjust and absurd conclusion.  Presumption against undesirable consequences were never intended by a legislative measure.  
  • Presumption Against Violation Of International Law  Philippines as democratic and republican state adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land and adheres to the policy of peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation, and amity with all nations. (Art. II, Sec. 2, Phil. Constitution). 

Chapter Vi Intrinsic Aids In Construction And Interpretation Intrinsic Aids  

The term “intrinsic means internal or within. Intrinsic aids, therefore, are those aids within the statute.  Intrinsic aids are resorted to only if there is ambiguity. In resorting to intrinsic aids, one must go back to the parts of the statute: the title, the preamble, context or body, chapter and section headings, punctuation, and interpretation.  If the language of the statute is clear and unequivocal, there is no need to resort to intrinsic aids.  In resorting to intrinsic aids, one must go back to the parts of the statute.  

The Title Of The Law Is A Valuable Intrinsic Aid In Determining Legislative Intent  Text Of The Statute As Intrinsic Aid  Subtitle of the statute as intrinsic aid in determining legislative intent. 

Preamble As Intrinsic Aid  The intent of the law as culled from its preamble and from the situation, circumstances and conditions it sought to remedy, must be enforced.  Preamble used as a guide in determining the intent of the lawmaker.  

Chapter Vii Extrinsic Aids In Construction And Interpretation Extrinsic Aids  

These are existing aids from outside sources, meaning outside of the four corners of the statute. If there is any doubt as to the meaning of the statute, the interpreter must first find that out within the statute.  Extrinsic aids therefore are resorted to after exhausting all the available intrinsic aids and still there remain some ambiguity in the statute.  Extrinsic aids resorted to by the courts are history of the enactment of the statute; opinions and rulings of officials of the government called upon to execute or implement administrative laws; contemporaneous construction by executive officers; actual proceedings of the legislative body; individual statements by members of congress; and the author of the law.  


Chapter Viii Strict And Liberal Construction And Interpretation Of Statutes General Principles  

  • If a statute should be strictly construed, nothing should be included within the scope that does not come clearly within the meaning of the language used.  But the rule of strict construction is not applicable where the meaning of the statute is certain and unambiguous , for under these circumstances, there is no need for construction.  On the other hand, there are many statutes which will be liberally construed. The meaning of the statute may be extended to matters which come within the spirit or reason of the law or within the evils which the law seeks to suppress or correct.  Liberal interpretation or construction of the law or rules, however, applies only in proper cases and under justifiable causes and circumstances. While it is true that litigation is not a game of technicalities, it is equally true that every case must be prosecuted in accordance with the prescribed procedure to ensure an orderly and speedy administration of justice.  
  • Penal Statutes  Penal laws are to be construed strictly against the state and in favor of the accused. Hence, in the interpretation of a penal statute, the tendency is to subject it to careful scrutiny and to construe it with such strictness as to safeguard the right of the accused.  If the statute is ambiguous and admits of two reasonable but contradictory constructions, that which operates in favor of a party accused under its provisions is to be preferred.  Tax Laws  Taxation is a destructive power which interferes with the personal and property rights of the people and takes from them a portion of their property for the support of the government.  Accordingly, in case of doubt, tax statutes must be construed strictly against the government and liberally in favor of the taxpayer, for taxes, being burdens, are not to be presumed beyond what the applicable statute expressly and clearly declares.  Any claim for exemption from a tax statute is strictly construed against the taxpayer and liberally in favor of the state.  
  • Naturalization Law  Naturalization laws should be rigidly enforced and strictly construed in favor of the government and against the applicant.  
  • INSURANCE LAW  Contracts of Insurance are to be construed liberally in favor of the insured and strictly against the insurer. Thus, ambiguity in the words of an insurance contract should be interpreted in favor of its beneficiary.  
  • Labor And Social Legislations  Doubts in the interpretation of Workmen’s Compensation and Labor Code should be resolved in favor of the worker. It should be liberally construed to attain their laudable objective, i.e., to give relief to the workman and/or his dependents in the event that the former should die or sustain an injury.  The sympathy of the law on social security is towards its beneficiaries and the law by its own terms, requires a construction of utmost liberality in their favor.  
  • Retirement laws are liberally interpreted in favor of the retiree because the intention is to provide for the retiree’s sustenance and comfort, when he is no longer capable of earning his livelihood.  
  • Election Rules  Statute providing for election contests are to be liberally construed to the end that the will of the people in the choice of public officer may not be defeated by mere technical objections.  
  • Rules Of Court  Rule of court shall be liberally construed in order to promote their objective of securing a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.  


Chapter Ix Prospective And Retrospective Statutes General Principles  

Prospective statute – is a statute which operates upon acts and transactions which have not occurred when the statute takes effect, that is, which regulates the future.  Retrospective or retroactive law – is one which takes away or impairs vested rights acquired under existing laws, or creates new obligations and imposes new duties, or attaches new disabilities in respect of transactions already past.  A sound canon of statutory construction is that statutes operate prospectively only and never retrospectively, unless the legislative intent to the contrary is made manifest either by the express terms of the statute or by necessary implication.  The Civil Code of the Philippines follows the above rule thus: Laws shall have no retroactive effect, unless the contrary is provided.  Retroactive legislation is looked upon with disfavor, as a general rule and properly so because of its tendency to be unjust and oppressive.  Penal Statutes  Penal statutes as a rule are applied prospectively. Felonies and misdemeanors are punished under the laws in force at the time of their commission. (Art. 366, RPC).  However, as an exception, it can be given retroactive effect if it is favorable to the accused who is not a habitual criminal. (Art. 22, RPC).  

  • Procedural Laws Are Retrospective  Statutes regulating the procedure of the Court will be construed as applicable to actions pending and undermined at the time of their passage. However, Rules of Procedure should not be given retroactive effect if it would result in great injustice and impair substantive right.  Procedural provisions of the Local Government Code are retrospective.  
  • Curative Statutes  They are those which undertake to cure errors and irregularities and administrative proceedings, and which are designed to give effect to contracts and other transactions between private parties which otherwise would fail of producing their intended consequences by reason of some statutory disability or failure to comply with some technical requirement. They are therefore retroactive in their character.  


Chapter X Conflicting Statutes Effect Should Be Given To The Entire Statute  

  • It may happen that in a statute, conflicting clauses and provisions may arise. If such a situation may occur, the statute must be construed as a whole.  Statutes In Pari Materia Statutes that relate to the same subject matter, or to the same class of persons or things, or have the same purpose or object.  Statutes in pari materia are to be construed together; each legislative act is to be interpreted with reference to other acts relating to the same matter or subject.  However, if statutes of equal theoretical application to a particular case cannot be reconciled, the statute of later date must prevail being a later expression of legislative will.  
  • General And Special Statutes  Sometimes we find statutes treating a subject in general terms and another treating a part of the same subject in a particularly detailed manner.  If both statutes are irreconcilable, the general statute must give way to the special or particular provisions as an exception to the general provisions.  This is so even if the general statute is later enacted by the legislature and broad enough to include the cases in special law unless there is manifest intent to repeal or alter the special law.  
  • Statute And Ordinance  If there is conflict between an ordinance and a statute, the ordinance must give way. It is a well-settled rule that a substantive law cannot be amended by a procedural law.  A general law cannot repeal a special law.  In case of conflict between a general provision of a special law and a particular provision of a general law, the latter will prevail.  When there is irreconcilable repugnancy between a proviso and the body of a statute, the former prevails as the latest expression of legislative intent.  The enactment of a later legislation which is general law cannot be construed to have repealed a special law.  A statute is superior to an administrative circular, thus the later cannot repeal or amend it.  Where the instrument is susceptible to two interpretations, one which will make it invalid and illegal and another which will make it valid and legal, the latter interpretation should be adopted.  In case of conflict between an administrative order and the provisions of the Constitutions, the latter prevails.  


Chapter Xi  Construction And Interpretation Of The Constitution  

  • A constitution is a system of fundamental law for the governance and administration of a nation. It is supreme, imperious, absolute, and unalterable except by the authority from which it emanates.  Under the doctrine of constitutional supremacy, if a law or contract violates any norm of the constitution, that law or contract whether promulgated by the legislative, or by the executive branch or entered into by private persons for private purposes is null and void and without any force or effect. 

All Provisions Of The Constitution Are Self-executing; Exceptions

  • Some constitutions are merely declarations of policies. Their provisions command the legislature to enact laws and carry out the purposes of the framers who merely establish an outline of government providing for the different departments of the governmental machinery and securing certain fundamental and inalienable rights of citizens.  Thus a constitutional provision is self-executing if the nature and extent of the right conferred and the liability imposed are fixed by the constitution itself.  Unless it is expressly provided that a legislative act is necessary to enforce a constitutional mandate, the presumption now is that all provisions of the constitution are self-executing.  In case of doubt, the Constitution should be considered self-executing rather than non-self-executing, unless the contrary is clearly intended.  Non-self-executing provisions would give the legislature discretion to determine when, or whether, they shall be effective, subordinated to the will of the law-making body. 
  • Prohibitory Provisions Given Literal And Strict Interpretation : 
    • Guidelines in construction and interpretation of the constitution are stressed:  
      • 1. The Court in construing a Constitution should bear in mind the object sought to be accomplished by its adoption, and the evils, if any, sought to be prevented or remedied.  
      • 2. One provision of the Constitution is to be separated from all the others, to be considered alone, but that all provisions bearing upon a particular subject are to be brought into view and to be interpreted as to effectuate the great purposes of the instrument. 
      • 3. The proper interpretation of the Constitution depends more on how it was understood by the people adopting it than the framer’s understanding thereof.  

The Constitutional Provision On Natural-born Citizens Of The Philippines Given Retroactive Effect  

  • Under THE 1973 Constitution, those born of Filipino fathers and those born of Filipino mothers with an alien father were placed on equal footing. They were both considered as natural-born citizens.  The constitutional provision is curative in nature.  
  • THE CONSTITUTION MUST BE CONSTRUED IN ITS ENTIRETY AS ONE, SINGLE DOCUMENT  LIBERAL CONSTRUCTION OF ONE TITLE OF ONE SUBJECT  – A liberal construction of the “one title-one subject” rule has been invariably adopted by the court so as not to cripple or impede legislation.  The title expresses the general subject and all the provisions are germane to the general subject. 
  • Resignation Of The President Under The 1987 Constituion Is Not Governed By Any Formal Requirement As To Form. It Can Be Oral. It Can Be Written. It Can Be Express. It Can Be Implied.  Special Provision Prevails Over A General One;   Lex specialis derogant generali  SUPREMA LEX  It is time-honored that the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land. It is the law of all laws. Hence, if there is conflict between a statute and the Constitution, the statute shall yield to the Constitution. STARE DECISIS  The rule of precedents.  Judicial decisions applying or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form part of the legal system of the Philippines.  CONCLUSION  The fundamental principle of constitutional construction is to give effect to the intent of the framers of the organic law and of the people adopting it.  

Chapter Xii Recent Cases On Statutory Construction

  • The term “may” is indicative of a mere possibility, an opportunity or an option.  
  • An implied repeal is predicated on a substantial conflict between the new and prior laws. 
  • The abrogation or repeal of a law cannot be assumed; the intention to revoke must be clear and manifest. 
  • When the law speaks in clear and categorical language, there is no occasion for interpretation.  
  • Penal laws must be construed strictly. Such rule is founded on the tenderness of the law for the rights of individuals and on the plain principle that the power of punishment is vested in the Congress, not in the Judicial department.  
  • Where a requirement is made explicit and unambiguous terms, no discretion is left to the judiciary. It must see to it that the mandate is obeyed.  
  • Statutes that are remedial, or that do not create new or take away vested rights, do not fall…