Oil Price Control: Unconstitutional?

On the first week of October, Malacañang issued Proclamation 1898 placing the entire country under a state of calamity. It later issued, on October 24, Executive Order 839 freezing oil prices at October 15 levels, as a means of mitigating the effects of a succession of typhoons that last month devastated parts of Luzon which remain under a state of calamity. The week after, it was asked in our final examination in Constitutional Law 1 whether the act of the President of declaring a state of calamity, issuing the Executive Order and commandeering the Armed Forces of the Philippines to aid in the distribution of relief goods are unconstitutional. It has been a while and I am still bugged by the idea not just because I have doubts with my answer (and of passing the subject) but more importantly because the issue has been of transcendental importance.

The acts of the President are not unconstitutional in so far as commandeering the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The President, as Commander-in Chief, may order the military to aid in the distribution of relief goods since he has control of the military organization and personnel whether in time of peace or in time of war. The President’s broad powers to call out the armed forces is made certain by Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which provides in part that, ‘(t)he President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all Armed Forces of the Philippines x x x.’

The President’s declaration of a state of calamity is also not unconstitutional. Among its legal effects are the Automatic Price Control under R.A. No. 7581, The Price Act; Automatic appropriation under R.A. No. 7160 for unforeseen expenditures arising from the occurrence of calamities in areas declared to be in a state of calamity; the Local government units may enact a supplemental budget for supplies and materials or payment of services to prevent danger to or loss of life or property, under R.A. No. 7160.

But on the trivial part of the question, has the Executive Order met the conditions prescribed in the Constitution for determining the exceptional circumstances that would warrant the Chief Executive’s exercise of emergency powers? Or has President Macapagal-Arroyo, through the Executive Order, ‘unilaterally determined the existence of exceptional circumstances warranting the direction of the oil firms’ in direct contravention of the law?

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