Quo warranto and impeachment | Inquirer Opinion

Quo warranto and impeachment

Most of the legal systems in the world today flowed out of the two main rivers of legal tradition—common law and civil law. The civil law tradition formally started with the first legal codification of the Roman Empire known as “Lex Duodecim Tabulae” or The Twelve Tables. This was followed in 6 A.D. by the “Corpus Juris Civilis” (CJC), or body of civil law, promulgated by Emperor Justinian. The CJC became the template for the codification of civil law that spread in continental Europe after its revival in Italy, where the first law school was established in the University of Bologna. Significant in the civil law tradition is its nonadherence to judicial precedents.

Spanish scholars who studied in Bologna brought home the civil law concept of lawmaking that led to the crafting of the “Codigo de las Siete Partidas.” Spain introduced the civil law system to the Philippines. Our current Civil Code is a scion of the Spanish Civil Code of 1899 which superseded the Codigo de las Siete Partidas. Spanish civil law prevailed in the Philippines for four centuries.

The common law tradition started in England in the 11th century after the Duke of Normandy, William I, defeated his cousin, King Harold II, in the Battle of Hastings of 1066. The victorious William the Conqueror proclaimed himself the fountainhead of justice, and declared that all lands within the realm belonged to the crown. He roamed the realm to account his acquisitions, and to dispense justice to those who breached the king’s peace.


The king consulted elders, and applied customary law as understood by the king, and the royal interpretation became the law common to the realm, or the common law. This was the beginning of the development of adherence to jurisprudence, or case law. As the royal duty of dispensing justice grew, the king’s bench and the king’s chancery were created. In dispensing justice, the king’s judges formed the writ system based on the precept “there is no right where there is no writ.”


The common law legal tradition bequeathed the world legal systems with five writs: habeas corpus, certiorari, mandamus, prohibition, and quo warranto. The last writ—literally, “by what warrant”—is a remedy that tests the qualification of an office holder, or the de jure entitlement to the position. It is also used to challenge the legality of a corporation.

Impeachment is also a legacy of the British common law system begun in the 14th century. It is a remedy to exact accountability from the king’s ministers for their conduct while in office.

When the Americans took over the Philippines from the Spaniards under the Treaty of Paris of 1898, they introduced the common law system of procedure, but retained the Spanish Civil Code and the “Codigo Penal.” The latter was replaced in 1932 by the current penal code. The development of Philippine jurisprudence began only in the early 1900s through the rulings of the US Supreme Court. The Philippine legal system is thus influenced by both the civil law and common law traditions.

Impeachment was articulated in the 1935 Constitution, while quo warranto was codified into the Rules of Court—as with the other four writs — pursuant to the rule-making power of the Supreme Court conferred by the constitution. Both remedies, therefore, are constitutional processes.

Quo warranto tests the qualification of an official based on a cause existing at the time of the issuance of the appointment, while impeachment exacts accountability for an act done by an official during tenure. The grounds for each remedy are therefore mutually exclusive. In other words, the grounds for quo warranto cannot be subject of an impeachment, and vice versa.

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Frank E. Lobrigo practiced law for 20 years. He is a law lecturer and JSD student at San Beda College Graduate School of Law in Manila.

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TAGS: Frank E. Lobrigo, impeachment, Inquirer Commentary, quo warranto petition

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