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B. Retroactivity of laws


Laws shall have no retroactive effect, unless the contrary is provided. (Art. 4, Civil Code)

Article 4 of the Civil Code enunciates the rule on non-retroactivity of laws” (Philippine International Trading Corporation v. COA, G.R. No. 205837, 21 November 2017)

In most states of the American Union the rule prevails that a statute of limitations of criminal actions is on a parity with a similar statute for civil actions and has no retroactive effect unless the statute itself expressly so provides, and practically all of the authorities cited in support of the theory that such is also the rule here, are upon that point. As from our point of view the rule stated does not obtain in the Philippine Islands, these authorities have, in our opinion, no bearing whatever upon the question here at issue and we shall therefore devote neither time nor space to their further discussion. (People v. Parel, G.R. No. L-18260, 27 January 1923)

It is binding rule, conformably with Article 4 of the Civil Code, that, generally, laws shall have only a prospective effect and must not be applied retroactively in such a way as to apply to pending disputes and cases. This is expressed in the familiar legal maxim lex prospicit, non respicit (the law looks forward and not backward). The rationale against retroactivity is easy to perceive: the retroactive application of a law usually divests rights that have already become vested or impairs the obligations of contract and, hence, is unconstitutional. Although the rule admits of certain well-defined exceptions such as, for instance, where the law itself expressly provides for retroactivity. (PNB v. Tejano, G.R. No. 173615, 16 October 2009)

a. Principle of prospectivity of statutes

The principle of prospectivity of statutes, original or amendatory, has been applied in many cases. These include: Buyco v. PNB (1961), holding that Republic Act No. 1576 which divested the Philippine National Bank of authority to accept back pay certificates in payment of loans, does not apply to an offer of payment made before effectivity of the act;  (1962), ruling that RA 2613, as amended by RA 3090 on June, 1961, granting to inferior courts jurisdiction over guardianship cases, could not be given retroactive effect, in the absence of a saving clause; Larga v. Ranada, Jr., to the effect that Sections 9 and 10 of Executive Order No. 90, amending Section 4 of PD 1752, could have no retroactive application; People v. Que Po Lay , holding that a person cannot be convicted of violating Circular No. 20 of the Central, when the alleged violation occurred before publication of the Circular in the Official Gazette; Baltazar v. C.A, denying retroactive application to P.D. No. 27 decreeing the emancipation of tenants from the bondage of the soil, and P.D. No. 316 prohibiting ejectment of tenants from rice and corn farmholdings, pending the promulgation of rules and regulations implementing P.D. No. 27; Nilo v. Court of Appeals, adjudging that RA 6389 which removed “personal cultivation” as a ground for the ejectment of a tenant cannot be given retroactive effect in the absence of a statutory statement for retroactivity; Tac-An v. CA, ruling that the repeal of the old Administrative Code by RA 4252 could not be accorded retroactive effect; Ballardo v. Borromeo, holding that RA 6389 should have only prospective application. (Co v. CA, People, G.R. No. 100776, 28 October 1993)

1) Extends to administrative rulings and circulars

The prospectivity principle has also been made to apply to administrative rulings and circulars, to wit: ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation v. CTA (1981), holding that a circular or ruling of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue may not be given retroactive effect adversely to a taxpayer: Sanchez v. COMELEC, ruling that Resolution No. 90-0590 of the Commission on Elections, which directed the holding of recall proceedings, had no retroactive application; Romualdez v. CSC, where it was ruled that CSC Memorandum Circular No. 29, s. 1989 cannot be given retrospective effect so as to entitle to permanent appointment an employee whose temporary appointment had expired before the Circular was issued. (Co v. CA, People, supra.)

2) Extends to judicial decisions

The principle of prospectivity has also been applied to judicial decisions which, although in themselves not laws, are nevertheless evidence of what the laws mean; this being the reason why under Article 8 of the New Civil Code, “Judicial decisions applying or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system”. (Co v. CA, People, supra.)

A judicial interpretation becomes a part of the law as of the date that law was originally passed, subject only to the qualification that when a doctrine of this Court is overruled and a different view is adopted, and more so when there is a reversal thereof, the new doctrine should be applied prospectively and should not apply to parties who relied on the old doctrine and acted in good faith. To hold otherwise would be to deprive the law of its quality of fairness and justice then, if there is no recognition of what had transpired prior to such adjudication. (Columbia Pictures, Inc. v. CA, Sunshine Home Video, En Banc, G.R. No. 110318, 28 August 1996)

The interpretation upon a law by this Court constitutes, in a way, a part of the law as of the date that law was originally passed, since this Court’s construction merely establishes the contemporaneous legislative intent that the law thus construed intends to effectuate. The settled rule supported by numerous authorities is a restatement of the legal maxim “legis interpretation legis vim obtinet” — the interpretation placed upon the written law by a competent court has the force of law. The doctrine laid down in Lucero and Macarandang was part of the jurisprudence, hence, of the law, of the land, at the time appellant was found in possession of the firearm in question and where he was arraigned by the trial court. It is true that the doctrine was overruled in the Mapa case in 1967, but when a doctrine of this Court is overruled and a different view is adopted, the new doctrine should be applied prospectively, and should not apply to parties who had relied on, the old doctrine and acted on the faith thereof. This is especially true in the construction and application of criminal laws, where it is necessary that the punishment of an act be reasonably foreseen for the guidance of society. (People v. Jabinal, G.R. No. L-30061, 27 February 1974)

b. Exceptions: provided by law, procedural, or curative in nature

As a rule, all laws are prospective in application unless the contrary is expressly provided, or unless the law is procedural or curative in nature. (Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Ltd. v. Surio, G.R. No. 154213, 23 August 2012)

The rule on non-retroactivity of laws admits of certain well-defined exceptions such as, for instance, where the law itself expressly provides for retroactivity. (PNB v. Tejano, G.R. No. 173615, 16 October 2009)

c. Exception to exception: Jurisdiction

Jurisdiction is conferred by no other source than law. Once jurisdiction is acquired, it continues until the case is finally terminated. (PNB v. Tejano, supra.)

Where a court has already obtained and is exercising jurisdiction over a controversy, its jurisdiction to proceed to the final determination of the cause is not affected by new legislation placing jurisdiction over such proceedings in another tribunal. The exception to the rule is where the statute expressly provides, or is construed to the effect that it is intended to operate as to actions pending before its enactment. Where a statute changing the jurisdiction of a court has no retroactive effect, it cannot be applied to a case that was pending prior to the enactment of the statute. (PNB v. Tejano, supra.)


A law is procedural when it refers to the adjective law which prescribes rules and forms of procedure in order that courts may be able to administer justice. Procedural laws do not come within the legal conception of a retroactive law, or the general rule against the retroactive operation of statues ― they may be given retroactive effect on actions pending and undetermined at the time of their passage and this will not violate any right of a person who may feel that he is adversely affected, insomuch as there are no vested rights in rules of procedure. (Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Ltd. v. Surio, citing De Los Santos v. Vda. De Mangubat, G.R. No. 149508, 10 October 2007)

a. General rule: Rules of procedure can be given retroactive effect. (Tan v. CA, G.R. No. 136368, 16 January 2002)

b. Exception: When a party complied with previous procedure and the new procedure would result in great injustice

Section 1, Rule 39 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Procedure should not be given retroactive effect in this case as it would result in great injustice to the petitioner. Undoubtedly, petitioner has the right to redeem the subject lot and this right is a substantive right. Petitioner followed the procedural rule then existing as well as the decisions of this Court governing the reckoning date of the period of redemption when he redeemed the subject lot. Unfortunately for petitioner, the rule was changed by the 1997 Revised Rules of Procedure which if applied retroactively would result in his losing the right to redeem the subject lot. It is difficult to reconcile the retroactive application of this procedural rule with the rule of fairness. Petitioner cannot be penalized with the loss of the subject lot when he faithfully followed the laws and the rule on the period of redemption when he made the redemption. (Tan v. CA, G.R. No. 136368, 16 January 2002)


a. Retroactive if favorable to accused

Penal Laws shall have a retroactive effect insofar as they favor the persons guilty of a felony, who is not a habitual criminal, as this term is defined in Rule 5 of Article 62 of this Code, although at the time of the publication of such laws a final sentence has been pronounced and the convict is serving the same. (Article 22, Revised Penal Code)

For a long period it has been the settled doctrine in countries whose criminal laws are based on the Latin system that such laws are retroactive in so far as they favor the accused.  (People v. Parel, supra.)

Whenever a new statute dealing with crimes establishes conditions more lenient or favorable to the accused in regard to a certain offense, the statute becomes retroactive as to the offense and the accused must receive the benefit of the new conditions no matter whether the offense was committed before or after the enactment of the new statute. (People v. Parel, supra.)

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