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C. Equal protection of laws

1. Concept

No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. (Section 1, Article III, 1987 Constitution)

a.WHEN  CLASSIFICATION IS ALLOWED

The equal protection of the laws clause of the Constitution allows classification. Classification in law, as in the other departments of knowledge or practice, is the grouping of things in speculation or practice because they agree with one another in certain particulars. A law is not invalid because of simple inequality. The very idea of classification is that of inequality, so that it goes without saying that the mere fact of inequality in no manner determines the matter of constitutionality. All that is required of a valid classification is that it be reasonable, which means that the classification should be based on substantial distinctions which make for real differences, that it must be germane to the purpose of the law; that it must not be limited to existing conditions only; and that it must apply equally to each member of the class. This Court has held that the standard is satisfied if the classification or distinction is based on a reasonable foundation or rational basis and is not palpably arbitrary. (Victoriano v. Elizalde Rope Workers’ Union, G.R. No. L-25246, 12 September 1974)

The fundamental right of equal protection of the laws is not absolute, but is subject to reasonable classification. If the groupings are characterized by substantial distinctions that make real differences, one class may be treated and regulated differently from another. The classification must also be germane to the purpose of the law and must apply to all those belonging to the same class. (Tiu v. CA, En Banc, G.R. No. 127410, 20 January 1999)

The equal protection of the law clause is against undue favor and individual or class privilege, as well as hostile discrimination or the oppression of inequality. It is not intended to prohibit legislation, which is limited either in the object to which it is directed or by territory within which is to operate. It does not demand absolute equality among residents; it merely requires that all persons shall be treated alike, under like circumstances and conditions both as to privileges conferred and liabilities enforced. The equal protection clause is not infringed by legislation which applies only to those persons falling within a specified class, if it applies alike to all persons within such class, and reasonable grounds exists for making a distinction between those who fall within such class and those who do not. (2 Cooley, Constitutional Limitations, 824-825. cited in Ichong v. Hernandez, En Banc, G.R. No. L-7995, 31 May 1957)

2. Requisites for valid classification

To be valid, classification must:

1) Rest on substantial distinctions;

2) Be germane to the purpose of the law;

3) Not be limited to existing conditions only; and,

4) Apply equally to all members of the same class. (Tiu v CA, supra.)

a. SUBSTANTIAL DISTINCTIONS

The fundamental right of equal protection of the laws is not absolute, but is subject to reasonable classification. If the groupings are characterized by substantial distinctions that make real differences, one class may be treated and regulated differently from another. (Tiu v. CA, En Banc, G.R. No. 127410, 20 January 1999)

Equal-protection guarantee does not require territorial uniformity of laws. As long as there are actual and material differences between territories, there is no violation of the constitutional clause. (Ibid.)

Case Law

1) Where Act No. 1639 which provides a prohibition “to buy, receive, have in his possession, or drink any ardent spirits, ale, beer, wine, or intoxicating liquors of any kind, other than the so-called native wines and liquors which the members of such tribes have been accustomed themselves to make prior to the passage of this Act” was challenged, it was held to be valid. The classification rests on real and substantial, not merely imaginary or whimsical, distinctions. It is not based upon “accident of birth or parentage” but upon the degree of civilization and culture. “The term “non-Christian tribes” refers, not to religious belief, but, in a way, to the geographical area, and, more directly, to natives of the Philippine Islands of a low grade of civilization, usually living in tribal relationship apart from settled communities. This distinction is unquestionably reasonable, for the Act was intended to meet the peculiar conditions existing in the non-Christian tribes. The exceptional cases of certain members thereof who at present have reached a position of cultural equality with their Christian brothers, cannot affect the reasonableness of the classification thus established. (People v. Cayat, En Banc, G.R. No. L-45987, 05 May 1939)

2) When R.A. 1180 which nationalized the retail trade business was challenged, it was held to be valid. The practices resorted to by aliens in the control of distribution, as already pointed out above, their secret manipulations of stocks of commodities and prices, their utter disregard of the welfare of their customers and of the ultimate happiness of the people of the nation of which they are mere guests, which practices, manipulations and disregard do not attend the exercise of the trade by the nationals, show the existence of real and actual, positive and fundamental differences between an alien and a national which fully justify the legislative classification adopted in the retail trade measure. These differences are certainly a valid reason for the State to prefer the national over the alien in the retail trade. We would be doing violence to fact and reality were we to hold that no reason or ground for a legitimate distinction can be found between one and the other.

b. GERMANE TO THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW

Case Law

1) That Act No. 1639 is germane to the purposes of law cannot be doubted. It is unquestionably designed to insure peace and order in and among the non-Christian tribes. It has been the sad experience of the past, as the observations of the lower court disclose, that the free use of highly intoxicating liquors by the non-Christian tribes have often resulted in lawlessness and crimes, thereby hampering the efforts of the government to raise their standard of life and civilization. (People v. Cayat, supra.)

 c. NOT LIMITED TO EXISTING CONDITIONS ONLY

Case Law

1) Act No. 1639 is not limited in its application to conditions existing at the time of its enactment. It is intended to apply for all times as long as those conditions exist. The Act was not predicated, as counsel for appellant asserts, upon the assumption that the non-Christians are “impermeable to any civilizing influence.” On the contrary, the Legislature understood that the civilization of a people is a slow process and that hand in hand with it must go measures of protection and security. (People v. Cayat, supra.)

d. APPLY EQUALLY TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE SAME CLASS

A suspect class – refers to a class saddled with such disabilities, or subjected to such a history of purposeful unequal treatment, or relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process. (Zomer Development Company, Inc. v. CA, En Banc, G.R. No. 194461, 07 January 2020)

Case Law

1) Act No. 1639 applies equally to all members of the class is evident from a perusal thereof. That it may be unfair in its operation against a certain number non-Christians by reason of their degree of culture, is not an argument against the equality of its application. (People v. Cayat, supra.)

2) The constitutional rights to equal protection of the law is not violated by an executive order, issued pursuant to law, granting tax and duty incentives only to the bussiness and residents within the “secured area” of the Subic Special Econimic Zone and denying them to those who live within the Zone but outside such “fenced-in” territory. The Constitution does not require absolute equality among residents. It is enough that all persons under like circumstances or conditions are given the same privileges and required to follow the same obligations. In short, a classification based on valid and reasonable standards does not violate the equal protection clause. (Tiu v. CA, En Banc, G.R. No. 127410, 20 January 1999)

3. Levels of scrutiny

The following are the three (3) tests of judicial scrutiny to determine the reasonableness of classifications:

1) The strict scrutiny test;

2) The intermediate scrutiny test; and,

3) The rational basis test. (SPARK v. Quezon City, En Banc, G.R. No. 225442, 08 August 2017)

a. STRICT SCRUTINY TEST

The strict scrutiny test applies when a classification either:

1) Interferes with the exercise of fundamental rights, including the basic liberties guaranteed under the Constitution; or

2) Burdens suspect classes. (Ibid.)

1) Burden on the Government

Under the strict scrutiny test, a legislative classification that interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right or operates to the disadvantage of a suspect class is presumed unconstitutional. Thus, the government has the burden of proving that the classification:

(1) Is necessary to achieve a compelling State interest; and,

2) Is the least restrictive means to protect such interest or the means chosen is narrowly tailored to accomplish the interest. (Ibid.)

a) Compelling state interest

Compelling State interests include constitutionally declared policies. (Ibid.)

The Supreme Court has ruled that children’s welfare and the State’s mandate to protect and care for them as parenspatriae constitute compelling interests to justify regulations by the State. It is akin to the paramount interest of the state for which some individual liberties must give way. (Ibid.)

b) Least restrictive

The second requirement of the strict scrutiny test stems from the fundamental premise that citizens should not be hampered from pursuing legitimate activities in the exercise of their constitutional rights. While rights may be restricted, the restrictions must be minimal or only to the extent necessary to achieve the purpose or to address the State’s compelling interest. When it is possible for governmental regulations to be more narrowly drawn to avoid conflicts with constitutional rights, then they must be so narrowly drawn. (Ibid.)

b. INTERMEDIATE SCRUTINY SCRUTINY TEST

The intermediate scrutiny test applies when a classification does not involve suspect classes or fundamental rights, but requires heightened scrutiny, such as in classifications based on gender and legitimacy. (Ibid.)

If the classification, while not facially invidious, nonetheless gives rise to recurring constitutional difficulties, or if a classification disadvantages a “quasi-suspect class,” it will be treated under intermediate or heightened review. (J. Puno, Dissenting Opinion in Ang Ladlad LGBT Party v. COMELEC, En Banc, G.R. No. 190582, 08 April 2010)

To survive intermediate scrutiny, the law must not only further an important governmental interest and be substantially related to that interest, but the justification for the classification must be genuine and must not depend on broad generalizations. Noteworthy, and of special interest to us in this case, quasi-suspect classes include classifications based on gender or illegitimacy. (Ibid.)

c. RATIONAL BASIS TEST

The rational basis test applies to all other subjects not covered by the first two tests. (SPARK v. Quezon City, supra.)

The Supreme Court has often applied the rational basis test mainly in analysis of equal protection challenges. Using the rational basis examination, laws or ordinances are upheld if they rationally further a legitimate governmental interest. (White Light Corporation v. City of Manila, En Banc, G.R. No. 122846, 20 January 2009)

The rational basis test requires only that there be a legitimate government interest and that there is a reasonable connection between it and the means employed to achieve it. (Zomer Development Company, Inc. v. CA, En Banc, G.R. No. 194461, 07 January 2020)

In the areas of social and economic policy, a statutory classification that neither proceeds along suspect lines nor infringes constitutional rights must be upheld against equal protection challenge if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification. Under the rational basis test, it is sufficient that the legislative classification is rationally related to achieving some legitimate State interest. (British American Tobacco, En Banc, G.R. No. 163583, 15 April 2009)

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