Co Kim Chan v Valdez Tan Keh
Facts of the case: Co Kim Chan had a pending civil case, initiated during the Japanese occupation, with the Court of First Instance of Manila. After the Liberation of the Manila and the American occupation, Judge Arsenio Dizon refused to continue hearings on the case, saying that a proclamation issued by General Douglas MacArthur had invalidated and nullified all judicial proceedings and judgments of the courts of the Philippines and, without an enabling law, lower courts have no jurisdiction to take cognizance of and continue judicial proceedings pending in the courts of the defunct Republic of the Philippines (the Philippine government under the Japanese).
The court resolved three issues:
1. Whether or not judicial proceedings and decisions made during the Japanese occupation were valid and remained valid even after the American occupation;
2. Whether or not the October 23, 1944 proclamation MacArthur issued in which he declared that “all laws, regulations and processes of any other government in the Philippines than that of the said Commonwealth are null and void and without legal effect in areas of the Philippines free of enemy occupation and control” invalidated all judgments and judicial acts and proceedings of the courts;
3. And whether or not if they were not invalidated by MacArthur’s proclamation, those courts could continue hearing the cases pending before them.
Ratio: Political and international law recognizes that all acts and proceedings of a de facto government are good and valid. The Philippine Executive Commission and the Republic of the Philippines under the Japanese occupation may be considered de facto governments, supported by the military force and deriving their authority from the laws of war.
Municipal laws and private laws, however, usually remain in force unless suspended or changed by the conqueror. Civil obedience is expected even during war, for “the existence of a state of insurrection and war did not loosen the bonds of society, or do away with civil government or the regular administration of the laws. And if they were not valid, then it would not have been necessary for MacArthur to come out with a proclamation abrogating them.
The second question, the court said, hinges on the interpretation of the phrase “processes of any other government” and whether or not he intended it to annul all other judgments and judicial proceedings of courts during the Japanese military occupation.
IF, according to international law, non-political judgments and judicial proceedings of de facto governments are valid and remain valid even after the occupied territory has been liberated, then it could not have been MacArthur’s intention to refer to judicial processes, which would be in violation of international law.
A well-known rule of statutory construction is: “A statute ought never to be construed to violate the law of nations if any other possible construction remains.”
Another is that “where great inconvenience will result from a particular construction, or great mischief done, such construction is to be avoided, or the court ought to presume that such construction was not intended by the makers of the law, unless required by clear and unequivocal words.”
Annulling judgments of courts made during the Japanese occupation would clog the dockets and violate international law, therefore what MacArthur said should not be construed to mean that judicial proceedings are included in the phrase “processes of any other governments.”
In the case of US vs Reiter, the court said that if such laws and institutions are continued in use by the occupant, they become his and derive their force from him. The laws and courts of the Philippines did not become, by being continued as required by the law of nations, laws and courts of Japan.
It is a legal maxim that, excepting of a political nature, “law once established continues until changed by some competent legislative power. IT IS NOT CHANGED MERELY BY CHANGE OF SOVEREIGNTY.” Until, of course, the new sovereign by legislative act creates a change.
Therefore, even assuming that Japan legally acquired sovereignty over the Philippines, and the laws and courts of the Philippines had become courts of Japan, as the said courts and laws creating and conferring jurisdiction upon them have continued in force until now, it follows that the same courts may continue exercising the same jurisdiction over cases pending therein before the restoration of the Commonwealth Government, until abolished or the laws creating and conferring jurisdiction upon them are repealed by the said government.
DECISION: Writ of mandamus issued to the judge of the Court of First Instance of Manila, ordering him to take cognizance of and continue to final judgment the proceedings in civil case no. 3012.
Summary of ratio:
1. International law says the acts of a de facto government are valid and civil laws continue even during occupation unless repealed.
2. MacArthur annulled proceedings of other governments, but this cannot be applied on judicial proceedings because such a construction would violate the law of nations.
3. Since the laws remain valid, the court must continue hearing the case pending before it.
***3 kinds of de facto government: one established through rebellion (govt gets possession and control through force or the voice of the majority and maintains itself against the will of the rightful government)
through occupation (established and maintained by military forces who invade and occupy a territory of the enemy in the course of war; denoted as a government of paramount force)
through insurrection (established as an independent government by the inhabitants of a country who rise in insurrection against the parent state)