Equal Protection Clause
Q — Petitioner served in the AFP for 32 years. He retired in 1982. At the time of his retirement, PD 1638 was already existing. It provides that if a retired AFP member loses his citizenship, then, he will not continue to receive his pension and shall be removed from the retired list. He went to Hawaii and became an American citizen, hence, the AFP removed him from the list and stopped his pension. He questioned the validity of the law, contending that it is unconstitutional because the obligation imposed on him to retain Filipino citizenship as a condition for his continued entitlement to retirement benefit violates the equal protection and due process clause of the Constitution. He argued that the retirement law is in the nature of a contract between the government and its employees and that said PD discriminates against AFP retirees who have changed their nationality. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) agreed with him. Were they correct? Why?
ANS: No. The constitutional right to equal protection of the laws is not absolute but is subject to reasonable classification. To be reasonable, the classification (a) must be based on substantial distinctions which make for real differences; (b) must be germane to the purpose of the law; (c) must not be limited to existing conditions only; and (d) must apply equally to each member of the class.
There is compliance with all these conditions. There is substantial difference between retirees who are citizens of the Philippines and retirees who lost their Filipino citizenship by naturalization in another country. The constitutional right of the State to require all citizens to render personal and military service necessarily includes not only private citizens but also citizens who have retired from military service. A retiree who had lost his Filipino citizenship already renounced his allegiance to the State. Thus, he may no longer be compelled by the State to render compulsory military service when the need arises. His loss of Filipino citizenship constitutes a substantial distinction that differentiates him from other retirees who retain their Filipino citizenship. If the groupings are characterized by substantial distinctions that make real differences, one class may be treated and regulated differently from another.
R.A. 7077 affirmed the constitutional right of the State to a Citizen Armed Forces. Section 11 of said RA provides that citizen soldiers or reservists include ex-servicemen and retired officers of the AFP. Hence even a retiree is still part of the Citizen Armed Forces. Thus the requirement imposed by Section 27 of PD 1638 is not oppressive, discriminatory, or contrary to public policy. The State has the right to impose a reasonable condition necessary for national defense. To rule otherwise would be detrimental to the interest of the State.
There is also no denial of due process in this case. When he lost his Filipino citizenship, the AFP had no choice but to stop his monthly pension in accordance with Section 27, PD 1638. He had the opportunity to contest the termination when he requested for reconsideration before the JAGO who denied his request. (Parreño v. COA and AFP Chief, G.R. No. 16224, June 7, 2007).
Under a recent law (RA 9225), Francisco can reacquire Filipino citizenship in which case he will be entitled to received his monthly pension since he will again be entitled to the benefits and privileges of Filipino citizenship reckoned from the time of his reacquisition (Parreno v. Commission on Audit and AFP Chief, G.R. No. 162224, June 7, 2007).