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Sobrejuanite-Flores vs. Pilando, Jr., GR No. 251816, November 23, 2021

SC Upholds Validity of Sec. 16(c) of the Rules Implementing the Philippine Psychology Act

From Supreme Court Media Release:

Underscoring the importance of the well-being and mental health of the Filipino people, the Supreme Court has upheld the interference of the State in the practice of psychology.

“Psychology involves the application of scientific methods to inquire into the biological, cognitive, affective, developmental, personality, social, cultural, and individual difference dimensions of human behavior. No one can deny that the competent practice of psychology is a legitimate objective of governmental effort and regulation,” emphasized the Court, as it unanimously declared not unconstitutional the provisions of Section 16(c) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10029, or the Philippine Psychology Act of 2009.

The assailed provision granted a period for practitioners to register as psychologists without examination and crafted sufficient standards on who may avail the exemption measured in terms of educational attainment and work experience. Specifically, the law provides that applicants who have Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology may be registered without examination if they accumulated a “minimum of ten (10) years of work experience in the practice of psychology as a psychology” and “updated their professional education in various psychology-related functions.”

“We find no constitutional violation to pronounce void Section 16(c) of the IRR of RA No. 10029. Every administrative regulation has the force of law and has in its favor the presumption of validity. The regulation may be nullified only upon clear and unequivocal constitutional breach and not one that is speculative or argumentative,” said the Court in its Decision penned by Justice Mario V. Lopez.

The case stemmed from the petition for review certiorari filed by Florentina Caoyong Sobrejuanite-Flores assailing the May 21, 2019 Decision of the Court of Appeals, which upheld the validity of the administrative regulation and  affirmed the factual findings of the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) and the Board of Psychology (BOP) that petitioner Florentina was not qualified to avail the exemption, or to register with as psychologist without examination pursuant to the assailed Section 16(c) provisions.

The IRR of RA No. 10029, approved on November 28, 2012, provides a window period for registration without examination for psychologists within three years after the creation of the BOP, or until May 21, 2015.

On May 7, 2015, Florentina applied for registration as a psychologist without examination but the BOP rejected her application on the ground that she had insufficient work experience and had not updated her professional education. Aggrieved, Florentina appealed to the PRC, which also denied her appeal for her failure to substantiate her claim that she worked as a psychologist for a minimum accumulated period of 10 years and for her failure to update her professional education. She elevated her case to the CA, but her appeal was also denied.

In the case at bar, the Supreme Court stressed that Florentina is not assailing the propriety of the Section 16 of RA No. 10029 on registration without examination but only the validity of Section 16(c) of its IRR.

The Court held that RA No. 10029 satisfied the completeness test and standard test which renders valid the delegation of legislative powers.

The Court noted that the completion of at least 100 hours of updating workshops and training programs under Section 16(c) of the IRR of RA No. 10029 can hardly be considered oppressive, as argued by Florentina. It stressed that “[t]he practice of psychology inherently entails the employment of current and effective approaches well-adaptive to the dynamic, evolving, and complex facts of human behavior. To consider the required updating workshops and training programs as onerous would condone a lackluster desire of the part of psychologists to harness their craft and develop their expertise.”

The Court added that the assailed proviso “is not in conflict with the equal protection clause which simply provides that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated in a similar manner, both as to rights conferred and responsibilities imposed.

Furthermore, the Court held that the same “emanates from the valid exercise of police power to prescribe regulations that may interfere with personal liberty or property to promote the general welfare of the people.”

Aside from not finding any constitutional violation, the Court agreed with the CA, the PRC, and the BOP that petitioner Florentina is not qualified to avail of the exemption. It noted that Florentina’s claim that she worked since 1980 as a school psychologist, counselling psychologist, industrial psychologist, and migrant psychologist was unsubstantiated.

Records revealed that Florentina started working as a psychologist only in March 2004 or for a period of six years and two months from the effectivity of the law on June 2, 2010. Hence, she was not qualified to avail of the exemption as stated in the assailed Section 16(c).

Justice Marvic M.V. F. Leonen wrote a separate concurring opinion.

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