February 2012 Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected February 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law.

Constitutional Law

Autonomous Region; plebiscite requirement. Section 18, Article X of the Constitution provides that “the creation of the autonomous region shall be effective when approved by majority of the votes cast by the constituent units in a plebiscite called for the purpose.”  The Supreme Court interpreted this to mean that only amendments to, or revisions of, the Organic Act constitutionally-essential to the creation of autonomous regions – i.e., those aspects specifically mentioned in the Constitution which Congress must provide for in the Organic Act– require ratification through a plebiscite.   While it agrees with the petitioners’ underlying premise that sovereignty ultimately resides with the people, it disagrees that this legal reality necessitates compliance with the plebiscite requirement for all amendments to RA No. 9054. For if we were to go by the petitioners’ interpretation of Section 18, Article X of the Constitution that all amendments to the Organic Act have to undergo the plebiscite requirement before becoming effective, this would lead to impractical and illogical results – hampering the ARMM’s progress by impeding Congress from enacting laws that timely address problems as they arise in the region, as well as weighing down the ARMM government with the costs that unavoidably follow the holding of a plebiscite. Also, Sec. 3 of R.A. No. 10153 cannot be seen as changing the basic structure of the ARMM regional government. On the contrary, this provision clearly preserves the basic structure of the ARMM regional government when it recognizes the offices of the ARMM regional government and directs the OICs who shall temporarily assume these offices to “perform the functions pertaining to the said offices.” Datu Michael Abas Kida, etc., et al. vs. Senate of the Phil., etc., et al./Basari D. Mapupuno vs. Sixto Brillantes, etc., et al./Rep. Edcel C. Lagman vs. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., etc., et al./Almarin Centi Tillah, et al. vs. The Commission on Elections, etc., et al./Atty. Romulo B. Macalintal vs. Commission on Elections, et al./Luis “Barok” Biraogo, G.R. No. 196271, February 28, 2012.

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Dissension in the Court: October 2010

The following are decisions promulgated by the High Court in October 2010 where at least one Justice felt compelled to express his or her dissent from the decision penned by the ponente.

When is a case really final?  When can the High Court review a lower tribunal’s findings of fact? To some extent, each of the cases cited below deal with a long-standing rule and its’ exceptions that are, at the end of the day, really very broad.  The wide expanse of these exceptions is a fertile ground upon which Justices may disagree.  So with this background, and in the wake of the forthcoming Pacquiao-Margarito bout, it is timely to once again declare, “Let’s get ready to rumble!

1.            Interest and Immutability (Brion v. Bersamin)

The decision and dissent in the case of Apo Fruits Corporation and Hijo Plantation, Inc. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines promulgated on October 12, 2010 essentially involved a divergence of positions on: (a) the conditions in which a 12% legal interest may be imposed in the payment of just compensation, and (b) the principle of immutability of judgments.

A.   Legal Interest

In the main decision, Justice Arturo D. Brion ruled that the obligation of the State to make just compensation payments effectively constitutes a forbearance on the part of Government upon which interest should become due.

According to the ponente, “[a]part from the requirement that compensation for expropriated land must be fair and reasonable, compensation, to be ‘just,’ must also be made without delay. Without prompt payment, compensation cannot be considered ‘just’ if the property is immediately taken as the property owner suffers the immediate deprivation of both his land and its fruits or income.”

Justice Brion added: “[t]his is the principle at the core of the present case where the petitioners were made to wait for more than a decade after the taking of their property before they actually received the full amount of the principal of the just compensation due them. What they have not received to date is the income of their landholdings corresponding to what they would have received had no uncompensated taking of these lands been immediately made. This income, in terms of the interest on the unpaid principal, is the subject of the current litigation.”

Accordingly, Justice Brion finds that in the instant case, when the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) took the petitioners’ lands without the corresponding full payment, LBP became liable for the income the landholdings would have earned had they not immediately been taken from Apo Fruits Corporation and Hijo Plantation, Inc. (the “Petitioners”).

For the majority then, in just compensation cases, the unpaid amount of just compensation should earn interest at the legal rate of 12% per annum from the date the properties are taken up to the time of full payment.

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July 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected July 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law:

Agrarian reform; coverage.  Lands that are not directly, actually and exclusively used for pasture nor devoted to commercial livestock raising are not excluded from the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.  A.Z. Arnaiz Realty, Inc. vs. Office of the President. G.R. No. 170623, July 7, 2010.

Certificate of candidacy; residency requirement.  The Omnibus Election Code provides that a certificate of candidacy may be denied due course or cancelled if there is any false representation of a material fact.  The critical material facts are those that refer to a candidate’s qualifications for elective office, such as his or her citizenship and residence.  The false representation must be a deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact that would otherwise render a candidate ineligible. Given the purpose of the requirement, it must be made with the intention to deceive the electorate as to the would-be candidate’s qualifications for public office.  Thus, the misrepresentation cannot be the result of a mere innocuous mistake, and cannot exist in a situation where the intent to deceive is patently absent, or where no deception on the electorate results. The foregoing are the legal standards by which the COMELEC must act on a petition to deny due course or to cancel a certificate of candidacy.  Thus, in considering the residency of a candidate as stated in the certificate of candidacy, the COMELEC must determine whether or not the candidate deliberately attempted to mislead, misinform or hide a fact about his or her residency that would otherwise render him or her ineligible for the position sought.  The COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in this case when, in considering the residency issue, it based its decision solely on very personal and subjective assessment standards, such as the nature or design and furnishings of the dwelling place in relation to the stature of the candidate.  Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra vs. Commission on Elections, et al. G.R. No. 191938, July 2, 2010.

Citizenship; election and constructive registration. The statutory formalities of electing Philippine citizenship are the following: (1) a statement of election under oath; (2) an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and Government of the Philippines; and (3) registration of the statement of election and of the oath with the nearest civil registry.  Here, petitioners complied with the first and second requirements upon reaching the age of majority.  However, registration of the documents of election with the civil registry was done belatedly.  Under the facts peculiar to the petitioners, the right to elect Philippine citizenship has not been lost and they should be allowed to complete the statutory requirements for such election.  Their exercise of suffrage, being elected to public office, continuous and uninterrupted stay in the Philippines, and other similar acts showing exercise of Philippine citizenship do not on their own take the place of election of citizenship.  But where, as here, the election of citizenship has in fact been done and documented within the constitutional and statutory timeframe, registration of the documents of election beyond the timeframe should be allowed if in the meanwhile positive acts of citizenship have been done publicly, consistently and continuously.  These acts constitute constructive registration.  In other words, the actual exercise of Philippine citizenship for over half a century by the petitioners is actual notice to the Philippine public, which is equivalent to formal registration of the election of Philippine citizenship.  It is not the registration of the act of election, although a valid requirement under Commonwealth Act No. 625, that will confer Philippine citizenship on the petitioners.  It is only a means of confirming the fact that citizenship has been claimed.  Having a Filipino mother is permanent.  It is the basis of the right of the petitioners to elect Philippine citizenship.  Petitioners elected Philippine citizenship in form and substance.  The failure to register the election in the civil registry should not defeat that election and negate the permanent fact that petitioners have a Filipino mother.  The lacking requirements may still be complied with subject to the imposition of appropriate administrative penalties, if any.  The documents petitioners submitted supporting their allegations that they have registered with the civil registry, although belatedly, should be examined for validation purposes by the appropriate agency, in this case the Bureau of Immigration.  Other requirements embodied in the administrative orders and other issuances of the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Justice must be complied with within a reasonable time.  Balgamelo Cabiling Ma, et al. vs. Commissioner Alipio F. Fernandez, Jr., et al. G.R. No. 183133, July 26, 2010.

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Dissension in the Court: July 2010

The following are selected decisions promulgated by the High Court in July 2010 where at least one Justice felt compelled to express his or her dissent from the decision penned by the ponente.  Coincidentally, the cases discussed below each involve subject matters that have been proven to induce perilous narcotic effects: illegal drugs and local elections.

1. Unbroken Chain of Custody (Abad vs. Villarama)

In People of the Philippines vs. Noel Catentay, Justice Roberto Abad noted that in a case of illegal sale of dangerous drugs it is essential to prove (1) the identities of the buyer and the seller; (2) the sale of dangerous drugs, and (3) the existence of the corpus delicti (i.e., the illicit drug) as evidence.  In connection with the last requirement, it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the integrity of the corpus delicti by establishing the chain of custody of the alleged illegal substance that the police officers seized from the accused.  In other words, apart from the existence of an accused (who may or may not have integrity), the prosecution has to establish the integrity of the seized article; that it had been preserved from the time the same was seized to the time it was presented in evidence at the trial.

Justice Abad conceded that the prosecution in this case established through the arresting officer’s testimonial evidence that the he seized two sachets of white crystalline substances from Catentay, marked them with his initials, heat-sealed the sachets and placed his initials on them. However, because the prosecution did not present the forensic chemist who opened the sachets and examined the substances in them, the chemist was unable to attest to the fact that the substances presented in court were the same substances he found positive for shabu.

The main decision acknowledged that among the stipulations agreed to at the pre-trial were that the heat-sealed marked sachets were received by the forensic chemist who concluded that the contents tested positive for drugs.  However, there was no stipulation or evidence to show that the forensic chemist properly closed and resealed the plastic sachets with adhesive and placed his own markings on the resealed plastic to preserve the integrity of their contents until they were brought to court.  Instead, the plastic sachets presented at the pre-trial did not bear the forensic chemist’s seal and was brought from the crime laboratory by someone who did not care to testify how he came to be in possession of the same.  Accordingly, the evidence did not establish the unbroken chain of custody.  Catentay acquitted.

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May 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected May 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law:

Agrarian reform; coverage.  Lands acquired by the National Housing Authority for resettlement purposes or housing development are exempt from the coverage of agrarian reform laws.  Such acquisition converts the land by operation of law from agricultural to residential.  The National Housing Authority is not bound to pay disturbance compensation to any tenant in possession of the purchased land. National Housing Authority vs. Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, et al., G.R. No. 175200, May 4, 2010.

Agrarian reform; just compensation.  In computing just compensation for rice lands tenanted as of October 21, 1972, the grant of 6% yearly interest under DAR Administrative Order No. 13, Series of 1994, as amended, must be reckoned from October 21, 1972 up to the time of actual payment of the compensation, and not only up to the time the Land Bank of the Philippines approves payment of the compensation and deposits the amount in the name of the landowner, considering that release of such deposit is still subject to compliance with documentary requirements.  The concept of just compensation embraces not only the correct determination of the amount to be paid to the owner of the land, but also payment within a reasonable time from its taking.  Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Domingo and Mamerto Soriano, G.R. No. 180772 & G.R. No. 180776, May 6, 2010.

Commission on Elections; registration of party coalition.  Comelec may not, through a resolution setting the deadline for registration of political parties, differentiate between political parties, on the one hand, and political organizations and coalitions, on the other.  There is no substantial distinction among these entities germane to the act of registration that would justify creating distinctions among them in terms of deadlines.  Thus, Comelec Resolution No. 8646, dated July 14, 2009, which sets August 17, 2009 as the deadline for filing petitions for registration of political parties, without mentioning political organizations and coalitions, should be understood as covering the latter entities as well.  A petition for registration as a political coalition filed beyond that deadline is time-barred, and the Comelec resolution granting that petition constitutes grave abuse of discretion.

Political coalitions, even if composed of registered political parties, need to register separately in accordance with established norms and procedures, if they are to be recognized as such and be given the benefits accorded by law to registered coalitions. Registered political parties carry a different legal personality from that of the coalition they may wish to establish with other registered parties.  If parties want to coalesce with one another without the formal registration of their coalition, they can do so on their own in the exercise of their and their members’ democratic freedom of choice, but they cannot receive official recognition for their coalition.  Liberal Party, etc. et al. vs. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. No. 191771, May 6, 2010.

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Dissension in the Court: May 2010

The following are selected decisions promulgated by the High Court in May 2010 where at least one Justice felt compelled to express his or her dissent from the decision penned by the ponente.  In two out of the three decisions featured here, we see our new Chief Justice Renato C. Corona parting ways with the majority on certain aspects of the main decision.

1.              Primary Jurisdiction of the Comelec En Banc (Brion vs. Corona)

Liberal Party vs. Commission on Elections is a case that involves the registration of political coalitions, the grant of accreditation to the dominant parties and validity of the Comelec en banc’s authority to act on the registration of political party coalitions.

Briefly, the Nationalista Party (NP) and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) filed a single petition with the Comelec for the registration of their coalition (the ”NP-NPC Coalition”) and the accreditation of the NP-NPC Coalition as the dominant minority party for purposes of the May 10, 2010 elections. The Liberal Party, who was also seeking accreditation as dominant minority party, objected to this petition.

Instead of passing the petition first through a Comelec division, the Comelec en banc directly assumed jurisdiction of the NP-NPC Coalition’s petition and eventually decided to grant NP-NPC Coalition’s petition for registration as a political party coalition.

In justifying its direct assumption of jurisdiction (as opposed to having the petition first be heard by division), the Comelec cited a February 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Baytan vs. COMELEC in which it was held that the registration of coalitions involves the exercise of the Comelec’s administrative powers and not its quasi-judicial powers; hence, the Comelec en banc can directly act on it. Baytan further held that there is no constitutional requirement that a petition for registration of a coalition should be decided first by a division. In Baytan, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution merely vests the Comelec’s administrative powers in the “Commission on Elections,” while providing that the Comelec “may sit en banc or in two divisions.” Thus, asserted the Comelec, the Comelec en banc can act directly on matters falling within its administrative powers.

Speaking for the majority, on the matter of the Comelec en banc’s direct assumption of jurisdiction, Justice Arturo D. Brion appears to have upheld the view espoused by one of the dissenting Comelec Commissioners — Commissioner Rene Sarmiento — that the Comelec sitting en banc had no jurisdiction over the NP-NPC Coalition’s petition for registration as a political party coalition and accreditation as dominant minority party.

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In the News: Trendsetting

Traditionally, the results of Philippine national and local elections were not available until several weeks after the day of the election.  While the votes were being counted manually, candidates exchanged charges of vote-padding and vote-shaving (dagdag-bawas) and other forms of cheating, marring the credibility of our elections.

The 2010 elections saw the implementation of an automated election system.  New precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that would count votes electronically were heralded as the solution to the Philippines’ election woes. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) even declared that the election results would be available only several hours after the voting, thereby minimizing the risk of election cheating.

True enough, the COMELEC began publishing the results as early as the evening immediately following the election.  The polls closed at 7:00 p.m. of May 10, and by 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. of the same day, tallies showing that millions of votes had been counted were published by the COMELEC through the media.  Although the tallies were labeled as “partial, unofficial, uncanvassed” election results, the release of this information contributed greatly to the perception that the 2010 Philippine elections were generally clean and honest, and helped boost an uptick in the local markets.

Despite its earlier declaration that the results would be available within several hours, however, the release of the “unofficial” results slowed markedly in the days that followed.  Eventually, the COMELEC ceased to publish the results of its internal tally altogether, reportedly after having been put on notice by various candidates that such publication constituted a violation of applicable laws.  Some candidates alleged that by releasing “unofficial” results, the COMELEC was engaged in “trending,” or conditioning the public to believe that a particular candidate or set of candidates was winning.

Philippine law does not specifically define “trending,” but it is generally understood to mean “to turn in a specified direction.”  In the context of an election, “trending” can mean the phenomenon where the release of partial election results, or worse, selected election results  (showing that one candidate is leading), influences other voters who have not yet cast their votes.  Although theoretically, this could happen in the Philippines (e.g., where exit poll results are released in the middle of the day of the election), trending might be more relevant in countries that span more than one time zone, in cases where poll results are made available from one electoral district when another electoral district has not yet opened for voting.

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