March 2009 Decisions on Constitutional and Related Laws

Here are selected March 2009 decisions on constitutional and related laws:

Administrative Law

Bidding. During the preliminary examination stage, the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) checks whether all the required documents were submitted by the eligible bidders. Note should be taken of the fact that the technical specifications of the product bidded out is among the documentary requirements evaluated by the BAC during the preliminary examination stage. At this point, therefore, the BAC should have already discovered that the technical specifications of Audio Visual’s document camera differed from the bid specifications in at least three (3) respects, namely: the 15 frames/second frame rate, the weight specification, and the power supply requirement. Using the non-discretionary criteria laid out in R.A. No. 9184 and IRR-A, therefore, the BAC should have rated Audio Visual’s bid as “failed” instead of “passed.” Commission on Audit, etc. vs. Link Worth International Inc., G.R. No. 184173, March 13, 2009.

 Burden of proof.  It is settled that in administrative proceedings, the burden of proof that the respondent committed the acts complained of rests on the complainant. In fact, if the complainant upon whom rests the burden of proving his cause of action fails to show in a satisfactory manner the facts upon which he bases his claim, the respondent is under no obligation to prove his exception or defense. Even in administrative cases, if a court employee or magistrate is to be disciplined for a grave offense, the evidence against him should be competent and should be derived from direct knowledge. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the presumption that the respondent has regularly performed his duties will prevail.  

In the present case, complainant failed to substantiate his imputations of impropriety and partiality against respondent Justice. Aside from his naked allegations, conjecture and speculations, he failed to present any other evidence to prove his charges. Hence, the presumption that respondent regularly performed his duties prevails. On the other hand, respondent Justice adequately explained that since his voluntary inhibition from the case, he no longer participated in the case and his perceived participation in the issuance of the assailed Resolution was a result of a typographical mistake.  The Law Firm of Chavez Miranda Aseoche, etc. vs. Justice Isaias P. DicdicanA.M. No. CA-09-48-J, March 13, 2009., see also Rodolfo B. Baygar, Sr. vs. Judge Lilian D. Panontongan, et al.,  A.M. No. MTJ-08-1699, March 17, 2009.

Agrarian law

Breach by agricultural lessee.  R.A. No. 3844 does not operate to take away completely every landowner’s rights to his land. Nor does it authorize the agricultural lessee to act in an abusive or excessive manner in derogation of the landowner’s rights. After all, he is just an agricultural lessee. Although the agrarian laws afford the opportunity for the landless to break away from the vicious cycle of having to perpetually rely on the kindness of others, a becoming modesty demands that this kindness should at least be reciprocated, in whatever small way, by those benefited by them.  Here, the Supreme Court held that the construction of the reservoir by the leseee constitutes a violation of Section 36 of R.A. No. 3844, an unauthorized use of the landholding for a purpose other than what had been agreed upon, and a violation of the leasehold contract between the lessee and lessor, for which the former was penalized with permanent dispossession of his leasehold.  P’Carlo A. Castillo vs. Manuel Tolentino, G.R. No. 181525,  March 4, 2009.

Just compensation;  when determined.   As to the legal basis of just compensation for land taken by the Department of Agrarian Reform for distribution to farmer-beneficiaries, the Supreme Court held  that the applicable law is R.A. No. 6657. In Land Bank of the Philippines v. Pacita Agricultural Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Inc., etc., et al., the Court made a comparative analysis of cases that confronted the issue of whether properties covered by P.D. No. 27 and E.O. No. 228, for which the landowners had yet to be paid, would be compensated under P.D. No. 27 and E.O. No. 228 or under the pertinent provisions of R.A. No. 6657. The Court observed that in Gabatin v. Land Bank of the Philippines – a case which LBP invokes in this controversy – the Court declared that the reckoning period for the determination of just compensation should be the time when the land was taken, i.e., in 1972, applying P.D. No. 27 and E.O. No. 228. However, the Court also noted that after Gabatin, the Court had decided several cases in which it found it more equitable to determine just compensation based on the value of the property at the time of payment.  Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Hernando T. Chico, et al., G.R. No. 168453.  March 13, 2009

Just compensation;  market data approach.  In the instant case, the regional trial court (RTC) did not consider Section 17 of Republic Act No. 6657 as well as Department Administrative Order (DAO) DAO No. 6 in determining just compensation for agrarian reform cases.  Instead, it adopted, hook, line and sinker, the market data approach introduced by the commissioner nominated by Allied. This undoubtedly constitutes a glaring departure from the established tenet on the mandatory nature of Section 17 of Republic Act No. 6657 and DAO No. 6, as amended. It is worthy to note that Allied did not provide any evidence that the market data approach, which based the value of the land in question on sales and listings of similar properties situated within the area, conformed to the subject administrative order, and it is not also clear if same approach took into consideration the said administrative order. Such being the case, the market data approach espoused by Allied cannot be a valuation that complies with the requirements under the agrarian law. Besides, this Court has once refused to accept the market data approach as a method of valuation compliant with the agrarian law and enforced by the DAR.  Allied Banking Corp. vs. The Land Bank of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 175422, March 13, 2009

Constitutional Law.

COMELEC powers.  Under Sec. 2, Article IV-C of the 1987 Constitution, the COMELEC exercises original jurisdiction over all contests, relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of all elective regional, provincial, and city officials, and appellate jurisdiction over election contests involving elective municipal and barangay officials, and has supervision and control over the board of canvassers. The COMELEC sitting en banc, however, does not have the authority to hear and decide election cases, including pre-proclamation controversies in the first instance, as the COMELEC in division has such authority. The COMELEC en banc can exercise jurisdiction only on motions for reconsideration of the resolution or decision of the COMELEC in division. Petitioners’ contention that the COMELEC’s choice of officials to substitute the members of the Board of Canvassers is limited only to those enumerated under Sec. 21 of Republic Act. No. 6646 is untenable. Contrary to petitioners’ assertion, the enumeration above is not exclusive. Members of Board of Canvassers can be filled up by the COMELEC not only from those expressly mentioned in the above-quoted provision, but from others outside if the former are not available.  Arturo F. Pacificador and Jovito C. Plameras, Jr. vs. Comelec, etc., et al., G.R. No. 178259, March 13, 2009.

Equal protection clause. Prior to R.A. No. 8042, OFWs and local workers with fixed-term employment who were illegally discharged were treated alike in terms of the computation of their money claims: they were uniformly entitled to their salaries for the entire unexpired portions of their contracts. But with the enactment of R.A. No. 8042, illegally dismissed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) with an unexpired portion of one year or more in their employment contract have since been differently treated in that their money claims are subject to a 3-month cap, whereas no such limitation is imposed on local workers with fixed-term employment. The Court concludes that the subject clause contains a suspect classification in that, in the computation of the monetary benefits of fixed-term employees who are illegally discharged, it imposes a 3-month cap on the claim of OFWs with an unexpired portion of one year or more in their contracts, but none on the claims of other OFWs or local workers with fixed-term employment. The subject clause singles out one classification of OFWs and burdens it with a peculiar disadvantage. There being a suspect classification involving a vulnerable sector protected by the Constitution, the Court now subjects the classification to a strict judicial scrutiny, and determines whether it serves a compelling state interest through the least restrictive means. What constitutes compelling state interest is measured by the scale of rights and powers arrayed in the Constitution and calibrated by history. It is akin to the paramount interest of the state for which some individual liberties must give way, such as the public interest in safeguarding health or maintaining medical standards, or in maintaining access to information on matters of public concern. In the present case, the Court dug deep into the records but found no compelling state interest that the subject clause may possibly serve. Antonio M. Serrano vs. Gallant Maritime Services, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 167614, March 24, 2009.

Immunity from suit.   The Commission on Audit (COA) is an unincorporated government agency which does not enjoy a separate juridical personality of its own. Hence, even in the exercise of proprietary functions incidental to its primarily governmental functions, COA cannot be sued without its consent. Assuming that the contract it entered into with Audio Visual can be taken as an implied consent to be sued, and further that incidental reliefs such as damages may be awarded in certiorari proceedings, Link Worth did not appeal the Court of Appeals’ Decision deleting the award of damages against COA. Consequently, Link Worth is bound by the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the Court of Appeals, including the deletion of the award of exemplary damages, attorney’s fees and costs. Commission on Audit, etc. Vs. Link Worth International Inc., G.R. No. 182559, March 13, 2009.

Ombudsman. The scope of the authority of the Ombudsman in administrative cases as defined under the Constitution and R.A. No. 6770 is broad enough to include the direct imposition of the penalty of removal, suspension, demotion, fine or censure on an erring public official or employee.

Right to counsel.  Under Section 12(1), Article III of the 1987 Constitution, an accused is entitled to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. The phrase “preferably of his own choice” does not convey the message that the choice of a lawyer by a person under investigation is exclusive as to preclude other equally competent and independent attorneys from handling the defense. Otherwise, the tempo of custodial investigation would be solely in the hands of the accused who can impede, nay, obstruct, the progress of the interrogation by simply selecting a lawyer who, for one reason or another, is not available to protect his interest. While the choice of a lawyer in cases where the person under custodial interrogation cannot afford the services of counsel – or where the preferred lawyer is not available – is naturally lodged in the police investigators, the suspect has the final choice, as he may reject the counsel chosen for him and ask for another one. A lawyer provided by the investigators is deemed engaged by the accused when he does not raise any objection to the counsel’s appointment during the course of the investigation, and the accused thereafter subscribes to the veracity of the statement before the swearing officer.  Appellants Arnaldo and Flores did not object to the appointment of Atty. Uminga and Atty. Rous as their lawyers, respectively, during their custodial investigation. Prior to their questioning, appellants Arnaldo and Flores conferred with Atty. Uminga and Atty. Rous. Appellant Arnaldo manifested that he would be assisted by Atty. Uminga, while appellant Flores agreed to be counseled by Atty. Rous. Atty. Uminga and Atty. Rous countersigned the written extra-judicial confessions of appellants Arnaldo and Flores, respectively. Hence, appellants Arnaldo and Flores are deemed to have engaged the services of Atty. Uminga and Atty. Rous, respectively.  Since the prosecution has sufficiently established that the respective extra-judicial confessions of appellant Arnaldo and appellant Flores were obtained in accordance with the constitutional guarantees, these confessions are admissible. They are evidence of a high order because of the strong presumption that no person of normal mind would deliberately and knowingly confess to a crime, unless prompted by truth and conscience.  People of the Philippines  vs. Domingo Reyes Y Paje, et al., G.R. No. 178300, March 17, 2009.

Term limits. The three-term limit for elective local officials is contained in Section 8, Article X of the Constitution. The Constitution did not expressly prohibit Congress from fixing any term of office for barangay officials, thereby leaving to the lawmakers full discretion to fix such term in accordance with the exigencies of public service. The discussions in the Constitutional Commission showed that the term of office of barangay officials would be “[a]s may be determined by law,” and more precisely, “[a]s provided for in the Local Government Code.” Section 43(b) of the Local Government Code provides that barangay officials are covered by the three-term limit, while Section 43(c) thereof states that the term of office of barangay officials shall be five (5) years. The rule on the three-term limit, embodied in the Constitution and the Local Government Code, has two parts.

The first part provides that an elective local official cannot serve for more than three consecutive terms. The clear intent is that only consecutive terms count in determining the three-term limit rule. The second part states that voluntary renunciation of office for any length of time does not interrupt the continuity of service. The clear intent is that involuntary severance from office for any length of time interrupts continuity of service and prevents the service before and after the interruption from being joined together to form a continuous service or consecutive terms. After three consecutive terms, an elective local official cannot seek immediate reelection for a fourth term. The prohibited election refers to the next regular election for the same office following the end of the third consecutive term. 

The second part of the rule on the three-term limit shows the clear intent of the framers of the Constitution to bar any attempt to circumvent the three-term limit by a voluntary renunciation of office and at the same time respect the people’s choice and grant their elected official full service of a term. The Court held that two conditions for the application of the disqualification must concur: (1) that the official concerned has been elected for three consecutive terms in the same government post; and (2) that he has fully served three consecutive terms.

In this case, it is undisputed that petitioner was elected as Punong Barangay for three consecutive terms, satisfying the first condition for disqualification. Indeed, petitioner was serving his third term as Punong Barangay when he ran for Sangguniang Bayan member and, upon winning, assumed the position of Sangguniang Bayan member, thus, voluntarily relinquishing his office as Punong Barangay which the Court deems as a voluntary renunciation of said office.  Nicasio Bolos, Jr. vs. The Commission on Election, et al., G.R. No. 184082, March 17, 2009.

Criminal Law

Amnesty.  The Supreme Court held that there is prima facie evidence for the prosecution of the petitioners for the murders of Rolando Olalia and Leonor Alay-ay. The arguments that petitioners are exempt from prosecution on account of the grants of amnesty they had received are ultimately without merit, on account of the specified limitations in the said grant of amnesty.  Oscar E. Legaspi vs. Serafin R. Cuevas etc., et al. / Eduardo E. Kapunan, Jr. vs. CA, et al., G.R. No. 148243/G.R. No. 148213-17,  March 13, 2009.

Qualified Rape; Penalty.  With the abolition of the death penalty by Republic Act No. 9346, the penalty for qualified rape is reclusion perpetua. Pursuant to People v. Bon, the penalty for attempted rape should also be reckoned from reclusion perpetua. In the scale of penalties in Article 71 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty two degrees lower than reclusion perpetua is prision mayor. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, absent any modifying circumstance, the maximum term of the indeterminate penalty shall be taken from the medium period of prision mayor or from 8 years and 1 day to 10 years, while the minimum term is one degree lower than prision mayor,i.e., prision correccional, from 6 months and 1 day to 6 years.  People of the Philippines vs. Manuel Brioso y TandaG.R. No. 185278, March 13, 2009.

Election Law

Appreciation of Ballots. The object of the appreciation of ballots is to ascertain and carry into effect the intention of the voter, if it can be determined with reasonable certainty. When placed in issue, the appreciation of contested ballots and election documents, which involves a question of fact, is best left to the determination of the COMELEC. The Supreme Court did not find grave abuse of discretion when the COMELEC credited to respondent the vote for “Mantete,” following the idem sonans rule.  Aldo B. Cordia Vs. Joel G. Monforte and Comelec, G.R. No. 174620, March 4, 2009.

Pre-proclamation cases. The COMELEC should rule on pre-proclamation cases individually, even if the ruling is simply couched in a minute resolution. This will dispel qualms about lack of adequate notice to party litigants, and obviate the confusion that generally results from the issuance of omnibus resolutions. In all, such a practice would be consistent with the constitutional principle of transparency, and lend itself to greater public confidence in our electoral system.  In the case at bar, the petitioner may have been equally confused on the remedies available to him vis-à-vis Resolution No. 8212. We do not fault him for this, but we nonetheless dismiss his petition because we find no grave abuse of discretion in the assailed COMELEC Resolution and Order.  Elpidio B. Valino vs. Alvin P. Vergara, Tomas N. Joson III, et al., G.R. No. 180492,  March 13, 2009.