June 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected June 2009 decisions of the Philippine Supreme Court on political and related laws.

Constitutional Law

Immunity from suit. The rule that a state may not be sued without its consent is embodied in Section 3, Article XVI of the 1987 Constitution and has been an established principle that antedates the Constitution. It is a universally recognized principle of international law that exempts a state and its organs from the jurisdiction of another state. The principle is based on the very essence of sovereignty, and on the practical ground that there can be no legal right as against the authority that makes the law on which the right depends. It also rests on reasons of public policy — that public service would be hindered, and the public endangered, if the sovereign authority could be subjected to law suits at the instance of every citizen and, consequently, controlled in the uses and dispositions of the means required for the proper administration of the government.

The proscribed suit that the state immunity principle covers takes on various forms, namely: a suit against the  Republic by name; a suit against an unincorporated government agency; a suit against a government agency covered by a charter with respect to the agency’s performance of governmental functions; and a suit that on its face is against a government officer, but where the ultimate liability will fall on the government. In the present case, the writ of attachment was issued against a government agency covered by its own charter.

The TESDA performs governmental functions, and the issuance of certifications is a task within its function of developing and establishing a system of skills standardization, testing, and certification in the country. From the perspective of this function, the core reason for the existence of state immunity applies – i.e., the public policy reason that the performance of governmental function cannot be hindered or delayed by suits, nor can these suits control the use and disposition of the means for the performance of governmental functions.

Even assuming that TESDA entered into a proprietary contract with PROVI and thereby gave its implied consent to be sued, TESDA’s funds are still public in nature and, thus, cannot be the valid subject of a writ of garnishment or attachment.  Professional Video, Inc. vs. Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, G.R. No. 155504, June 26, 2009.

Just compensation; easement right of way. Easement of right of way falls within the purview of the power of eminent domain. In installing the 230 KV Talisay-Compostela transmission lines which traverse respondent’s lands, a permanent limitation is imposed by petitioner National Power Corporation against the use of the lands for an indefinite period. This deprives respondent of the normal use of the lands. In fact, not only are the affected areas of the lands traversed by petitioner’s transmission lines but a portion is used as the site of its transmission tower. Because of the danger to life and limbs that may be caused beneath the high-tension live wires, the landowner will not be able to use the lands for farming or any agricultural purposes.

Thus, there is no reason to disturb the findings of the trial and appellate courts. Respondent is entitled to just compensation or the just and complete equivalent of the loss which the owner of the thing expropriated has to suffer by reason of the expropriation.

Since the determination of just compensation in expropriation proceedings is essentially a judicial function, the Supreme Court held that the amount of P450 per square meter to be just and reasonable compensation for the expropriated lands of respondent.  National Power Corporation vs. Carlos Villamor, G.R. No. 160080, June 19, 2009.

Ombudsman; prosecutorial powers. Giving prosecutorial powers to the Ombudsman is in accordance with the Constitution as paragraph 8, Section 13, Article XI provides that the Ombudsman shall “exercise such other functions or duties as may be provided by law.”

The constitutionality of Section 3 of R.A. No. 6770, which subsumed the OSP under the Office of the Ombudsman, was likewise upheld by the Court in Acop. The foregoing ruling of the Court has been reiterated in Camanag v. Guerrero. More recently, in Office of the Ombudsman v. Valera, the Supreme Court, basing its ratio decidendi on its ruling in Acop and Camanag, declared that the OSP is “merely a component of the Office of the Ombudsman and may only act under the supervision and control, and upon authority of the Ombudsman” and ruled that under R.A. No. 6770, the power to preventively suspend is lodged only with the Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman. The Court’s ruling in Acop that the authority of the Ombudsman to prosecute based on R.A. No. 6770 was authorized by the Constitution was also made the foundation for the decision in Perez v. Sandiganbayan, where it was held that the power to prosecute carries with it the power to authorize the filing of informations, which power had not been delegated to the OSP. It is, therefore, beyond cavil that under the Constitution, Congress was not proscribed from legislating the grant of additional powers to the Ombudsman or placing the OSP under the Office of the Ombudsman. Carmelo Lazatin, et al. vs. Hon. Aniano A. Disierto, et al., G.R. No. 147097, June 5, 2009.

Ombudsman; removal powers. The Office of the Ombudsman, in the exercise of its administrative disciplinary authority, is vested by the Constitution and R.A. No. 6770 with the power to impose the penalty of removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution of a public officer or employee found to be at fault. Office of the Ombudsman vs. Fernando J. Beltran,  G.R. No. 168039, June 5, 2009.

Judicial review;  actual case. This Supreme Court’s power of review may be awesome, but it is limited to actual cases and controversies dealing with parties having adversely legal claims, to be exercised after full opportunity of argument by the parties, and limited further to the constitutional question raised or the very lis mota presented. The “case-or-controversy” requirement bans this court from deciding “abstract, hypothetical or contingent questions,” lest the court give opinions in the nature of advice concerning legislative or executive action. Atty. Oliver O. Lozano and Atty. Evangeline J. Lozano-Endriano vs. Speaker Prospero C. Nograles, Representative, Majority, House of Representatives / Louis “Barok” C. Biraogo vs. Speaker Prospero C. Nograles, Representative, Congress of the Philippines, G.R. No. 187883, June 16, 2009.

Judicial review;  ripeness for adjudication. An aspect of the “case-or-controversy” requirement is the requisite of “ripeness.” In the United States, courts are centrally concerned with whether a case involves uncertain contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all. Another approach is the evaluation of the twofold aspect of ripeness: first, the fitness of the issues for judicial decision; and second, the hardship to the parties entailed by withholding court consideration. In our jurisdiction, the issue of ripeness is generally treated in terms of actual injury to the plaintiff. Hence, a question is ripe for adjudication when the act being challenged has had a direct adverse effect on the individual challenging it. An alternative road to review similarly taken would be to determine whether an action has already been accomplished or performed by a branch of government before the courts may step in.    Atty. Oliver O. Lozano and Atty. Evangeline J. Lozano-Endriano vs. Speaker Prospero C. Nograles, Representative, Majority, House of Representatives / Louis “Barok” C. Biraogo vs. Speaker Prospero C. Nograles, Representative, Congress of the Philippines,  G.R. No. 187883, June 16, 2009.

Judicial review; standing to sue. Generally, a party will be allowed to litigate only when he can demonstrate that (1) he has personally suffered some actual or threatened injury because of the allegedly illegal conduct of the government; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action; and (3) the injury is likely to be redressed by the remedy being sought. In the cases at bar, petitioners have not shown the elemental injury in fact that would endow them with the standing to sue. Locus standi requires a personal stake in the outcome of a controversy for significant reasons. It assures adverseness and sharpens the presentation of issues for the illumination of the Court in resolving difficult constitutional questions. The lack of petitioners’ personal stake in this case is no more evident than in Lozano’sthree-page petition that is devoid of any legal or jurisprudential basis.

Neither can the lack of locus standi be cured by the claim of petitioners that they are instituting the cases at bar as taxpayers and concerned citizens. A taxpayer’s suit requires that the act complained of directly involves the illegal disbursement of public funds derived from taxation. It is undisputed that there has been no allocation or disbursement of public funds in this case as of yet. To be sure, standing as a citizen has been upheld by this Court in cases where a petitioner is able to craft an issue of transcendental importance or when paramount public interest is involved. While the Court recognizes the potential far-reaching implications of the issue at hand, the possible consequence of House Resolution No. 1109 is yet unrealized and does not infuse petitioners with locus standi under the “transcendental importance” doctrine.

The rule on locus standi is not a plain procedural rule but a constitutional requirement derived from Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution, which mandates courts of justice to settle only “actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable.

Moreover, while the Court has taken an increasingly liberal approach to the rule of locus standi, evolving from the stringent requirements of “personal injury” to the broader “transcendental importance” doctrine, such liberality is not to be abused. It is not an open invitation for the ignorant and the ignoble to file petitions that prove nothing but their cerebral deficit. Atty. Oliver O. Lozano and Atty. Evangeline J. Lozano-Endriano vs. Speaker Prospero C. Nograles, Representative, Majority, House of Representatives/Louis “Barok” C. Biraogo vs. Speaker Prospero C. Nograles, Representative, Congress of the PhilippinesG.R. No. 187883, June 16, 2009.

Speedy disposition of cases. In ascertaining whether the right to speedy disposition of cases has been violated, the following factors must be considered: (1) the length of delay; (2) the reasons for the delay; (3) the assertion or failure to assert such right by the accused; and (4) the prejudice caused by the delay. The right to a speedy disposition of cases is considered violated only when the proceedings are attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays. A mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved is not sufficient. In the application of the constitutional guarantee of the right to a speedy disposition of cases, particular regard must also be taken of the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case.

In Bernat v. Sandiganbayan, the Court denied petitioner’s claim of denial of his right to a speedy disposition of cases considering that the petitioner in that case chose to remain silent for eight years before complaining of the delay in the disposition of his case. The Court ruled that petitioner failed to seasonably assert his right and he merely sat and waited from the time his case was submitted for resolution. In this case, petitioner similarly failed to assert his right to a speedy disposition of his case. He did not take any step to accelerate the disposition of his case. He only invoked his right to a speedy disposition of cases after the Sandiganbayan promulgated its decision convicting him for malversation of public funds. Petitioner’s silence may be considered as a waiver of his right. Raul S. Tello vs. People of the PhilippinesG.R. No. 165781, June 5, 2009

Undue delegation of legislative power. Revenue Regulations Nos. 9-2003, 22-2003, and Revenue Memorandum Order No. 6-2003, as pertinent to cigarettes packed by machine, are invalid insofar as they grant the BIR the power to reclassify or update the classification of new brands every two years or earlier. Hon. Secretary of Finance, et al. vs. La Suerte Cigar and Cigarette Factory, et al., G.R. No. 166498. June 11, 2009.

Local Government Code

Boundary disputes between cities. Now that Makati is already a highly urbanized city, the parties should follow Section 118(d) of the Local Government Code (LGC) and should opt to amicably settle this dispute by joint referral to the respective sanggunians of the parties. This has become imperative because, after all, no attempt had been made earlier to settle the dispute amicably under the aegis of the LGC. The specific provision of the LGC, now made applicable because of the altered status of Makati, must be complied with. In the event that no amicable settlement is reached, as envisioned under Section 118(e) of the LGC, a certification shall be issued to that effect, and the dispute shall be formally tried by the Sanggunian concerned within sixty (60) days from the date of the aforementioned certification. In this regard, Rule III of the Rules and Regulations Implementing the LGC shall govern. Municipality of Pateros vs.The Honorable Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 157714, June 16, 2009

Administrative and Civil Service Law

Exhaustion of administrative remedies. The petitioners failed to appeal the decision of the Adjudication and Settlement Board (ASB) of the Commission on Audit to the Commission on Audit proper before filing the petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, in derogation of the principle of exhaustion of administrative remedies. The general rule is that before a party may seek the intervention of the court, he should first avail himself of all the means afforded him by administrative processes. The issues which administrative agencies are authorized to decide should not be summarily taken from them and submitted to the court without first giving such administrative agency the opportunity to dispose of the same after due deliberation. It is, therefore, imperative that the Commission Proper be first given the opportunity to review the decision of the ASB. Only after the Commission shall have acted thereon may a petition for certiorari be brought to the Supreme Court by the aggrieved party. While the principle of exhaustion of administrative remedies admits of exceptions, the Supreme Court did not find any cogent reason to apply the cited exceptions to the instant case. The non-observance of the doctrine results in the petition having no cause of action, thus, justifying its dismissal. Joseph Peter Sison, et al. vs. Rogelio TablangG.R. No. 177011, June 5, 2009.

Preventive suspension. There are two kinds of preventive suspension of government employees charged with offenses punishable by removal or suspension, viz: (1) preventive suspension pending investigation; and (2) preventive suspension pending appeal if the penalty imposed by the disciplining authority is suspension or dismissal and, after review, the respondent is exonerated. Preventive suspension pending investigation is not a penalty. It is a measure intended to enable the disciplining authority to investigate charges against respondent by preventing the latter from intimidating or in any way influencing witnesses against him. If the investigation is not finished and a decision is not rendered within that period, the suspension will be lifted and the respondent will automatically be reinstated. If after investigation, respondent is found innocent of the charges and is exonerated, he should be reinstated. Civil Service Commission, Anicia De Lima, in her capacity as Regional Director of CSC-NCR vs. Larry M. AlfonsoG.R. No. 179452, June 11, 2009.

Public officers; power of appointment. Well-settled is the rule that an oath of office is a qualifying requirement for a public office, a prerequisite to the full investiture of the office. Since petitioner petitioner took his oath and assumed office only on February 26, it was only then that his right to enter into the position became plenary and complete. Prior to such oath, Gasgonia still had the right to exercise the functions of her office. It is also well to note that per certification issued by Raymond C. Santiago, Accountant of PCUP, Gasgonia received her last salary for the period covering February 1-25, 2001; and petitioner received his first salary for the period covering February 26 to March 7, 2001.

Clearly, at the time of respondent’s appointment on February 23, Gasgonia still was the rightful occupant of the position and was, therefore, authorized to extend a valid promotional appointment. Chairman Percival C. Chavez, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor vs. Lourdes R. Ronidel and Honorable Court of Appeals 9th Division,  G.R. No. 180941, June 11, 2009.

Public officers; honorarium. An honorarium is defined as something given not as a matter of obligation but in appreciation for services rendered, a voluntary donation in consideration of services which admit of no compensation in money. Section 15 of R.A. No. 9184 uses the word “may” which signifies that the honorarium cannot be demanded as a matter of right.

The government is not unmindful of the tasks that may be required of government employees outside of their regular functions. It agrees that they ought to be compensated; thus, honoraria are given as a recompense for their efforts and performance of substantially similar duties, with substantially similar degrees of responsibility and accountability. However, the payment of honoraria to the members of the BAC and the TWG must be circumscribed by applicable rules and guidelines prescribed by the DBM, as provided by law. Section 15 of R.A. No. 9185 is explicit as it states: “For this purpose, the DBM shall promulgate the necessary guidelines.” The word “shall” has always been deemed mandatory, and not merely directory. Thus, in this case, petitioners should have first waited for the rules and guidelines of the DBM before payment of the honoraria. As the rules and guidelines were still forthcoming, petitioners could not just award themselves the straight amount of 25% of their monthly basic salaries as honoraria. This is not the intendment of the law.  Joseph Peter Sison, et al. vs. Rogelio TablangG.R. No. 177011, June 5, 2009.

Election law

Disqualification for public office. R.A. No. 9225 was enacted to allow re-acquisition and retention of Philippine citizenship for: 1) natural-born citizens who have lost their Philippine citizenship by reason of their naturalization as citizens of a foreign country; and 2) natural-born citizens of the Philippines who, after the effectivity of the law, become citizens of a foreign country. The law provides that they are deemed to have re-acquired or retained their Philippine citizenship upon taking the oath of allegiance.

In the instant case, petitioner’s Oath of Allegiance and Certificate of Candidacy did not comply with Section 5(2) of R.A. No. 9225 which further requires those seeking elective public office in the Philippines to make a personal and sworn renunciation of foreign citizenship. Petitioner failed to renounce his American citizenship; as such, he is disqualified from running for vice-mayor of Guimba, Nueva Ecija in the May 14, 2007 elections.  Roseller De Guzman vs. Commission on Elections, et al.G.R. No. 180048, June 19, 2009.

Election case; moot. A case becomes moot when there is no more actual controversy between the parties or no useful purpose can be served in passing upon the merits. Courts will not determine a moot question in a case in which no practical relief can be granted. It is unnecessary to indulge in academic discussion of a case presenting a moot question, as a judgment thereon cannot have any practical legal effect or, in the nature of things, cannot be enforced.

Since the present Petition is grounded on petitioner Baldo’s specific objections to the 26 ERs in the previous local elections, no practical or useful purpose would be served by still passing on the merits thereof. Even if the Court sets aside the assailed COMELEC Resolutions and orders the exclusion of the disputed ERs from the canvass of votes, and as a result thereof, petitioner Baldo would emerge as the winning candidate for municipal mayor of Camalig, Albay, in the 10 May 2004 local elections, it would be an empty victory. It is already impossible for petitioner Baldo to still assume office as municipal mayor of Camalig, Albay, elected in the 10 May 2004 local elections, since his tenure as such had ended on 30 June 2007. Petitioner Baldo himself is currently occupying the very same office as the winning candidate in the 14 May 2007 local elections. Irrefragably, the Court can no longer grant to petitioner Baldo any practical relief capable of enforcement. Consequently, the Court is left with no other recourse than to dismiss the instant Petition on the ground of mootness. Carlos Irwin G. Baldo vs. Commission on Elections. et al., G.R. No. 176135, June 16, 2009.

Agrarian law

Jurisidiction; DAR. Under Section 50 of Rep. Act No. 6657, the DAR is vested with “primary jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate agrarian reform matters and shall have exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of agrarian reform.” An agrarian dispute refers to any controversy relating to, inter alia, tenancy over lands devoted to agriculture. Under Section 3(d) of Rep. Act No. 6657, an agrarian dispute refers to any controversy relating to tenurial arrangements, whether leasehold, tenancy, stewardship or otherwise, over lands devoted to agriculture, including disputes concerning farmworkers’ associations or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing or seeking to arrange terms or conditions of such tenurial arrangements. It includes any controversy relating to compensation of lands acquired under this Act and other terms and conditions of transfer of ownership from landowner to farmworkers, tenants and other agrarian reform beneficiaries, whether the disputants stand in the proximate relation of farm operator and beneficiary, landowner and tenant, or lessor and lessee. It refers to any controversy relating to, inter alia, tenancy over lands devoted to agriculture.  Zosimo Octavio and Jesus Albona (substituted by his wife, Violeta Albona) vs. Enrico R. Perovano, G.R. No. 172400, June 23, 2009.

Jurisdiction;  DAR. DAR has primary jurisdiction to determine and adjudicate agrarian reform matters and exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters involving the implementation of agrarian reform, except those falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of the DA and the DENR. Further exception to the DAR’s original and exclusive jurisdiction are all petitions for the determination of just compensation to landowners and the prosecution of all criminal offenses under RA No. 6657, which are within the jurisdiction of the RTC sitting as a Special Agrarian Court. Thus, jurisdiction on just compensation cases for the taking of lands under RA No. 6657 is vested in the courts. Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Rene Ralla Belista, G.R. No. 164631. June 26, 2009.

Just compensation; determination. The procedure for the determination of compensation cases under Republic Act No. 6657, as devised by this Court, commences with the valuation by the LBP of the lands taken by the State from private owners under the land reform program. Based on the valuation of the land by the LBP, the DAR makes an offer to the landowner through a written notice. In case the landowner rejects the offer, a summary administrative proceeding is held and, afterwards, depending on the value of the land, the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD), the Regional Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (RARAD), or the DARAB, fixes the price to be paid for the said land. If the landowner still does not agree with the price so fixed, he may bring the matter to the RTC, acting as Special Agrarian Court.

In the process of determining the just compensation due to landowners, it is a necessity that the RTC takes into account several factors enumerated in Section 17 of Republic Act No. 6657. Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Kumassie Plantation Company Incorporated/Kumassie Plantation Company Incorporated vs. Land Bank of the Philippines and the Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform G.R. No. 177404/G.R. No. 178097, June 25, 2009.

Tenants. Tenants are defined as persons who — in themselves and with the aid available from within their immediate farm households — cultivate the land belonging to or possessed by another, with the latter’s consent, for purposes of production, sharing the produce with the landholder under the share tenancy system, or paying to the landholder a price certain or ascertainable in produce or money or both under the leasehold tenancy system.

Based on the foregoing definition of a tenant, entrenched in jurisprudence are the following essential elements of tenancy: 1) the parties are the landowner and the tenant or agricultural lessee; 2) the subject matter of the relationship is an agricultural land; 3) there is consent between the parties to the relationship; 4) the purpose of the relationship is to bring about agricultural production; 5) there is personal cultivation on the part of the tenant or agricultural lessee; and 6) the harvest is shared between landowner and tenant or agricultural lessee. The presence of all these elements must be proved by substantial evidence. Unless a person has established his status as a de jure tenant, he is not entitled to security of tenure and is not covered by the Land Reform Program of the Government under existing tenancy laws. Tenancy relationship cannot be presumed. Claims that one is a tenant do not automatically give rise to security of tenure. Joaquin Soliman, et al., vs. Pampanga Sugar Development Company (PASUDECO), Inc., and Gerry Rodriguez, G.R. No. 169589,  June 16, 2009.

Tenants.  The CA held that there is no tenancy relationship between the private respondents and petitioners Apolonia, Carlos, Lourdes and Rogelio Tarona due to the absence of personal cultivation of the subject landholding by the latter

In arriving at such a finding, the appellate court gave full credence to the evidence proffered by private respondents showing that the aforementioned petitioners are not residents of the locality where the subject landholding is and neither are they tenants of any lot thereat. The evidence, among others, consists of the Certification dated October 9, 2003 issued by the Barangay Captain of Mauban, now Nagbalayong, Morong, Bataan, stating that Apolonia, Carlos, Lourdes and Rogelio Tarona are not residents therein and that they do not personally cultivate the subject property; and the Certification of the election officer of Caloocan City showing that said persons are residents and registered voters of Caloocan City.

We find no reason to disturb the aforesaid finding of the CA. Clearly, private respondents’ evidence, which significantly the petitioners failed to refute, more than substantially proved the impossibility of personal cultivation. Petitioners (intervenors) have already left the place where the subject land lies in Morong, Bataan, and now live in another locality which is in Caloocan City. Since Bataan is of a considerable distance from Caloocan City, it would undeniably be physically impossible for the petitioners to personally cultivate the landholding.  Leonardo Tarona, et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al. G.R. No. 170182.  June 18, 2009