July 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected July 2009 Philippine Supreme Court decisions on political law:

Constitutional Law

Double positions. The office of the Chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross is not a government office or an office in a government-owned or controlled corporation for purposes of the prohibition in Section 13, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, which provides: “No Senator or Member of the House of Representatives may hold any other office or employment in the Government, or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries, during his term without forfeiting his seat. Neither shall he be appointed to any office which may have been created or the emoluments thereof increased during the term for which he was elected.”  Dante Liban, et al. vs. Richard J. Gordon, G.R. No. 175352, July 15, 2009.

Illegal search. Even assuming that petitioner or any lawful occupant of the house was not present when the search was conducted, the search was done in the presence of at least two witnesses of sufficient age and discretion residing in the same locality. Manalo was the barangay chairman of the place while Velasco was petitioner’s employee. Petitioner herself signed the certification of orderly search when she arrived at her residence. Clearly, the requirements of Section 8, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court were complied with by the police authorities who conducted the search. Further, petitioner failed to substantiate her allegation that she was just forced to sign the search warrant, inventory receipt, and the certificate of orderly search. In fact, the records show that she signed these documents together with three other persons, including the barangay chairman who could have duly noted if petitioner was really forced to sign the documents against her will.

Articles which are the product of unreasonable searches and seizures are inadmissible as evidence pursuant to Article III, Section 3(2) of the Constitution. However, in this case, the Supreme Court sustained the validity of the search conducted in petitioner’s residence and, thus, the articles seized during the search are admissible in evidence against petitioner.  Rosario Panuncio  vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 165678, July 17, 2009.

Just compensation. Section 17 of Republic Act (RA) No. 6657 applies only if the amount of just compensation of lands acquired through Presidential Decree No. 27 remains unresolved despite the passage of RA No. 6657. It is only in such a case, and to such extent only, that this provision on the determination of just compensation in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) of 1988 is made to apply retrospectively.  Land Bank of the Philippines  vs. Josefina R. Dumlao, et al., G.R. No. 167809, July 23, 2009.

Landholding limitation. Section 11 of Article XIV of the governing 1973 Constitution states that “no private corporation or association may hold by lease, concession, license, or permit, timber or forest lands and other timber or forest resources in excess of one hundred thousand hectares.” Complementing this provision was Chapter I, No. 3(e) of Forestry Administrative Order (FAO) No. 11 prohibiting any individual, corporation, partnership, or association from acquiring a timber license or license agreement covering an area in excess of 100,000 hectares. Likewise, Chapter I, No. 3(d) of FAO No. 11 states that no individual corporation, partnership, or association who is already a holder of an ordinary timber license or license agreement nor any member of the family, incorporator, director, stockholder, or member of such individual, corporation, partnership, or association shall be allowed to acquire a new timber license or license agreement or any interest or participation in it.

The constitutional and statutory limitations on allowable area leases and concessions were obviously meant to prevent the concentration of large tracts of public land in the hands of a single individual.  Republic of the Philippines  vs. Estate of Alfonso Lim, Sr., et al.G.R. No. 164800, July 22, 2009.

Party List.  There are four parameters in a Philippine-style party-list election system:

1.     Twenty percent of the total number of the membership of the House of Representatives is the maximum number of seats available to party-list organizations, such that there is automatically one party-list seat for every four existing legislative districts.

2.     Garnering two percent of the total votes cast in the party-list elections guarantees a party-list organization one seat. The guaranteed seats shall be distributed in a first round of seat allocation to parties receiving at least two percent of the total party-list votes.

3.     The additional seats, that is, the remaining seats after allocation of the guaranteed seats, shall be distributed to the party-list organizations including those that received less than two percent of the total votes. The continued operation of the two percent threshold as it applies to the allocation of the additional seats is now unconstitutional because this threshold mathematically and physically prevents the filling up of the available party-list seats. The additional seats shall be distributed to the parties in a second round of seat allocation according to the two-step procedure laid down in the Supreme Court’s Decision of 21 April 2009 as clarified in this Resolution.

4.     The three-seat cap is constitutional. The three-seat cap is intended by the Legislature to prevent any party from dominating the party-list system. There is no violation of the Constitution because the 1987 Constitution does not require absolute proportionality for the party-list system. The well-settled rule is that courts will not question the wisdom of the Legislature as long as it is not violative of the Constitution.  BANAT vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 179271/G.R. No. 179295, July 8, 2009.

Private corporations.  Congress cannot enact a law creating a private corporation with a special charter. Such legislation would be unconstitutional. Private corporations may exist only under a general law. If the corporation is private, it must necessarily exist under a general law. Stated differently, only corporations created under a general law can qualify as private corporations. Under existing laws, the general law is the Corporation Code, except that the Cooperative Code governs the incorporation of cooperatives. The Charter of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) is void insofar as it creates the PNRC as a private corporation. The PNRC should incorporate under the Corporation Code and register with the Securities and Exchange Commission if it wants to be a private corporation. Dante Liban, et al. vs. Richard J. Gordon,  G.R. No. 175352, July 15, 2009.

Right to be informed of nature and cause of accusation.   It is settled that it is the allegations in the Information that determine the nature of the offense, not the technical name given by the public prosecutor in the preamble of the Information. From a legal point of view, and in a very real sense, it is of no concern to the accused what is the technical name of the crime of which he stands charged. It in no way aids him in a defense on the merits. That to which his attention should be directed, and in which he, above all things else, should be most interested, are the facts alleged. The real question is not did he commit a crime given in the law some technical and specific name, but did he perform the acts alleged in the body of the information in the manner therein set forth.

Gauging such standard against the wording of the Information in this case, the Supreme Court held that there was no violation of petitioner’s rights. The recital of facts and circumstances in the Information sufficiently constitutes the crime of qualified theft. Sheala P. Matrido vs. People of the Philippines,  G.R. No. 179061, July 13, 2009.

Search warrants. Under Section 12, Chapter V of the Guidelines on the Selection and Appointment of Executive Judges and Defining their Powers, Prerogatives and Duties, as embodied in A.M. No. 03-8-02-SC,The Executive Judges and, whenever they are on official leave of absence or are not physically present in the station, the Vice-Executive Judges of the RTCs of Manila and Quezon City shall have authority to act on applications filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Anti-Crime Task Force (ACTAF), for search warrants involving heinous crimes, illegal gambling, illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions as well as violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, the Intellectual Property Code, the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, the Tariff and Customs Code, as amended, and other relevant laws that may hereafter be enacted by Congress, and included herein by the Supreme Court.

The applications shall be endorsed by the heads of such agencies or their respective duly authorized officials and shall particularly describe therein the places to be searched and/or the property or things to be seized as prescribed in the Rules of Court. The Executive Judges and Vice-Executive Judges concerned shall issue the warrants, if justified, which may be served outside the territorial jurisdiction of the said courts.   Re: Request of the Police Director General Avelino I. Razon for authority to delegate the endorsement of application for search warrant, A.M. No. 08-4-4-SC, July 7, 2009.

Security of tenure. Article IX (B), Section 2(3) of the 1987 Constitution expressly provides that “[n]o officer or employee of the civil service shall be removed or suspended except for cause provided by law.” The aforementioned constitutional provision does not distinguish between a regular employee and a probationary employee.

The constitutional guaranty of security of tenure in the civil service has two legal ramifications. In Tria v. Chairman Patricia Sto. Tomas, et al., the Supreme Court held that the prohibition against suspension or dismissal of an officer or employee of the Civil Service “except for cause provided by law” is “a guaranty of both procedural and substantive due process.” “Not only must removal or suspension be in accordance with the procedure prescribed by law, but also they can only be made on the basis of a valid cause provided by law.”

Procedural due process basically requires that suspension or dismissal comes only after notice and hearing. Thus, the minimum requirements of due process are: (1) that the employees or officers must be informed of the charges preferred against them, and the formal way by which the employees or officers are informed is by furnishing them with a copy of the charges made against them; and (2) that they must have a reasonable opportunity to present their side of the matter, that is to say, their defenses against the charges and to present evidence in support of their defenses

Here, the ground the petitioner invoked is not sufficient basis for the respondent’s dismissal, and her dismissal was effected without the observance of both procedural and substantive due process.   Land Bank of the Philippines  vs. Rowena O. Paden, G.R. No. 157607, July 7, 2009.

Writ of habeas corpus. The ultimate purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to relieve a person from unlawful restraint. The writ exists as a speedy and effectual remedy to relieve persons from unlawful restraint and as an effective defense of personal freedom.

Where the restraint of liberty is allegedly authored by the State, the very entity tasked to ensure the liberty of all persons (citizens and aliens alike) within its jurisdiction, courts must be vigilant in extending the habeas corpus remedy to one who invokes it. To strictly restrict the great writ of liberty to technicalities not only defeats the spirit that animates the writ but also waters down the precious right that the writ seeks to protect, the right to liberty. To dilute the remedy that guarantees protection to the right is to negate the right itself. Thus, the Court will not unduly confine the writ of habeas corpus in the prison walls of technicality. Otherwise, it will betray its constitutional mandate to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights.

Here, petitioner’s continued imprisonment is by virtue of a valid judgment and court process. Martin Gibbs Fletcher  vs. The Director of Bureau of Corrections or his representative, UDK-14071, July 17, 2009.

Election Law

Appeal fee;  election cases.  Considering that a year has elapsed after the issuance on July 15, 2008 of Comelec Resolution No. 8486, and to further affirm the discretion granted to the Comelec which it precisely articulated through the specific guidelines contained in said Resolution, the Supreme Court declared that for notices of appeal filed after the promulgation of its decision, errors in the matter of non-payment or incomplete payment of the two appeal fees in election cases are no longer excusable.  Salvador Divinagracia, Jr.  vs. Commission on Elections and Alex A. Centena, G.R. Nos. 186007 & G.R. No. 186016, July 27, 2009.

Appreciation of ballots.    Appreciation of the contested ballots and election documents involves a question of fact best left to the determination of the COMRLEC, a specialized agency tasked with the supervision of elections all over the country. In the absence of grave abuse of discretion or any jurisdictional infirmity or error of law, the factual findings, conclusions, rulings and decisions rendered by the Comelec on matters falling within its competence shall not be interfered with by this Court.  Salvador Divinagracia, Jr.  vs. Commission on Elections and Alex A. Centena, G.R. Nos. 186007 & G.R. No. 186016, July 27, 2009.

COMELEC; interlocutory order.  Since the COMELEC’s Division issued the interlocutory Order, the same COMELEC Division should resolve the motion for reconsideration of the Order. The remedy of the aggrieved party is neither to file a motion for reconsideration for certification to the COMELEC En Banc nor to elevate the issue to this Court via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.  Eddie T. Panlilio  vs. Commission on Elections and Lilia G. PinedaG.R. No. 181478, July 15, 2009.

COMELEC;  cancellation of COC.  Under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC), a false representation of material fact in the Certificate of Candidacy (COC) is a ground for the denial or cancellation of the COC. The false representation must pertain to a material fact that affects the right of the candidate to run for the election for which he filed his COC. Such material fact refers to a candidate’s eligibility or qualification for elective office like citizenship, residence or status as a registered voter. Aside from the requirement of materiality, the false representation must consist of a deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact that would otherwise render a candidate ineligible. In other words, it must be made with the intention to deceive the electorate as to the would-be candidate’s qualifications for public office.

It is settled that the COMELEC has jurisdiction over a petition filed under Section 78 of the OEC. In the exercise of such jurisdiction, it is within the competence of the COMELEC to determine whether false representation as to material facts was made in the COC.

If the candidate states a material representation in the COC that is false, the COMELEC is empowered to deny due course to or cancel the COC. The person whose COC is denied due course or cancelled under Section 78 of the OEC is not treated as a candidate at all, as if such person never filed a COC.  Jamela Salic Maruhom vs. Commssion on Elections and Mohammad Ali “Mericano” A. Abinal, G.R. No. 179430,  July 27, 2009.

COMELEC; orders of division. Only final orders of the COMELEC in Division may be raised before the COMELEC en banc. Section 3, Article IX-C of the 1987 Constitution mandates that only motions for reconsideration of final decisions shall be decided by the COMELEC en banc. It is clear from the foregoing constitutional provision that the COMELEC en banc shall decide motions for reconsideration only of “decisions” of a Division, meaning those acts having a final character. Here, the assailed Second Division order did not completely dispose of the case, as there was something more to be done, which was to decide the election protest. Being interlocutory, the assailed Second Division orders may not be resolved by the COMELEC en banc.   Eddie T. Panlilio  vs. Commission on Elections and Lilia G. PinedaG.R. No. 181478, July 15, 2009.

COMELEC;  powers. The COMELEC has broad power, derived from our fundamental law, to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall; its power of supervision and control over boards of election inspectors and boards of canvassers; the concomitant need to do everything in its power to secure a fair and honest canvass of the votes cast in the elections; the grant to it of broad and flexible powers to effectively perform its duties and to ensure free, orderly, honest, peaceful and credible elections; and its role as the guardian of the people’s sacred right of suffrage.

In particular, the statutory power of supervision and control by the COMELEC over the boards of canvassers includes the power to revise or reverse the action of the boards, as well as to do what the boards should have done. Such power includes the authority to initiate motu propio such steps or actions as may be required pursuant to law, like reviewing the actions of the board; conducting an inquiry affecting the genuineness of election returns beyond the election records of the polling places involved; annulling canvass or proclamations based on incomplete returns or on incorrect or tampered returns; invalidating a canvass or proclamation made in an unauthorized meeting of the board of canvassers either because it lacked a quorum or because the board did not meet at all; or requiring the board to convene.  Rafael Flauta, Jr., et al. vs. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. No. 184586, July 22, 2009.

COMELEC;  protests. Under Section 2(2), Article IX-C of the 1987 Constitution, the COMELEC exercises exclusive original jurisdiction over all contests relating to the elections of all elective regional, provincial, and city officials. Since the COMELEC has jurisdiction over petitioner’s election protest, it has the authority to issue the assailed Orders.  Eddie T. Panlilio  vs. Commission on Elections and Lilia G. PinedaG.R. No. 181478, July 15, 2009.

Double registration. Maruhom, at the time she filed her COC, could not have honestly declared therein that she was a registered voter of Marantao and an eligible candidate for mayor of the said municipality. It is incumbent upon Maruhom to truthfully state her eligibility in her COC, especially so because the COC is filled up under oath. An elective office is a public trust. He who aspires for elective office should not make a mockery of the electoral process by falsely representing himself.  Jamela Salic Maruhom vs. Commssion on Elections and Mohammad Ali “Mericano” A. Abinal, G.R. No. 179430,  July 27, 2009.

Estoppel by laches. The doctrine of estoppel by laches is not new in election cases. It has been applied in at least two cases involving the payment of filing fees.  Salvador Divinagracia, Jr.  vs. Commission on Elections and Alex A. Centena, G.R. Nos. 186007 & G.R. No. 186016, July 27, 2009.

House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). The Constitution mandates that the HRET “shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications” of its members. By employing the word “sole,” the Constitution is emphatic that the jurisdiction of the HRET in the adjudication of election contests involving its members is exclusive and exhaustive. Its exercise of power is intended to be its own — full, complete and unimpaired.

Due regard and respect for the authority of the HRET as an independent constitutional body require that any finding of grave abuse of discretion against that body should be based on firm and convincing proof, not on shaky assumptions. Any accusation of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the HRET must be established by a clear showing of arbitrariness and improvidence. The Supreme Court did not find evidence of such grave abuse of discretion by the HRET.

At the risk of unduly encroaching on the exclusive prerogative of the HRET as the sole judge of election contests involving its members, the Supreme Court cannot substitute its own sense or judgment for that of the HRET on the issues of whether the evidence presented during the initial revision could affect the officially proclaimed results and whether the continuation of the revision proceedings could lead to a determination of the true will of the electorate.  That is what petitioner actually wants the Supreme Court to do. But in the exercise of its checking function, the Supreme Court should merely test whether or not the governmental branch or agency has gone beyond the constitutional limits of its jurisdiction, not that it erred or had a different view.  Henry “June” Dueñas, Jr.  vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Angelito “Jett” P. Reyes, G.R. No. 185401, July 21, 2009.