August 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional law

Congress; legislative immunity.  The immunity Senator Santiago claims is rooted primarily on the provision of Article VI, Section 11 of the Constitution.

As American jurisprudence puts it, this legislative privilege is founded upon long experience and arises as a means of perpetuating inviolate the functioning process of the legislative department. Without parliamentary immunity, parliament, or its equivalent, would degenerate into a polite and ineffective debating forum. Legislators are immune from deterrents to the uninhibited discharge of their legislative duties, not for their private indulgence, but for the public good. The privilege would be of little value if they could be subjected to the cost and inconvenience and distractions of a trial upon a conclusion of the pleader, or to the hazard of a judgment against them based upon a judge’s speculation as to the motives.

This Court is aware of the need and has in fact been in the forefront in upholding the institution of parliamentary immunity and promotion of free speech. Neither has the Court lost sight of the importance of the legislative and oversight functions of the Congress that enable this representative body to look diligently into every affair of government, investigate and denounce anomalies, and talk about how the country and its citizens are being served. Courts do not interfere with the legislature or its members in the manner they perform their functions in the legislative floor or in committee rooms. Any claim of an unworthy purpose or of the falsity and mala fides of the statement uttered by the member of the Congress does not destroy the privilege. The disciplinary authority of the assembly and the voters, not the courts, can properly discourage or correct such abuses committed in the name of parliamentary immunity.

For the above reasons, the plea of Senator Santiago for the dismissal of the complaint for disbarment or disciplinary action is well taken. Indeed, her privilege speech is not actionable criminally or in a disciplinary proceeding under the Rules of Court. It is felt, however, that this could not be the last word on the matter. Antero J. Pobre vs. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, A.C. No. 7399. August 25, 2009.

Double jeopardy; judgment of acquittal. Double jeopardy exists when the following requisites are present: (1) a first jeopardy attached prior to the second; (2) the first jeopardy has been validly terminated; and (3) a second jeopardy is for the same offense as in the first. A first jeopardy attaches only (a) after a valid indictment; (b) before a competent court; (c) after arraignment; (d) when a valid plea has been entered; and (e) when the accused was acquitted or convicted, or the case was dismissed or otherwise terminated without his express consent.

A judgment of acquittal is final and is no longer reviewable. It is also immediately executory and the State may not seek its review without placing the accused in double jeopardy. The Constitution has expressly adopted the double jeopardy policy and thus bars multiple criminal trials, thereby conclusively presuming that a second trial would be unfair if the innocence of the accused has been confirmed by a previous final judgment. Further prosecution via an appeal from a judgment of acquittal is likewise barred because the government has already been afforded a complete opportunity to prove the criminal defendant’s culpability; after failing to persuade the court to enter a final judgment of conviction, the underlying reasons supporting the constitutional ban on multiple trials applies and becomes compelling. The reason is not only the defendant’s already established innocence at the first trial where he had been placed in peril of conviction, but also the same untoward and prejudicial consequences of a second trial initiated by a government who has at its disposal all the powers and resources of the State.  Unfairness and prejudice would necessarily result, as the government would then be allowed another opportunity to persuade a second trier of the defendant’s guilt while strengthening any weaknesses that had attended the first trial, all in a process where the government’s power and resources are once again employed against the defendant’s individual means. That the second opportunity comes via an appeal does not make the effects any less prejudicial by the standards of reason, justice and conscience.

Thus, the absolute and inflexible rule is that the State is proscribed from appealing the judgment of acquittal through either a regular appeal under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court, or an appeal by certiorari on pure questions of law under Rule 45 of the same Rules.  People of the Philippines vs. Dir. Cesar P. Nazareno, Dir. Evelino Nartatez, Dir. Nicasio Ma. S. Custodio and The Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 168982, August 5, 2009.

Eminent domain;  just compemsation. Eminent domain is the authority and right of the State, as sovereign, to take private property for public use upon observance of due process of law and payment ofjust compensation.

Just compensation is the full and fair equivalent of the property sought to be expropriated. Among the factors to be considered in arriving at the fair market value of the property are the cost of acquisition, the current value of like properties, its actual or potential uses, and in the particular case of lands, their size, shape, location, and the tax declarations thereon. The measure is not the taker’s gain but the owner’s loss. To be just, the compensation must be fair not only to the owner but also to the taker.

Just compensation is based on the price or value of the property at the time it was taken from the owner and appropriated by the government. However, if the government takes possession before the institution of expropriation proceedings, the value should be fixed as of the time of the taking of said possession, not of the filing of the complaint. The value at the time of the filing of the complaint should be the basis for the determination of the value when the taking of the property involved coincides with or is subsequent to the commencement of the proceedings.

The procedure for determining just compensation is set forth in Rule 67 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. Section 5 of Rule 67 partly states that “[u]pon the rendition of the order of expropriation, the court shall appoint not more than three (3) competent and disinterested persons as commissioners to ascertain and report to the court the just compensation for the property sought to be taken.” However, we held in Republic v. Court of Appeals that Rule 67 presupposes a prior filing of complaint for eminent domain with the appropriate court by the expropriator. If no such complaint is filed, the expropriator is considered to have violated procedural requirements, and hence, waived the usual procedure prescribed in Rule 67, including the appointment of commissioners to ascertain just compensation. In National Power Corporation v. Court of Appeals, we clarified that when there is no action for expropriation and the case involves only a complaint for damages or just compensation, the provisions of the Rules of Court on ascertainment of just compensation (i.e., provisions of Rule 67) are no longer applicable, and a trial before commissioners is dispensable.  Republic of the Philippines through the Department of Public Works and Highways vs. Court of Appeals and Rosario Rodriguez Reyes, G.R. No. 160379, August 14, 2009.

Eminent domain;  just compensation.  PD 27 and RA 6657 provide different factors for the computation of just compensation. The former uses average crop harvest as a consideration, whereas, the latter uses the current value of like properties, its nature, actual use and income, the sworn valuation by the owner, the tax declarations, and the assessment made by government assessors as factors for consideration in determining just compensation.

In the case at bar, it is undisputed by the parties that the lands were acquired under PD 27. Moreover, it is also undisputed that just compensation has not yet been settled prior to the passage of RA 6657. Thus, the issue to be determined is what law shall govern in the determination of just compensation.

If just compensation was not settled prior to the passage of RA 6657, it should be computed in accordance with the said law, although the property was acquired under PD 27.  Department of Agrarian Reform (etc.) vs. Carmen S. Tongson, G.R. No. 171674, August 4, 2009.

Eminent domain;  taking. It is the date of the issuance of emancipation patents that should serve as the reckoning point for purposes of computation of just compensation. Copies of the emancipation patents issued to the farmer-beneficiaries, however, have not been attached to the records of the case.  Department of Agrarian Reform (etc.) vs. Carmen S. Tongson, G.R. No. 171674, August 4, 2009.

Free access clause; court filing fees. The basis for the exemption from legal and filing fees is the free access clause, embodied in Sec. 11, Art. III of the 1987 Constitution.

The importance of the right to free access to the courts and quasi judicial bodies and to adequate legal assistance cannot be denied. A move to remove the provision on free access from the Constitution on the ground that it was already covered by the equal protection clause was defeated by the desire to give constitutional stature to such specific protection of the poor.

In implementation of the right of free access under the Constitution, the Supreme Court promulgated rules, specifically, Sec. 21, Rule 3, Rules of Court, and Sec. 19, Rule 141, Rules of Court.

The clear intent and precise language of the aforequoted provisions of the Rules of Court indicate that only a natural party litigant may be regarded as an indigent litigant. The Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc., being a corporation invested by the State with a juridical personality separate and distinct from that of its members, is a juridical person. Among others, it has the power to acquire and possess property of all kinds as well as incur obligations and bring civil or criminal actions, in conformity with the laws and regulations of their organization. As a juridical person, therefore, it cannot be accorded the exemption from legal and filing fees granted to indigent litigants. Query of Mr. Roger C. Prioreschi re exemption from legal and filing fees of the Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc., A.M. No. 09-6-9-SC, August 19, 2009.

Laws;  presumption of constitutionality. Every statute is presumed to be constitutional.  The presumption is that the legislature intended to enact a valid, sensible and just law.  Those who petition the court to declare a law unconstitutional must show thta there is a clear and unequivocal breach of the Constitution, not merely a doubtful, speculative or argumentative one.   Barangay Association for National Advancement and Transparency (BANAT) Partylist represented by Salvador B. Britanico vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 177508, August 7, 2009.

Laws; title. Petitioner alleges that the title of RA 9369 is misleading because it speaks of poll automation but contains substantial provisions dealing with the manual canvassing of election returns. Petitioner also alleges that Sections 34, 37, 38, and 43 are neither embraced in the title nor germane to the subject matter of RA 9369.

The constitutional requirement that “every bill passed by the Congress shall embrace only one subject which shall be expressed in the title thereof” has always been given a practical rather than a technical construction. The requirement is satisfied if the title is comprehensive enough to include subjects related to the general purpose which the statute seeks to achieve. The title of a law does not have to be an index of its contents and will suffice if the matters embodied in the text are relevant to each other and may be inferred from the title. Moreover, a title which declares a statute to be an act to amend a specified code is sufficient and the precise nature of the amendatory act need not be further stated.

RA 9369 is an amendatory act entitled “An Act Amending Republic Act No. 8436, Entitled ‘An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Use an Automated Election System in the May 11, 1998 National or Local Elections and in Subsequent National and Local Electoral Exercises, to Encourage Transparency, Credibility, Fairness and Accuracy of Elections, Amending for the Purpose Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, as Amended, Republic Act No. 7166 and Other Related Election Laws, Providing Funds Therefor and For Other Purposes.’” Clearly, the subject matter of RA 9369 covers the amendments to RA 8436, Batas Pambansa Blg. 881 (BP 881), Republic Act No. 7166 (RA 7166), and other related election laws to achieve its purpose of promoting transparency, credibility, fairness, and accuracy in the elections. The provisions of RA 9369 assailed by petitioner deal with amendments to specific provisions of RA 7166 and BP 881, specifically: (1) Sections 34, 37 and 38 amend Sections 26, 30 and 15 of RA 7166, respectively; and (2) Section 43 of RA 9369 amends Section 265 of BP 881. Therefore, the assailed provisions are germane to the subject matter of RA 9369 which is to amend RA 7166 and BP 881, among others. Barangay Association for National Advancement and Transparency (BANAT) Partylist represented by Salvador B. Britanico vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 177508, August 7, 2009.

Non-impairment of contract. Petitioner assails the constitutionality of the provision which fixes the per diem of poll watchers of the dominant majority and dominant minority parties at poll election day. Petitioner argues that this violates the freedom of the parties to contract and their right to fix the terms and conditions of the contract they see as fair, equitable and just. Petitioner adds that this is a purely private contract using private funds which cannot be regulated by law.

There is no violation of the non-impairment clause. First, the non- impairment clause is limited in application to laws that derogate from prior acts or contracts by enlarging, abridging or in any manner changing the intention of the parties. There is impairment if a subsequent law changes the terms of a contract between the parties, imposes new conditions, dispenses with those agreed upon or withdraws remedies for the enforcement of the rights of the parties.

As observed by the OSG, there is no existing contract yet and, therefore, no enforceable right or demandable obligation will be impaired. RA 9369 was enacted more than three months prior to the 14 May 2007 elections. Hence, when the dominant majority and minority parties hired their respective poll watchers for the 14 May 2007 elections, they were deemed to have incorporated in their contracts all the provisions of RA 9369.

Second, it is settled that police power is superior to the non-impairment clause. The constitutional guaranty of non-impairment of contracts is limited by the exercise of the police power of the State, in the interest of public health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the community. Barangay Association for National Advancement and Transparency (BANAT) Partylist represented by Salvador B. Britanico vs. Commission on Elections,  G.R. No. 177508, August 7, 2009.

Presidential electoral tribunal. Petitioner argues that Sections 37 and 38 of RA 9369 violate Section 17, Article VI and Paragraph 7, Section 4, Article VII of the Constitution for encroaching upon the jurisdiciton of the PET and the SET.

Congress and the COMELEC en banc do not encroach upon the jurisdiction of the PET and the SET. There is no conflict of jurisdiction since the powers of Congress and the COMELEC en banc, on one hand, and the PET and the SET, on the other, are exercised on different occasions and for different purposes. The PET is the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of the President or Vice President. The SET is the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of members of the Senate. The jurisdiction of the PET and the SET can only be invoked once the winning presidential, vice presidential or senatorial candidates have been proclaimed. On the other hand, under Section 37, Congress and the COMELEC en banc shall determine only the authenticity and due execution of the certificates of canvass. Congress and the COMELEC en banc shall exercise this power before the proclamation of the winning presidential, vice presidential, and senatorial candidates.  Barangay Association for National Advancement and Transparency (BANAT) Partylist represented by Salvador B. Britanico vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 177508, August 7, 2009.

Strike; illegal strike. It is hornbook principle that the exercise of the right of private sector employees to strike is not absolute (see Section 3 of Article XIII of the Constitution).  A. Soriano Aviation vs. Employees Association of A. Soriano Aviation, et al., G.R. No. 166879,  August 14, 2009.

Taxation; double taxation.  Double taxation means taxing the same property twice when it should be taxed only once; that is, “taxing the same person twice by the same jurisdiction for the same thing.” It is obnoxious when the taxpayer is taxed twice, when it should be but once. Otherwise described as “direct duplicate taxation,” the two taxes must be imposed on the same subject matter, for the same purpose, by the same taxing authority, within the same jurisdiction, during the same taxing period; and the taxes must be of the same kind or character.

Using the aforementioned test, the Court finds that there is indeed double taxation if respondent is subjected to the taxes under both Sections 14 and 21 of Tax Ordinance No. 7794, since these are being imposed: (1) on the same subject matter – the privilege of doing business in the City of Manila; (2) for the same purpose – to make persons conducting business within the City of Manila contribute to city revenues; (3) by the same taxing authority – petitioner City of Manila; (4) within the same taxing jurisdiction – within the territorial jurisdiction of the City of Manila; (5) for the same taxing periods – per calendar year; and (6) of the same kind or character – a local business tax imposed on gross sales or receipts of the business. The City of Manila, Liberty M. Toledo in her capacity as the Treasurer of Manila, et al. vs. Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc., G.R. No. 181845, August 4, 2009.

Warrantless search;  plain view doctrine.  Under the plain view doctrine, objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be presented as evidence. The plain view doctrine applies when the following requisites concur: (1) the law enforcement officer in search of the evidence has a prior justification for an intrusion or is in a position from which he can view a particular area; (2) the discovery of the evidence in plain view is inadvertent; and (3) it is immediately apparent to the officer that the item he observes may be evidence of a crime, contraband or otherwise subject to seizure.

In this case, the police authorities were in the area because that was where they caught up with petitioner after the chase. They saw the firearms inside the vehicle when petitioner opened the door. Since a shooting incident just took place and it was reported that petitioner was involved in the incident, it was apparent to the police officers that the firearms may be evidence of a crime. Hence, they were justified in seizing the firearms. Judge Felimon Abelita, III vs. P/Supt. German Doria and SPO3 Cesar Ramirez, G.R. No. 170672, August 14, 2009.

Public Officers

Practice of profession.  Section 7 of R.A. No. 6713 generally provides for the prohibited acts and transactions of public officials and employees. Subsection (b)(2) prohibits them from engaging in the private practice of their profession during their incumbency. As an exception, a public official or employee can engage in the practice of his or her profession under the following conditions: first, the private practice is authorized by the Constitution or by the law; and second, the practice will not conflict, or tend to conflict, with his or her official functions.

The Section 7 prohibitions continue to apply for a period of one year after the public official or employee’s resignation, retirement, or separation from public office, except for the private practice of profession under subsection (b)(2), which can already be undertaken even within the one-year prohibition period. As an exception to this exception, the one-year prohibited period applies with respect to any matter before the office the public officer or employee used to work with.

The Section 7 prohibitions are predicated on the principle that public office is a public trust; and serve to remove any impropriety, real or imagined, which may occur in government transactions between a former government official or employee and his or her former colleagues, subordinates or superiors. The prohibitions also promote the observance and the efficient use of every moment of the prescribed office hours to serve the public.

Parenthetically, in the case of court employees, Section 7(b)(2) of R.A. No. 6713 is not the only prohibition to contend with; Section 5, Canon 3 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel also applies.

A clerk of court can already engage in the practice of law immediately after her separation from the service and without any period limitation that applies to other prohibitions under Section 7 of R.A. No. 6713.  The clerk of court’s limitation is that she cannot practice her profession within one year before the office where he or she used to work with. Query of Atty. Karen M. Silverio-Buffe, former Clerk of Court, Branch 81, Romblon, Romblon, on the prohibition from engaging in the private practice of law, A.M. No. 08-6-352-RTC, August 19, 2009.

Agrarian law

Tenants.  To qualify for protection under PD 1517 and avail of the rights and privileges granted by the said decree, the claimant must be: (1) a legitimate tenant of the land for ten (10) years or more; (2) must have built his home on the land by contract; and, (3) has resided continuously for the last ten (10) years. The “tenant” covered by PD 1517 is, as defined under Section 3(f) thereof, “the rightful occupant of land and its structures, but does not include those whose presence on the land is merely tolerated and without the benefit of contract, those who enter the land by force or deceit, or those whose possession is under litigation.”

Stated differently, those whose possession or occupation of land is devoid of any legal authority or those whose contracts of lease are already terminated, or had already expired, or whose possession is under litigation are not considered “tenants” under the decree. Conversely, a legitimate tenant is one who is not a usurper or an occupant by tolerance. The petitioners-defendants whose occupation has been merely by the owner’s tolerance obviously fall outside the coverage of PD 1517 and cannot seek its protection.  Francisco Madrid and Edgardo Bernardo vs. Spouses Bonifacio Mapoy and Felicidad MartinezG.R. No. 150887, August 14, 2009.

Election Law

COMELEC; powers. We do not agree with petitioner and the COMELEC that the Constitution gave the COMELEC the “exclusive power” to investigate and prosecute cases of violations of election laws.

Section 2(6), Article IX-C of the Constitution vests in the COMELEC the power to “investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute cases of violations of election laws, including acts or omissions constituting election frauds, offenses, and malpractices.” This was an important innovation introduced by the Constitution because this provision was not in the 1935 or 1973] Constitutions. The phrase “[w]here appropriate” leaves to the legislature the power to determine the kind of election offenses that the COMELEC shall prosecute exclusively or concurrently with other prosecuting arms of the government.  Barangay Association for National Advancement and Transparency (BANAT) Partylist represented by Salvador B. Britanico vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 177508, August 7, 2009.