October 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Bail.  Section 13, Article III of the Constitution provides that “All persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law.”

Section 4 of Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, thus provides that all persons in custody shall, before conviction by a regional trial court of an offense not punishable by death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, be admitted to bail as a matter of right.

The exercise by the trial court of its discretionary power to grant bail to an accused charged with a capital offense thus depends on whether the evidence of guilt is strong.  The People of the Philippines vs. Luis Plaza y Bucalon, G.R. No. 176933, October 2, 2009.

Civil Service Commission; powers. The Commission, as the central personnel agency of the government, has statutory authority to establish rules and regulations to promote efficiency and professionalism in the civil service. Presidential Decree No. 807, or the Civil Service Decree of the Philippines, provides for the powers of the Commission, including the power to issue rules and regulations and to review appointments. Leah M. Nazareno, et al. vs. City of Dumaguete, et al., G.R. No. 181559, October 2, 2009.

Commission on Audit;  powers. Under Commonwealth Act No. 327, as amended by P.D. No. 1445, the COA, as one of the three independent constitutional commissions, is specifically vested with the power, authority and duty to examine, audit and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property owned or held in trust by the government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies or instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations. To ensure the effective discharge of its functions, it is vested with ample powers, subject to constitutional limitations, to define the scope of its audit and examination and establish the techniques and methods required therefor, to promulgate accounting and auditing rules and regulations, including those for the prevention and disallowance of irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant or unconscionable expenditures or uses of government funds and properties.

Clearly, the matter of allowing or disallowing a money claim against petitioner is within the primary power of the COA to decide. This no doubt includes money claims arising from the implementation of R.A. No. 6758. Respondents’ claim against petitioner, although it has already been validated by the trial court’s final decision, likewise belongs to that class of claims; hence, it must first be filed with the COA before execution could proceed. And from the decision therein, the aggrieved party is afforded a remedy by elevating the matter to this Court via a petition for certiorari in accordance with Section 1 Rule XI, of the COA Rules of Procedure.  National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation vs. Mario Abayari, et al., G.R. No. 166508, October 2, 2009.

COMELEC;  certiorari. It is settled that under Section 7, Article IX-A of the Constitution, what may be brought to this Court on certiorari is the decision, order or ruling of the COMELEC en banc. However, this rule should not apply when a division of the COMELEC arrogates unto itself and deprives the en banc of the authority to rule on a motion for reconsideration, like in this case.

In this case, the First Division of the COMELEC violated the cited provisions of the Constitution and the COMELEC Rules of Procedure when it resolved petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of its final Order dated November 25, 2008, which dismissed petitioner’s appeal. By arrogating unto itself a power constitutionally lodged in the Commission en banc, the First Division of the COMELEC exercised judgment in excess of, or without, jurisdiction. Hence, the Order issued by the First Division of the COMELEC dated January 9, 2009, denying petitioner’s motion for reconsideration, is null and void. Carmelinda C. Barror vs. The Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. No. 186201, October 9, 2009.

COMELEC;  powers.   The COMELEC under our governmental structure is a constitutional administrative agency and its powers are essentially executive in nature (i.e., to enforce and administer election laws), quasi-judicial (to exercise original jurisdiction over election contests of regional, provincial and city officials and appellate jurisdiction over election contests of other lower ranking officials), and quasi-legislative (rulemaking on all questions affecting elections and the promulgation of its rules of procedure).

Historically, the COMELEC has always been an administrative agency whose powers have been increased from the 1935 Constitution to the present one, to reflect the country’s awareness of the need to provide greater regulation and protection to our electoral processes to ensure their integrity.

The COMELEC’s adjudicative function is quasi-judicial since it is a constitutional body, other than a court, vested with authority to decide election contests, and in the course of the exercise of its jurisdiction, to hold hearings and exercise discretion of a judicial nature; it receives evidence, ascertain the facts from these submissions, determine the law and the legal rights of the parties, and on the basis of all these decides on the merits of the case and renders judgment. Despite the exercise of discretion that is essentially judicial in character, particularly with respect to election contests, COMELEC is not a tribunal within the judicial branch of government and is not a court exercising judicial power in the constitutional sense; hence, its adjudicative function, exercised as it is in the course of administration and enforcement, is quasi-judicial.

The 1973 Constitution used the unique wording that the COMELEC shall “be the sole judge of all contests,” thus giving the appearance that judicial power had been conferred. This phraseology, however, was changed in the 1987 Constitution to give the COMELEC “exclusive jurisdiction over all contests,” thus removing any vestige of exercising its adjudicatory power as a court and correctly aligning it with what it is – a quasi-judicial body.Consistent with the characterization of its adjudicatory power as quasi-judicial, the judicial review of COMELEC en banc decisions (together with the review of Civil Service Commission decisions) is via the prerogative writ of certiorari, not through an appeal, as the traditional mode of review of quasi-judicial decisions of administrative tribunals in the exercise the Court’s supervisory authority. This means that the Court will not supplant the decision of the COMELEC as a quasi-judicial body except where a grave abuse of discretion or any other jurisdictional error exists.  Joselito R. Mendoza vs. Commission on Elections and Roberto M. Pagdanganan, G.R. No. 188308, October 15, 2009.

COMELEC;  decisions.  Petitioners argue that the February 28, 2003 resolution of the COMELEC violates Article VIII, Section 14 of the Constitution, which states that “no decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.” The COMELEC allegedly made generalizations without detailing the basis for its findings.

The assailed resolution substantially complied with the constitutional mandate of Article VIII, Section 14 of the Constitution. The resolution detailed the evidence presented by the parties.  Thereafter, it weighed the respective pieces of evidence submitted by the prosecution and the defense and chose the one that deserved credence. It contained findings of facts as well as an application of case law.

The purpose of Article VIII, Section 14 of the Constitution is to inform the person reading the decision, especially the parties, of how it was reached by the court after a consideration of the pertinent facts and an examination of the applicable laws. The losing party is entitled to know why he lost, so he may appeal to a higher court, if permitted, if he believes that the decision should be reversed. A decision that does not clearly and distinctly state the facts and the law on which it is based leaves the parties in the dark as to how it was reached and is especially prejudicial to the losing party, who is unable to pinpoint the possible errors of the court for review by a higher tribunal. Thus, a decision is adequate if a party desiring to appeal therefrom can assign errors to it.  Roberto Albaña, et al. vs. Pio Jude Belo, et al., G.R. No. 158734, October 2, 2009.

COMELEC;  due process.  Based on the pleadings filed, there is no factual and legal basis for the petitioner to complain of denial of his hearing stage rights. In the first place, he does not dispute that he fully participated in the proceedings of the election protest until the case was deemed submitted for resolution; he had representation at the revision of the ballots, duly presented his evidence, and summed up his case through a memorandum. These various phases of the proceedings constitute the hearing proper of the election contest and the COMELEC has more than satisfied the opportunity to be heard that the Ang Tibay hearing stage rights require. In these proceedings, the petitioner stood head-to-head with the respondent in an adversarial contest where both sides were given their respective rights to speak, make their presentations, and controvert each other’s submission, subject only to established COMELEC rules of procedures. Under these undisputed facts, both parties had their day in court, so to speak, and neither one can complain of any denial of notice or of the right to be heard. Joselito R. Mendoza vs. Commission on Elections and Roberto M. Pagdanganan, G.R. No. 188308, October 15, 2009.

Eminent domain;  damages.  In taking respondents’ property without the benefit of expropriation proceedings and without payment of just compensation, the City of Pasig clearly acted in utter disregard of respondents’ proprietary rights. Such conduct cannot be countenanced by the Court. For said illegal taking, the City of Pasig should definitely be held liable for damages to respondents. Again, in Manila International Airport Authority v. Rodriguez, the Court held that the government agency’s illegal occupation of the owner’s property for a very long period of time surely resulted in pecuniary loss to the owner.  Hon. Vicente P. Eusebio, et al. vs.. Jovito M. Luis, et al.  G.R. No. 162474, October 13, 2009

Eminent domain; estoppel. Just like in the Forfom case, herein respondents also failed to question the taking of their property for a long period of time (from 1980 until the early 1990’s) and, when asked during trial what action they took after their property was taken, witness Jovito Luis, one of the respondents, testified that “when we have an occasion to talk to Mayor Caruncho we always asked for compensation.” It is likewise undisputed that what was constructed by the city government on respondents’ property was a road for public use, namely, A. Sandoval Avenue in Pasig City. Clearly, as in Forfom, herein respondents are also estopped from recovering possession of their land, but are entitled to just compensation. Hon. Vicente P. Eusebio, et al. vs. Jovito M. Luis, et al., G.R. No. 162474, October 13, 2009.

Eminent domain; just compensation. In fixing the just compensation in the present case, the trial court, adopting the market data approach on which Commissioner Chua relied, merely put premium on the location of the property and the crops planted thereon which are not among the factors enumerated in Section 17 of RA 6657. And the trial court did not apply the formula provided in DAR AO 6-92, as amended. This is a clear departure from the settled doctrine regarding the mandatory nature of Section 17 of RA 6657 and the DAR issuances implementing it.

Not only did Commissioner Chua not consider Section 17 of RA 6657 and DAR AO 6-92, as amended, in his appraisal of the property. His conclusion that the market data approach conformed with statutory and regulatory requirements is bereft of basis.  Department of Agrarian Reform, rep. OIC-Secretary Nasser C. Pangandaman vs. Jose Marie Rufino, et al.,  G.R. No. 175644/G.R. No. 175702, October 2, 2009.

Eminent domain;  just compensation.  With regard to the time as to when just compensation should be fixed, it is settled jurisprudence that where property was taken without the benefit of expropriation proceedings, and its owner files an action for recovery of possession thereof before the commencement of expropriation proceedings, it is the value of the property at the time of taking that is controlling. Hon. Vicente P. Eusebio, et al. vs. Jovito M. Luis, et al., G.R. No. 162474, October 13, 2009.

Eminent domain; just compensation.  Petitioner’s interpretation is flawed. In the recent case of Land Bank of the Philippines v. Chico, the Court declared in no uncertain terms that R.A. No. 6657 is the relevant law for determining just compensation after noting several decided cases where the Court found it more equitable to determine just compensation based on the value of the property at the time of payment. This was a clear departure from the Court’s earlier stance in Gabatin v. Land Bank of the Philippines where it declared that the reckoning period for the determination of just compensation is the time when the land was taken applying P.D. No. 27 and E.O. No. 228.

P.D. No. 27/E.O. No. 228 vis a vis R.A. No. 6657 was applied to cases involving lands placed under the coverage of P.D. No. 27/E.O. No. 228 where payment of just compensation had not been completed. When in the interim R.A. No. 6657 was passed before the full payment of just compensation, as in the case at bar, the provisions of R.A. No. 6657 on just compensation control. Land Bank of the Philippines vs. J. L. Jocson and Sons, G.R. No. 180803, October 23, 2009.

Eminent domain;  prescription.  Where private property is taken by the Government for public use without first acquiring title thereto either through expropriation or negotiated sale, the owner’s action to recover the land or the value thereof does not prescribe. Hon. Vicente P. Eusebio, et al. vs. Jovito M. Luis, et al., G.R. No. 162474, October 13, 2009.

Right to  be informed.  Under the Constitution, a person who stands charged of a criminal offense has the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. The Rules of Court, in implementing the right, specifically require that the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense, including the qualifying and aggravating circumstances, must be stated in ordinary and concise language, not necessarily in the language used in the statute, but in terms sufficient to enable a person of common understanding to know what offense is being charged and the attendant qualifying and aggravating circumstances present, so that the accused can properly defend himself and the court can pronounce judgment. To broaden the scope of the right, the Rules authorize the quashal, upon motion of the accused, of an Information that fails to allege the acts constituting the offense. Jurisprudence has laid down the fundamental test in appreciating a motion to quash an Information grounded on the insufficiency of the facts alleged therein.  Jose C. Go vs. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, G.R. No. 178429, October 23, 2009.

Public Officers

Mass appointments. It is not difficult to see the reasons behind the prohibition on mass appointments before and after the elections. Appointments are banned prior to the elections to ensure that partisan loyalties will not be a factor in the appointment process, and to prevent incumbents from gaining any undue advantage during the elections. To this end, appointments within a certain period of time are proscribed by the Omnibus Election Code and related issuances. After the elections, appointments by defeated candidates are prohibited, except under the circumstances mentioned in CSC Resolution No. 010988, to avoid animosities between outgoing and incoming officials, to allow the incoming administration a free hand in implementing its policies, and to ensure that appointments and promotions are not used as a tool for political patronage or as a reward for services rendered to the outgoing local officials.

Indeed, not all appointments issued after the elections by defeated officials are invalid. CSC Resolution No. 010988 does not purport to nullify all “mass appointments.” However, it must be shown that the appointments have undergone the regular screening process, that the appointee is qualified, that there is a need to fill up the vacancy immediately, and that the appointments are not in bulk.  Leah M. Nazareno, et al. vs. City of Dumaguete, et al., G.R. No. 181559, October 2, 2009.

Administrative Law

Cardinal rights; administrative proceedings. The first of the enumerated rights pertain to the substantive rights of a party at hearing stage of the proceedings. The essence of this aspect of due process is simply the opportunity to be heard, or as applied to administrative proceedings, an opportunity to explain one’s side or an opportunity to seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. A formal or trial-type hearing is not at all times and in all instances essential; in the case of COMELEC, Rule 17 of its Rules of Procedure defines the requirements for a hearing and these serve as the standards in the determination of the presence or denial of due process.

The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth aspects of the Ang Tibay requirements are reinforcements of the right to a hearing and are the inviolable rights applicable at the deliberative stage, as the decision-maker decides on the evidence presented during the hearing. These standards set forth the guiding considerations in deliberating on the case and are the material and substantial components of decision-making. Briefly, the tribunal must consider the totality of the evidence presented which must all be found in the records of the case (i.e., those presented or submitted by the parties); the conclusion, reached by the decision-maker himself and not by a subordinate, must be based on substantial evidence.

Finally, the last requirement, relating to the form and substance of the decision of a quasi-judicial body, further complements the hearing and decision-making due process rights and is similar in substance to the constitutional requirement that a decision of a court must state distinctly the facts and the law upon which it is based. As a component of the rule of fairness that underlies due process, this is the “duty to give reason” to enable the affected person to understand how the rule of fairness has been administered in his case, to expose the reason to public scrutiny and criticism, and to ensure that the decision will be thought through by the decision-maker.   R. Mendoza vs. Commission on Elections and Roberto M. Pagdanganan, G.R. No. 188308, October 15, 2009.

Exhaustion of administrative remedies. It is true that the general rule is that before a party is allowed to seek the intervention of the court, he or she should have availed himself or herself of all the means of administrative processes afforded him or her. Hence, if resort to a remedy within the administrative machinery can still be made by giving the administrative officer concerned every opportunity to decide on a matter that comes within his or her jurisdiction, then such remedy should be exhausted first before the court’s judicial power can be sought. The premature invocation of the intervention of the court is fatal to one’s cause of action. The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies is based on practical and legal reasons. The availment of administrative remedy entails lesser expenses and provides for a speedier disposition of controversies. Furthermore, the courts of justice, for reasons of comity and convenience, will shy away from a dispute until the system of administrative redress has been completed and complied with, so as to give the administrative agency concerned every opportunity to correct its error and dispose of the case. However, there are several exceptions to this rule.

The rule on the exhaustion of administrative remedies is intended to preclude a court from arrogating unto itself the authority to resolve a controversy, the jurisdiction over which is initially lodged with an administrative body of special competence. Thus, a case where the issue raised is a purely legal question, well within the competence; and the jurisdiction of the court and not the administrative agency, would clearly constitute an exception. Resolving questions of law, which involve the interpretation and application of laws, constitutes essentially an exercise of judicial power that is exclusively allocated to the Supreme Court and such lower courts the Legislature may establish. Evelyn Ongsuco and Antonia Salaya vs. Hon. Mariano M. Malones, etc., G.R. No. 182065, October 27, 2009.

Election Law

Pre-proclamation controversy. Section 243 of the Omnibus Election Code limits a pre-proclamation controversy to the questions enumerated therein. The enumeration is restrictive and exclusive. Resultantly, the petition for a pre-proclamation controversy must fail in the absence of any clear showing or proof that the election returns canvassed are incomplete or contain material defects (Section 234, Omnibus Election Code); or appear to have been tampered with, falsified or prepared under duress (Section 235, Omnibus Election Code); or contain discrepancies in the votes credited to any candidate, the difference of which affects the result of the election (Section 236, Omnibus Election Code).

To be noted, too, is that in a pre-proclamation controversy, the COMELEC is restricted to an examination of the election returns and is without jurisdiction to go beyond or behind the election returns and to investigate election irregularities. For as long as the election returns appear to be authentic and duly accomplished on their faces, the Board of Canvassers cannot look beyond or behind the election returns in order to verify allegations of irregularities in the casting or counting of votes.  Ismunlatip H. Suhuri  vs. The Honorable Commssion on Elections (En Banc), The Municipal Board of Canvassers of Patikul, Sulu and Kabir E. Hayundini, G.R. No. 181869, October 2, 2009.

Residency requirement.  The issue of petitioner’s disqualification for failure to comply with the one-year residency requirement has been resolved by this Court in Norlainie Mitmug Limbona v. Commission on Elections and Malik “Bobby” T. Alingan. This case stemmed from the first disqualification case filed by herein respondent against petitioner, docketed as SPA No. 07-611. Although the petitioner had withdrawn the Certificate of Candidacy subject of the disqualification case, the Comelec resolved the petition and found that petitioner failed to comply with the one-year residency requirement, and was, therefore, disqualified from running as mayor of Pantar.  Norlainie Mitmug Limbona vs. Commssion on Elections and Malik “Bobby” T. Alingan,   G.R. No. 186006, October 16, 2009.

Statistical improbability doctrine. Under Lagumbay, the doctrine of statistical improbability is applied only where the unique uniformity of tally of all the votes cast in favor of all the candidates belonging to one party and the systematic blanking of all the candidates of all the opposing parties appear in the election return. The doctrine has no application where there is neither uniformity of tallies nor systematic blanking of the candidates of one party. Thus, the bare fact that a candidate for public office received no votes in one or two precincts, standing alone and without more, cannot adequately support a finding that the subject election returns are statistically improbable. Verily, a zero vote for a particular candidate in the election returns is but one strand in the web of circumstantial evidence that the electoral returns were prepared under duress, force and intimidation.

The Court has thus warned that the doctrine of statistical improbability must be restrictively viewed, with the utmost care being taken lest in penalizing fraudulent and corrupt practices – which is truly called for – innocent voters become disenfranchised, a result that hardly commends itself. Such prudential approach makes us dismiss Suhuri’s urging that some of the electoral results had been infected with the taint of statistical improbability as to warrant their exclusion from the canvass in a pre-proclamation controversy. Specifically, his petition and the records nowhere show that his party-mates received a similar number of votes (or lack of any) by which to conclude that there were a unique uniformity of tally and a systematic blanking of other candidates belonging to one party. Ismunlatip H. Suhuri  vs. The Honorable Commssion on Elections (En Banc), The Municipal Board of Canvassers of Patikul, Sulu and Kabir E. Hayundini, G.R. No. 181869, October 2, 2009.