November 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Civil Service Commission; jurisdiction. TThe Civil Service Commission (CSC) Caraga has jurisdiction to conduct the preliminary investigation of a possible administrative case of dishonesty against PO1 Capablanca for alleged CSP examination irregularity.

The CSC, as the central personnel agency of the Government, is mandated to establish a career service, to strengthen the merit and rewards system, and to adopt measures to promote morale, efficiency and integrity in the civil service. The civil service embraces all branches, subdivisions, instrumentalities, and agencies of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters. Specifically, Section 91 of Republic Act (RA) No. 6975 (1990) or the “Department of Interior and Local Government Act of 1990” provides that the “Civil Service Law and its implementing rules and regulations shall apply to all personnel of the Department,” to which herein petitioner belongs.

Section 12 of Executive Order (EO) No. 292 or the “Administrative Code of 1987,” enumerates the powers and functions of the CSC. In addition, Section 28, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations specifically confers upon the CSC the authority to take cognizance over any irregularities or anomalies connected with the examinations. To carry out this mandate, the CSC issued Resolution No. 991936, or the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, empowering its Regional Offices to take cognizance of cases involving CSC examination anomalies.

Based on the foregoing, it is clear that the CSC acted within its jurisdiction when it initiated the conduct of a preliminary investigation on the alleged civil service examination irregularity committed by the petitioner. Eugenio S. Capablanca vs. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 179370, November 18, 2009.

Civil Service Commission; jurisdiction. It has already been settled in Cruz v. Civil Service Commission that the appellate power of the CSC will only apply when the subject of the administrative cases filed against erring employees is in connection with the duties and functions of their office, and not in cases where the acts of complainant arose from cheating in the civil service examinations.  Eugenio S. Capablanca vs. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 179370, November 18, 2009.

Constitutionality;  equal protection. The equal protection guarantee under the Constitution is found under its Section 2, Article III, which provides: “Nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” Essentially, the equality guaranteed under this clause is equality under the same conditions and among persons similarly situated. It is equality among equals, not similarity of treatment of persons who are different from one another on the basis of substantial distinctions related to the objective of the law; when things or persons are different in facts or circumstances, they may be treated differently in law.

Appreciation of how the constitutional equality provision applies inevitably leads to the conclusion that no basis exists in the present case for an equal protection challenge. The law can treat barangay officials differently from other local elective officials because the Constitution itself provides a significant distinction between these elective officials with respect to length of term and term limitation. The clear distinction, expressed in the Constitution itself, is that while the Constitution provides for a three-year term and three-term limit for local elective officials, it left the length of term and the application of the three-term limit or any form of term limitation for determination by Congress through legislation. Not only does this disparate treatment recognize substantial distinctions, it recognizes as well that the Constitution itself allows a non-uniform treatment. No equal protection violation can exist under these conditions.

From another perspective, we see no reason to apply the equal protection clause as a standard because the challenged proviso did not result in any differential treatment between barangay officials and all other elective officials. This conclusion proceeds from our ruling on the retroactivity issue that the challenged proviso does not involve any retroactive application.  Commission on Elections vs. Conrado Cruz, et al., G.R. No. 186616, November 20, 2009.

Constitutionality; lis mota. In its last-ditch effort to salvage its case, SEM contends that Proclamation No. 297, issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and declaring the Diwalwal Gold Rush Area as a mineral reservation, is invalid on the ground that it lacks the concurrence of Congress as mandated by Section 4, Article XII of the Constitution; Section 1 of Republic Act No. 3092; Section 14 of Executive Order No. 292, otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987; Section 5(a) of Republic Act No. 7586, and Section 4(a) of Republic Act No. 6657.

It is well-settled that when questions of constitutionality are raised, the court can exercise its power of judicial review only if the following requisites are present: (1) an actual and appropriate case exists; (2) there is a personal and substantial interest of the party raising the constitutional question; (3) the exercise of judicial review is pleaded at the earliest opportunity; and (4) the constitutional question is the lis mota of the case.

Taking into consideration the foregoing requisites of judicial review, it is readily clear that the third requisite is absent. The general rule is that the question of constitutionality must be raised at the earliest opportunity, so that if it is not raised in the pleadings, ordinarily it may not be raised at the trial; and if not raised in the trial court, it will not be considered on appeal. Apex Mining Co. Inc. Vs. Southeast Mindanao Gold Mining Corp., et al., G.R. No. 152613/G.R. No. 152628, November 20, 2009.

Constitutionality;  one subject one title rule. Every bill passed by the Congress shall embrace only one subject which shall be expressed in the title thereof.

We find, under these settled parameters, that the challenged proviso does not violate the one subject-one title rule.

First, the title of RA No. 9164, “An Act Providing for Synchronized Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataang Elections, amending Republic Act No. 7160, as amended, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991,” states the law’s general subject matter – the amendment of the LGC to synchronize the barangay and SK elections and for other purposes. To achieve synchronization of the barangay and SK elections, the reconciliation of the varying lengths of the terms of office of barangay officials and SK officials is necessary. Closely related with length of term is term limitation which defines the total number of terms for which a barangayofficial may run for and hold office. This natural linkage demonstrates that term limitation is not foreign to the general subject expressed in the title of the law.

Second, the congressional debates we cited above show that the legislators and the public they represent were fully informed of the purposes, nature and scope of the law’s provisions. Term limitation therefore received the notice, consideration, and action from both the legislators and the public.

Finally, to require the inclusion of term limitation in the title of RA No. 9164 is to make the title an index of all the subject matters dealt with by law; this is not what the constitutional requirement contemplates.  Commission on Elections vs. Conrado Cruz, et al., G.R. No. 186616, November 20, 2009.

Constitutionality;  political question. Congress has plenary authority under the Constitution to determine by legislation not only the duration of the term of barangay officials, but also the application to them of a consecutive term limit. Congress invariably exercised this authority when it enacted no less than six (6) barangay-related laws since 1987.

Through all these statutory changes, Congress had determined at its discretion both the length of the term of office of barangay officials and their term limitation. Given the textually demonstrable commitment by the 1987 Constitution to Congress of the authority to determine the term duration and limition of barangay officials under the Constitution, we consider it established that whatever Congress, in its wisdom, decides on these matters are political questions beyond the pale of judicial scrutiny, subject only to the certiorari jurisdiction of the courts provided under Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution and to the judicial authority to invalidate any law contrary to the Constitution.

Political questions refer “to those questions which, under the Constitution, are to be decided by the people in their sovereign capacity, or in regard to which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the legislative or executive branch of the government; it is concerned with issues dependent upon the wisdom, not legality of a particular measure.” These questions, previously impervious to judicial scrutiny can now be inquired into under the limited window provided by Section 1, Article VIII.

Other than the Section 1, Article VIII route, courts can declare a law invalid when it is contrary to any provision of the Constitution. This requires the appraisal of the challenged law against the legal standards provided by the Constitution, not on the basis of the wisdom of the enactment. To justify its nullification, the breach of the Constitution must be clear and unequivocal, not a doubtful or equivocal one, as every law enjoys a strong presumption of constitutionality. These are the hurdles that those challenging the constitutional validity of a law must overcome.   Commission on Elections vs. Conrado Cruz, et al., G.R. No. 186616, November 20, 2009.

Constitutionality;  retroactivity. The constitutional challenge must fail for a more fundamental reason – the respondents’ retroactivity objection does not involve a violation of any constitutional standard.

Retroactivity of laws is a matter of civil law, not of a constitutional law, as its governing law is the Civil Code, not the Constitution. Article 4 of the Civil Code provides that laws shall have no retroactive effect unless the contrary is provided. The application of the Civil Code is of course self-explanatory – laws enacted by Congress may permissibly provide that they shall have retroactive effect. The Civil Code established a statutory norm, not a constitutional standard.

The closest the issue of retroactivity of laws can get to a genuine constitutional issue is if a law’s retroactive application will impair vested rights. Otherwise stated, if a right has already vested in an individual and a subsequent law effectively takes it away, a genuine due process issue may arise. What should be involved, however, is a vested right to life, liberty or property, as these are the ones that may be considered protected by the due process clause of the Constitution.

In the present case, the respondents never raised due process as an issue. But even assuming that they did, the respondents themselves concede that there is no vested right to public office. As the COMELEC correctly pointed out, too, there is no vested right to an elective post in view of the uncertainty inherent in electoral exercises.   Commission on Elections vs. Conrado Cruz, et al., G.R. No. 186616, November 20, 2009.

Election law

Ballots; appreciation. Although as a rule, the appreciation of contested ballots and election documents involves a question of fact best left to the determination of the COMELEC, still when it can be shown that, as in this case, it grossly misread evidence of such nature that compels a different conclusion, the Court will not hesitate to reverse that body’s factual findings.

It is by now a settled truth that no two persons write alike. Even if two handwritings have a common general outlook, they are apt to be at variance in some basic characteristics that set them apart. Every person uses his own style for forming letters, technically called personal characteristics. Whatever features two specimens of handwriting may have in common, they cannot be regarded as written by one person if they show even but one consistent dissimilarity in any feature which is fundamental to the structure of the handwriting.

Here, the Court did not find, after examining 93 of the excluded ballots pertaining to petitioner Torres, any two or more of ballots that were filled in by a single hand. Of the 47 pairs of ballots that the En Banc excluded, only two pairs were correctly excluded because they were written by one person for each pair. 45 pairs turned out to have been filled up by different hands. While the general outlook of the handwritings on each of the two ballots in any given pair is the same, such handwritings have distinct personal characteristics. In the same way, the three ballots that were supposedly written on by one person turned out to have been the work of three different hands. Ramon P. Torres vs. Commission on Elections and Josephine “Joy” H. Gaviola, G.R. No. 187956, November 19, 2009.

Candidates;  liability for election offenses.   Congress has laid down the law — a candidate is liable for election offenses only upon the start of the campaign period. This Court has no power to ignore the clear and express mandate of the law that “any person who files his certificate of candidacy within [the filing] period shall only be considered a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy.” Neither can this Court turn a blind eye to the express and clear language of the law that “any unlawful act or omission applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the campaign period.” Rosalinda A. Penera vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 181613, November 25, 2009. Note: The Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision dated September 11, 2009.

Note on this posting:  As of the date of this post, not all Supreme Court decisions promulgated on November 2009 were available online.  This post will be updated when the November 2009 decisions become available.