December 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected December 2009 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law and related laws:

Constitutional Law

Bill of rights;  eminent domain.  Expropriation is not limited to the acquisition of real property with a corresponding transfer of title or possession. The right-of-way easement resulting in a restriction or limitation on property rights over the land traversed by transmission lines also falls within the ambit of the term expropriation.  National Power Corporation vs. Hon. Amer Ibrahim, etc., et al., G.R. No. 183297, December 23, 2009.

Bill of Rights; eminent domain. In computing for the value of the land subject to acquisition, the formula provided in DAO No. 6, Series of 1992, as amended, requires that figures pertaining to the Capitalized Net Income (CNI) and Market Value (MV) of the property be used as inputs in arriving at the correct land valuation. Thus, the applicable formula, as correctly used by the LBP in its valuation, is LV (Land Value) = (CNI x 0.9) + (MV x 0.1).

To arrive at the figure for the CNI of lands planted to a combination of crops, Item II B.5 of the said administrative order provides that the same should be computed based on the combination of actual crops produced on the covered land.  Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Kumassie Plantation Company Incorporated/Kumassie Plantation Company Incorporated vs. Land Bank of the Philippines, et al.  G.R. No. 177404/G.R. No. 178097. December 4, 2009.

Bill of rights; eminent domain; interest. The taking of property under CARL is an exercise by the State of the power of eminent domain. A basic limitation on the State’s power of eminent domain is the constitutional directive that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. Just compensation refers to the sum equivalent to the market value of the property, broadly described to be the price fixed by the seller in open market in the usual and ordinary course of legal action and competition, or the fair value of the property as between one who receives and one who desires to sell. It is fixed at the time of the actual taking by the State. Thus, if property is taken for public use before compensation is deposited with the court having jurisdiction over the case, the final compensation must include interests on its just value, to be computed from the time the property is taken up to the time when compensation is actually paid or deposited with the court.  National Power Corporation vs. Hon. Amer Ibrahim, etc., et al., G.R. No. 183297, December 23, 2009.

Bill of rights; eminent domain; interest.  In Philippine Railway Company v. Solon, decided in 1909, the Court treated interest as part of just compensation when the payment to the owner was delayed. Apo Fruits Corporation and Hijo Plantation, Inc. vs. The Hon. Court of Appeals, and Land Bank of the Philippines, G.R. No. 164195. December 4, 2009.

Bill of rights; eminent domain; just compensation. The term just compensation had been defined as the full and fair equivalent of the property taken from its owner by the expropriator. The measure is not the taker’s gain, but the owner’s loss. The word just is used to intensify the meaning of the word compensation and to convey thereby the idea that the equivalent to be rendered for the property to be taken shall be real, substantial, full, and ample.

In Camarines Norte Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. Court of Appeals and National Power Corporation v. Manubay Agro-Industrial Development Corporation, the Court sustained the award of just compensation equivalent to the fair and full value of the property even if petitioners only sought the continuation of the exercise of their right-of-way easement and not the ownership over the land. There is simply no basis for NPC to claim that the payment of fair market value without the concomitant transfer of title constitutes an unjust enrichment.

Bill of Rights; equal protection. In order that there can be valid classification so that a discriminatory governmental act may pass the constitutional norm of equal protection, it is necessary that the four (4) requisites of valid classification be complied with, namely:

(1) It must be based upon substantial distinctions;

(2) It must be germane to the purposes of the law;

(3) It must not be limited to existing conditions only; and

(4) It must apply equally to all members of the class.

The first requirement means that there must be real and substantial differences between the classes treated differently. As illustrated in the fairly recent Mirasol v. Department of Public Works and Highways, a real and substantial distinction exists between a motorcycle and other motor vehicles sufficient to justify its classification among those prohibited from plying the toll ways. Not all motorized vehicles are created equal—a two-wheeled vehicle is less stable and more easily overturned than a four-wheel vehicle.

Nevertheless, the classification would still be invalid if it does not comply with the second requirement—if it is not germane to the purpose of the law.

The third requirement means that the classification must be enforced not only for the present but as long as the problem sought to be corrected continues to exist. And, under the last requirement, the classification would be regarded as invalid if all the members of the class are not treated similarly, both as to rights conferred and obligations imposed.

Applying the four requisites to the instant case, the Court finds that the differential treatment of persons holding appointive offices as opposed to those holding elective ones is not germane to the purposes of the law.  Eleazar P. Quinto and Gerino A. Tolentino, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 189698, December 1, 2009.

Bill of rights; equal protection. To the petitioners, the cityhood laws, by granting special treatment to respondent municipalities/LGUs by way of exemption from the standard PhP 100 million minimum income requirement, violate Sec.1, Art. III of the Constitution, which in part provides that no person shall “be denied the equal protection of the laws.”

The equal protection guarantee is embraced in the broader and elastic concept of due process, every unfair discrimination being an offense against the requirements of justice and fair play. It has nonetheless come as a separate clause in Sec. 1, Art. III of the Constitution to provide for a more specific protection against any undue discrimination or antagonism from government. Arbitrariness in general may be assailed on the basis of the due process clause. But if a particular challenged act partakes of an unwarranted partiality or prejudice, the sharper weapon to cut it down is the equal protection clause. This constitutional protection extends to all persons, natural or artificial, within the territorial jurisdiction. Artificial persons, as the respondent LGUs herein, are, however, entitled to protection only insofar as their property is concerned.

In the proceedings at bar, petitioner LCP and the intervenors cannot plausibly invoke the equal protection clause, precisely because no deprivation of property results by virtue of the enactment of the cityhood laws. The LCP’s claim that the IRA of its member-cities will be substantially reduced on account of the conversion into cities of the respondent LGUs would not suffice to bring it within the ambit of the constitutional guarantee. Indeed, it is presumptuous on the part of the LCP member-cities to already stake a claim on the IRA, as if it were their property, as the IRA is yet to be allocated. For the same reason, the municipalities that are not covered by the uniform exemption clause in the cityhood laws cannot validly invoke constitutional protection. For, at this point, the conversion of a municipality into a city will only affect its status as a political unit, but not its property as such.

As a matter of settled legal principle, the fundamental right of equal protection does not require absolute equality. It is enough that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated alike, both as to rights or privileges conferred and responsibilities or obligations imposed. The equal protection clause does not preclude the state from recognizing and acting upon factual differences between individuals and classes. It recognizes that inherent in the right to legislate is the right to classify,necessarily implying that the equality guaranteed is not violated by a legislation based on reasonable classification. Classification, to be reasonable, must (1) rest on substantial distinctions; (2) be germane to the purpose of the law; (3) not be limited to existing conditions only; and (4) apply equally to all members of the same class. The Court finds that all these requisites have been met by the laws challenged as arbitrary and discriminatory under the equal protection clause.  League of Cities of the Philippines, et al. vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 176951/G.R. No. 177499 & G.R. No. 178056. December 21, 2009.

Bill of rights;  non-impairment clause.  PICOP’c cause of action consists in the allegation that the DENR Secretary, in not issuing an IFMA, violated its constitutional right against non-impairment of contracts. The 1969 document signed by President Marcos is not a contract recognized under the non-impairment clause. The conclusion that the 1969 Document is not a contract recognized under the non-impairment clause has even been disposed of in another case decided by another division of this Court, PICOP Resources, Inc. v. Base Metals Mineral Resources Corporation, the Decision in which case has become final and executory.  Hon. Heherson T. Alvarez vs. PICOP Resources, Inc./PICOP Resources, Inc. vs. Hon. Heherson T. Alavarez/Hon. Angelo T. Reyes vs. Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP), G.R. No. 162243/G.R. No. 164516/G.R. No. 171875. December 3, 2009

Bill of Rights; right to speedy trial. The time limits set by the Speedy Trial Act of 1998 do not preclude justifiable postponements and delays when so warranted by the situation. The reasons for the postponements and delays attendant to the present case reflected above are not unreasonable. While the records indicate that neither petitioner nor his counsel was notified of the resetting of the pre-trial to October 23, 2003, the same appears to have been occasioned by oversight or simple negligence which, standing alone, does not prove fatal to the prosecution’s case. The faux pas was acknowledged and corrected when the MeTC recalled the arrest warrant it had issued against petitioner under the mistaken belief that petitioner had been duly notified of the October 23, 2003 pre-trial setting.

Reiterating the Court’s pronouncement in Solar Team Entertainment, Inc. that “speedy trial” is a relative and flexible term, Lumanlaw v. Peralta, Jr. summons the courts to maintain a delicate balance between the demands of due process and the strictures of speedy trial on the one hand, and the right of the State to prosecute crimes and rid society of criminals on the other.

Applying the balancing test for determining whether an accused has been denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial, or a speedy disposition of his case, taking into account several factors such as the length and reason of the delay, the accused’s assertion or non-assertion of his right, and the prejudice to the accused resulting from the delay, the Court does not find petitioner to have been unduly and excessively prejudiced by the “delay” in the proceedings, especially given that he had posted bail.  Federico Miguel Olbes vs. Hon. Danilo A. Buemio, etc. et al.,  G.R. No. 173319. December 4, 2009.

Bill of Rights; right to travel. Petitioner invokes the extraordinary remedy of the writ of amparo for the protection of his right to travel.  He insists that he is entitled to the protection covered by the Rule on the Writ of Amparo because the Hold Departure Order is a continuing actual restraint on his right to travel.  The Court is thus called upon to rule whether or not the right to travel is covered by the Rule on the Writ of Amparo.

The rights that fall within the protective mantle of the Writ of Amparo under Section 1 of the Rules thereon are the following: (1) right to life; (2) right to liberty; and (3) right to security.

The right to travel refers to the right to move from one place to another.  As stated in Marcos v. Sandiganbayan, “xxx a person’s right to travel is subject to the usual constraints imposed by the very necessity of safeguarding the system of justice.  In such cases, whether the accused should be permitted to leave the jurisdiction for humanitarian reasons is a matter of the court’s sound discretion.”

Here, the restriction on petitioner’s right to travel as a consequence of the pendency of the criminal case filed against him was not unlawful.  Petitioner has also failed to establish that his right to travel was impaired in the manner and to the extent that it amounted to a serious violation of his right to life, liberty and security, for which there exists no readily available legal recourse or remedy.  Rev. Father Robert P. Reyes vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 182161, December 3, 2009.

Civil Service Commission;  jurisdiction over court personnel.  The CSC’s authority and power to hear and decide administrative disciplinary cases are not in dispute. The question is whether the CSC’s disciplinary jurisdiction extends to court personnel in view of Section 6, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution.

In the Julaton and Sta. Ana cases, the CSC recognized the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over court personnel. This is consonant with Section 6, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution vesting in the Supreme Court administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof.

By virtue of this power, it is only the Supreme Court that can oversee the judges’ and court personnel’s administrative compliance with all laws, rules and regulations. No other branch of government may intrude into this power, without running afoul of the doctrine of separation of powers. This we have ruled in Maceda v. Vasquez and have reiterated in the case of Ampong v. Civil Service Commission. In Ampong, we also emphasized that in case of violation of the Civil Service Law by a court personnel, the standard procedure is for the CSC to bring its complaint against a judicial employee before the Office of the Court Administrator of the Supreme Court.  Civil Service Commission vs. Herminigildo L. Andal, G.R. No. 185749, December 16, 2009.

Civil Service Commission; jurisdiction. The CSC, as the central personnel agency of the Government, has jurisdiction over disputes involving the removal and separation of all employees of government branches, subdivisions, instrumentalities and agencies, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters. Simply put, it is the sole arbiter of controversies relating to the civil service.

In this case, petitioners are former local government employees whose services were terminated due to the reorganization of the municipal government under Resolution Nos. 27 and 80 of the Sangguniang Bayan of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija. Considering that they belong to the civil service, the CSC has jurisdiction over their separation from office. Evelyn S. Cabungcal, et al. vs. Sonia R. Lorenzo, et al., G.R. No. 160367, December 18, 2009.

COMELEC; contempt. The main thrust of petitioner’s argument is that the COMELEC exceeded its jurisdiction in initiating the contempt proceedings when it was performing its administrative and not its quasi-judicial functions as the National Board of Canvassers for the election of senators.  According to petitioner, the COMELEC may only punish contemptuous acts while exercising its quasi-judicial functions.

The COMELEC, through the Task Force Maguindanao, was exercising its quasi-judicial power in pursuit of the truth behind the allegations of massive fraud during the elections in Maguindanao.  To achieve its objective, the Task Force conducted hearings and required the attendance of the parties concerned and their counsels to give them the opportunity to argue and support their respective positions.

To withhold from the COMELEC the power to punish individuals who refuse to appear during a fact-finding investigation, despite a previous notice and order to attend, would render nugatory the COMELEC’s investigative power, which is an essential incident to its constitutional mandate to secure the conduct of honest and credible elections.  In this case, the purpose of the investigation was however derailed when petitioner obstinately refused to appear during said hearings and to answer questions regarding the various election documents which, he claimed, were stolen while they were in his possession and custody.  Undoubtedly, the COMELEC could punish petitioner for such contumacious refusal to attend the Task Force hearings.  Lintang Bedol vs. Commssion on Elections, G.R. No. 179830, December 3, 2009.

Constitutionality; locus standi. Central to the determination of locus standi is the question of whether a party has alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions. In this case, petitioners allege that they will be directly affected by COMELEC Resolution No. 8678 for they intend, and they all have the qualifications, to run in the 2010 elections. The OSG, for its part, contends that since petitioners have not yet filed their CoCs, they are not yet candidates; hence, they are not yet directly affected by the assailed provision in the COMELEC resolution.

The Court, nevertheless, finds that, while petitioners are not yet candidates, they have the standing to raise the constitutional challenge, simply because they are qualified voters. A restriction on candidacy, such as the challenged measure herein, affects the rights of voters to choose their public officials. The rights of voters and the rights of candidates do not lend themselves to neat separation; laws that affect candidates always have at least some theoretical, correlative effect on voters. The Court believes that both candidates and voters may challenge, on grounds of equal protection, the assailed measure because of its impact on voting rights.

In any event, in recent cases, this Court has relaxed the stringent direct injury test and has observed a liberal policy allowing ordinary citizens, members of Congress, and civil organizations to prosecute actions involving the constitutionality or validity of laws, regulations and rulings. Eleazar P. Quinto and Gerino A. Tolentino, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 189698, December 1, 2009.

Constitutionality; locus standi. A taxpayer is allowed to sue where there is a claim that public funds are illegally disbursed, or that the public money is being deflected to any improper purpose, or that there is wastage of public funds through the enforcement of an invalid or unconstitutional law. A person suing as a taxpayer, however, must show that the act complained of directly involves the illegal disbursement of public funds derived from taxation. He must also prove that he has sufficient interest in preventing the illegal expenditure of money raised by taxation and that he will sustain a direct injury because of the enforcement of the questioned statute or contract. In other words, for a taxpayer’s suit to prosper, two requisites must be met: (1) public funds derived from taxation are disbursed by a political subdivision or instrumentality and in doing so, a law is violated or some irregularity is committed and (2) the petitioner is directly affected by the alleged act.

In light of the foregoing, it is apparent that contrary to the view of the RTC, a taxpayer need not be a party to the contract to challenge its validity. As long as taxes are involved, people have a right to question contracts entered into by the government.

In this case, although the construction of the town center would be primarily sourced from the proceeds of the bonds, which respondents insist are not taxpayer’s money, a government support in the amount of P187 million would still be spent for paying the interest of the bonds. In fact, a Deed of Assignment was executed by the governor in favor of respondent RCBC over the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) and other revenues of the provincial government as payment and/or security for the obligations of the provincial government under the Trust Indenture Agreement dated September 17, 2003. Records also show that on March 4, 2004, the governor requested the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to appropriate an amount of P25 million for the interest of the bond. Clearly, the first requisite has been met.

As to the second requisite, the court, in recent cases, has relaxed the stringent “direct injury test” bearing in mind that locus standi is a procedural technicality. By invoking “transcendental importance”, “paramount public interest”, or “far-reaching implications”, ordinary citizens and taxpayers were allowed to sue even if they failed to show direct injury.  In cases where serious legal issues were raised or where public expenditures of millions of pesos were involved, the court did not hesitate to give standing to taxpayers.  Manuel Mamba, et al. vs. Edgar R. Lara, et al., G.R. No. 165109, December 14, 2009.

Constitutionality; justiciability. A political question is a question of policy, which is to be decided by the people in their sovereign capacity or by the legislative or the executive branch of the government to which full discretionary authority has been delegated.

In filing the instant case before the RTC, petitioners seek to restrain public respondents from implementing the bond flotation and to declare null and void all contracts related to the bond flotation and construction of the town center. In the petition before the RTC, they alleged grave abuse of discretion and clear violations of law by public respondents. They put in issue the overpriced construction of the town center; the grossly disadvantageous bond flotation; the irrevocable assignment of the provincial government’s annual regular income, including the IRA, to respondent RCBC to cover and secure the payment of the bonds floated; and the lack of consultation and discussion with the community regarding the proposed project, as well as a proper and legitimate bidding for the construction of the town center.

Obviously, the issues raised in the petition do not refer to the wisdom but to the legality of the acts complained of. Thus, we find the instant controversy within the ambit of judicial review. Besides, even if the issues were political in nature, it would still come within our powers of review under the expanded jurisdiction conferred upon us by Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution, which includes the authority to determine whether grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction has been committed by any branch or instrumentality of the government.   Manuel Mamba, et al. vs. Edgar R. Lara, et al., G.R. No. 165109, December 14, 2009.

Constitutionality;  overbroad.  The challenged provision also suffers from the infirmity of being overbroad.

First, the provision pertains to all civil servants holding appointive posts without distinction as to whether they occupy high positions in government or not. Certainly, a utility worker in the government will also be considered as ipso facto resigned once he files his CoC for the 2010 elections. This scenario is absurd for, indeed, it is unimaginable how he can use his position in the government to wield influence in the political world.

While it may be admitted that most appointive officials who seek public elective office are those who occupy relatively high positions in government, laws cannot be legislated for them alone, or with them alone in mind. For the right to seek public elective office is universal, open and unrestrained, subject only to the qualification standards prescribed in the Constitution and in the laws. These qualifications are, as we all know, general and basic so as to allow the widest participation of the citizenry and to give free rein for the pursuit of one’s highest aspirations to public office. Such is the essence of democracy.

Second, the provision is directed to the activity of seeking any and all public offices, whether they be partisan or nonpartisan in character, whether they be in the national, municipal or barangay level. Congress has not shown a compelling state interest to restrict the fundamental right involved on such a sweeping scale.

Specific evils require specific treatments, not through overly broad measures that unduly restrict guaranteed freedoms of the citizenry. After all, sovereignty resides in the people, and all governmental power emanates from them.  Eleazar P. Quinto and Gerino A. Tolentino, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 189698, December 1, 2009.

HRET;  jurisdiction. The 1987 Constitution explicitly provides under Article VI, Section 17 thereof that the HRET and the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) shall be the sole judges of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their respective members. The authority conferred upon the Electoral Tribunal is full, clear and complete. The use of the word sole emphasizes the exclusivity of the jurisdiction of these Tribunals, which is conferred upon the HRET and the SET after elections and the proclamation of the winning candidates. A candidate who has not been proclaimed and who has not taken his oath of office cannot be said to be a member of the House of Representatives.

Thus, private respondent correctly pointed out that a petition for quo warranto is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the HRET, and cannot be considered forum shopping even if, as in this case, the COMELEC had already passed upon in administrative or quasi-judicial proceedings the issue of the qualification of the Member of the House of Representatives while the latter was still a candidate.  Representative Danila Ramon S. Fernandez vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Jesus L. Vicente, G.R. No. 187478, December 21, 2009.

Natural resources; land ownership. Radstock is a private corporation incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Its office address is at Suite 14021 Duddell Street, Central Hongkong. As a foreign corporation, with unknown owners whose nationalities are also unknown, Radstock is not qualified to own land in the Philippines pursuant to Section 7, in relation to Section 3, Article XII of the Constitution.

Consequently, Radstock is also disqualified to own the rights to ownership of lands in the Philippines. Contrary to the OGCC’s claim, Radstock cannot own the rights to ownership of any land in the Philippines because Radstock cannot lawfully own the land itself. Otherwise, there will be a blatant circumvention of the Constitution, which prohibits a foreign private corporation from owning land in the Philippines. In addition, Radstock cannot transfer the rights to ownership of land in the Philippines if it cannot own the land itself. It is basic that an assignor or seller cannot assign or sell something he does not own at the time the ownership, or the rights to the ownership, are to be transferred to the assignee or buyer.  Strategic Alliance Development Corporation  vs. Radstock Securities Limited and Philippine National Construction Corporation,  G.R. No. 178158/G.R. No. 180428, December 4, 2009.

Police power; MMDA. MMDA simply had no power on its own to dismantle, remove, or destroy the billboards, signages and other advertising media installed on the MRT3 structure by Trackworks. In Metropolitan Manila Development Authority v. Bel-Air Village Association, Inc., Metropolitan Manila Development Authority v. Viron Transportation Co., Inc., and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority v. Garin, the Court had the occasion to rule that MMDA’s powers were limited to the formulation, coordination, regulation, implementation, preparation, management, monitoring, setting of policies, installing a system, and administration. Nothing in Republic Act No. 7924 granted MMDA police power, let alone legislative power. Metropolitan Manila Development Authority vs.. Trackworks Rail Transit Advertising, Vending and Promotions, Inc., G.R. No. 179554, December 16, 2009.

Public funds;  appropriation. Applying Section 29(1), Article VI of the Constitution, as implanted in Sections 84 and 85 of the Government Auditing Code, a law must first be enacted by Congress appropriating P6.185 billion as compromise money before payment to Radstock can be made. Otherwise, such payment violates a prohibitory law and thus void under Article 5 of the Civil Code which states that “[a]cts executed against the provisions of mandatory or prohibitory laws shall be void, except when the law itself authorizes their validity.”

Indisputably, without an appropriation law, PNCC cannot lawfully pay P6.185 billion to Radstock. Any contract allowing such payment, like the Compromise Agreement, “shall be void” as provided in Section 87 of the Government Auditing Code.

PNCC cannot use public funds, like toll fees that indisputably form part of the General Fund, to pay a private debt of CDCP Mining to Radstock. Such payment cannot qualify as expenditure for a public purpose. The toll fees are merely held in trust by PNCC for the National Government, which is the owner of the toll fees.

Considering that there is no appropriation law passed by Congress for the P6.185 billion compromise amount, the Compromise Agreement is void for being contrary to law, specifically Section 29(1), Article VI of the Constitution and Section 87 of PD 1445. And since the payment of the P6.185 billion pertains to CDCP Mining’s private debt to Radstock, the Compromise Agreement is also void for being contrary to the fundamental public policy that government funds or property shall be spent or used solely for public purposes, as provided in Section 4(2) of the Government Auditing Code. Strategic Alliance Development Corporation  vs. Radstock Securities Limited and Philippine National Construction Corporation,  G.R. No. 178158/G.R. No. 180428, December 4, 2009.

Suffrage;  extension of voter registration. Section 8 of RA 8189 decrees that voters be allowed to register daily during regular offices hours, except during the period starting 120 days before a regular election and 90 days before a special election.

By the above provision, Congress itself has determined that the period of 120 days before a regular election and 90 days before a special election is enough time for the COMELEC to make ALL the necessary preparations with respect to the coming elections. The COMELEC’s rule-making power should be exercised in accordance with the prevailing law.

Respecting the authority of the COMELEC under RA 6646 and RA 8436 to fix other dates for pre-election acts, the same is not in conflict with the mandate of continuing voter registration under RA 8189. Both R.A. No. 6646, Section 29 and R.A. No. 8436, Section 28 grant the COMELEC the power to fix other periods and dates for pre-election activities only if the same cannot be reasonably held within the period provided by law. This grant of power, however, is for the purpose of enabling the people to exercise the right of suffrage – the common underlying policy of RA 8189, RA 6646 and RA 8436.

In the present case, the Court finds no ground to hold that the mandate of continuing voter registration cannot be reasonably held within the period provided by RA 8189, Sec. 8 – daily during office hours, except during the period starting 120 days before the May 10, 2010 regular elections. There is thus no occasion for the COMELEC to exercise its power to fix other dates or deadlines therefor.

The present case differs significantly from Akbayan-Youth v. COMELEC. In said case, the Court held that the COMELEC did not commit abuse of discretion in denying the request of the therein petitioners for an extension of the December 27, 2000 deadline of voter registration for the May 14, 2001 elections. For the therein petitioners filed their petition with the Court within the 120-day prohibitive period for the conduct of voter registration under Section 8 of RA 8189, and sought the conduct of a two-day registration on February 17 and 18, 2001, clearly within the 120-day prohibitive period.

In the present case, as reflected earlier, both the dates of filing of the petition (October 30, 2009) and the extension sought (until January 9, 2010) are prior to the 120-day prohibitive period. The Court, therefore, finds no legal impediment to the extension prayed for.   Kabataan Party List vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 189868, December 15, 2009.

Administrative Law

Administrative proceedings;  due process. It is settled that in administrative proceedings, a fair and reasonable opportunity to explain one’s side suffices to meet the requirements of due process. The essence of procedural due process is embodied in the basic requirement of notice and a real opportunity to be heard.

In the present case, since PCMC was properly informed of the supposed discrepancy in its import and export liquidations, that it was given ample opportunity by the PEZA management to be heard or to explain its side in relation to its unaccounted imported materials and that it was subsequently informed of the decision of the PEZA Board to cancel its registration on the basis of its assessment of the evidence presented or lack thereof, petitioners cannot claim that they were denied their right to due process of law.  Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), et al. Vs. Pearl City Manufacturing Corporation, et al., G.R. No. 168668, December 16, 2009.

Administrative proceedings; due process. The CA correctly concluded that petitioner’s right to due process was not violated. Due process, as a constitutional precept, does not always, and in all situations, require a trial-type proceeding. Litigants may be heard through pleadings, written explanations, position papers, memoranda or oral arguments. Due process is satisfied when a person is notified of the charge against him and given an opportunity to explain or defend himself. In administrative proceedings, filing charges against the person and giving reasonable opportunity to the person so charged to answer the accusations against him constitute the minimum requirements of due process. The essence of due process is simply 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.

Petitioner actively participated in the proceedings before the Office of the Ombudsman. She was given every opportunity to submit various pleadings and documents in support of her claim, which she, in fact, did through her counter-affidavit and documentary evidence, manifestation and motion, memorandum on appeal, etc. In her Manifestation and Motion, petitioner moved and submitted the case for resolution based on the arguments and evidentiary records that were submitted before the Ombudsman. These were all duly acted upon by the Ombudsman. Petitioner was given all the opportunity to present her side. Due process was, therefore, properly observed.  Lily O. Orbase Vs. Office of the Ombudsman and Adoracion Mendoza-Bolos, G.R. No. 175115. December 23, 2009

Administrative proceedings;  exhaustion of remedies. The rule on exhaustion of administrative remedies provides that a party must exhaust all administrative remedies to give the administrative agency an opportunity to decide the matter and to prevent unnecessary and premature resort to the courts. This, however, is not an ironclad rule as it admits of exceptions, viz:

1.      when there is a violation of due process;

2.     when the issue involved is purely a legal question;

3.     when the administrative action is patently illegal amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction;

4.     when there is estoppel on the part of the administrative agency concerned;

5.     when there is irreparable injury;

6.     when the respondent is a department secretary whose acts as an alter ego of the President bears the implied and assumed approval of the latter;

7.     when to require exhaustion of administrative remedies would be unreasonable;

8.     when it would amount to a nullification of a claim;

9.     when the subject matter is a private land in land case proceedings;

10.   when the rule does not provide a plain, speedy and adequate remedy; and

11.   when there are circumstances indicating the urgency of judicial intervention.

The instant case does not fall under any of the exceptions. Petitioners’ filing of a petition for mandamus and prohibition with the CA was premature. It bears stressing that the remedies of mandamus and prohibition may be availed of only when there is no appeal or any other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. Moreover, being extraordinary remedies, resort may be had only in cases of extreme necessity where the ordinary forms of procedure are powerless to afford relief.

Thus, instead of immediately filing a petition with the CA, petitioners should have first brought the matter to the CSC which has primary jurisdiction over the case.  Evelyn S. Cabungcal, et al. vs. Sonia R. Lorenzo, et al., G.R. No. 160367, December 18, 2009.

EO 259;  lack of implementing rules. Carabeo impugns the validity of EO 259 for lack of implementing rules and regulations. Indeed, EO 259 lacks any implementing guidelines. However, such fact is immaterial and does not affect, in any manner, the validity of the criminal and administrative charges against Carabeo. While the DOF-RIPS derived from EO 259 its power and authority to gather evidence against DOF officials and employees suspected of graft and corruption, the DOF-RIPS need not be vested with such power in order to validly file criminal and administrative charges against Carabeo. In fact, any concerned ordinary citizen can file criminal and administrative charges against any corrupt government official or employee if there exists sufficient evidence of culpability. Hence, the DOF-RIPS, even without EO 259 and whether as subordinates of the Secretary of Finance or as private citizens, can validly file criminal and administrative charges against Carabeo.

At any rate, the Court finds that EO 259 is basically internal in nature needing no implementing rules and regulations in order to be enforceable. Principally aimed at curbing graft and corruption in the DOF and its attached agencies,[14] EO 259 covers only officers and employees. Liberato M. Carabeo vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 178000 & G.R. No. 178003, December 4, 2009.

LLDA; fines. The Laguna Lake Development Authority has the power to impose fines. Pacific Steam Laundry, Inc. vs. Laguna Lake Development Authority G.R. No. 165299. December 18, 2009

Ombudsman;  jurisdiction. At the time of the filing of the case against petitioner, she was the Assistant Director of the National Library; as such, as an appointive employee of the government, the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman to take cognizance of the action against the petitioner was beyond contestation.

Moreover, petitioner’s claim that the Ombudsman does not have jurisdiction over the action, since the act complained of was committed before her entering government service, cannot be sustained. Under Section 46 (18), Title I, Book V of the Administrative Code of 198, even if the dishonest act was committed by the employee prior to entering government service, such act is still a ground for disciplinary action. Lily O. Orbase vs. Office of the Ombudsman and Adoracion Mendoza-Bolos, G.R. No. 175115. December 23, 2009

Ombudsman; prescription. Petitioner insists that Section 20 (5) of R.A. No. 6770 proscribes the investigation of any administrative act or omission if the complaint was filed one year after the occurrence of the act or omission complained of.

In Office of the Ombudsman v. De Sahagun, the Court held that the period stated in Section 20 (5) of R.A. No. 6770 does not refer to the prescription of the offense, but to the discretion given to the Office of the Ombudsman on whether it would investigate a particular administrative offense. The use of the word “may” in the provision is construed as permissive and operating to confer discretion. Where the words of a statute are clear, plain and free from ambiguity, they must be given their literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation.

It is, therefore, discretionary upon the Ombudsman whether or not to conduct an investigation of a complaint filed before it even if it was filed one year after the occurrence of the act or omission complained of. Thus, while the complaint herein was filed three years after the occurrence of the act imputed to petitioner, it was within the authority of the Office of the Ombudsman to act, to proceed with and conduct an investigation of the subject complaint.  Lily O. Orbase  vs. Office of the Ombudsman and Adoracion Mendoza-Bolos, G.R. No. 175115. December 23, 2009

OSG. Only the OSG can bring or defend actions on behalf of the Republic or represent the People or the State in criminal proceedings pending in this Court and the CA.

While there may be rare occasions when the offended party may be allowed to pursue the criminal action on his own behalf, as when there is a denial of due process, this exceptional circumstance does not obtain in the instant case. Elvira O. Ong vs. Jose Casim Genio, G.R. No. 182336, December 23, 2009.

Election Law

Appointive officials; resignation. In considering persons holding appointive positions as ipso facto resigned from their posts upon the filing of their CoCs, but not considering as resigned all other civil servants, specifically the elective ones, the law unduly discriminates against the first class. The fact alone that there is substantial distinction between those who hold appointive positions and those occupying elective posts, does not justify such differential treatment.  Eleazar P. Quinto and Gerino A. Tolentino, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 189698, December 1, 2009.

Candidates; residency requirement. The qualifications of a member of the House of Representatives are found in Article VI, Section 6 of the Constitution.

The evidence presented by private respondent before the HRET hardly suffices to prove that petitioner failed to comply with the one-year residency requirement under the Constitution. Private respondent’s documentary evidence to disqualify petitioner mainly consisted of (a) petitioner’s certificates of candidacy (COCs) for various positions in 1998, 2001 and 2004, which all indicated his residence as Pagsanjan, Laguna within the Fourth District of said province; (b) his application for a driver’s license in August 2005 that indicated Pagsanjan, Laguna as his residence; and (c) the statement in his COCs including his 2007 COC for Congressman for the First District of Laguna that his place of birth was Pagsanjan, Laguna.

The HRET puts undue emphasis on the fact that petitioner is only leasing a townhouse in Sta. Rosa while he owns houses in Pagsanjan and Cabuyao. His ownership of properties in other places has been taken to mean that petitioner did not intend to make Sta. Rosa his permanent residence or that he had not abandoned his domicile of origin.

Although it is true that the latest acquired abode is not necessarily the domicile of choice of a candidate, there is nothing in the Constitution or our election laws which require a congressional candidate to sell a previously acquired home in one district and buy a new one in the place where he seeks to run in order to qualify for a congressional seat in that other district. Neither do we see the fact that petitioner was only leasing a residence in Sta. Rosa at the time of his candidacy as a barrier for him to run in that district. Certainly, the Constitution does not require a congressional candidate to be a property owner in the district where he seeks to run but only that he resides in that district for at least a year prior to election day. To use ownership of property in the district as the determinative indicium of permanence of domicile or residence implies that only the landed can establish compliance with the residency requirement. This Court would be, in effect, imposing a property requirement to the right to hold public office, which property requirement would be unconstitutional.

This case must be distinguished from Aquino v. COMELEC and Domino v. COMELEC, where the disqualified candidate was shown to be merely leasing a residence in the place where he sought to run for office. In Aquino and Domino, there appeared to be no other material reason for the candidate to lease residential property in the place where he filed his COC, except to fulfill the residency requirement under election laws.

In the case at bar, there are real and substantial reasons for petitioner to establish Sta. Rosa as his domicile of choice and abandon his domicile of origin and/or any other previous domicile. Representative Danila Ramon S. Fernandez vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Jesus L. Vicente, G.R. No. 187478, December 21, 2009.

Term limit; preventive suspension.   The preventive suspension of an elected public official does not interrupt of his term of office for purposes of the three-term limit rule under Section 8, Article X of the Constitution and Section 43(b) of Republic Act No. 7160. Simon B. Aldovino, Jr., Danilo B. Faller and Ferdinand N. Talabong vs. Commission on Elections and Wilfredo F. Asilo, G.R. No. 184836, December 23, 2009.

Local Government Code

Creation of cities. When Article X, Section 10 of the 1987 Constitution speaks of the LGC, the reference cannot be to any specific statute or codification of laws, let alone the LGC of 1991. At the time of the adoption of the 1987 Constitution, Batas Pambansa Blg. (BP) 337, the then LGC, was still in effect. Accordingly, had the framers of the 1987 Constitution intended to isolate the embodiment of the criteria only in the LGC, then they would have actually referred to BP 337. Also, they would then not have provided for the enactment by Congress of a new LGC, as they did in Art. X, Sec. 3 of the Constitution.

Consistent with its plenary legislative power on the matter, Congress can, via either a consolidated set of laws or a much simpler, single-subject enactment, impose the said verifiable criteria of viability. These criteria need not be embodied in the local government code, albeit this code is the ideal repository to ensure, as much as possible, the element of uniformity. Congress can even, after making a codification, enact an amendatory law, adding to the existing layers of indicators earlier codified, just as efficaciously as it may reduce the same. In this case, the amendatory RA 9009 upped the already codified income requirement from PhP 20 million toPhP 100 million. At the end of the day, the passage of amendatory laws is no different from the enactment of laws, i.e., the cityhood laws specifically exempting a particular political subdivision from the criteria earlier mentioned. Congress, in enacting the exempting law/s, effectively decreased the already codified indicators.  League of Cities of the Philippines, et al. vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 176951/G.R. No. 177499 & G.R. No. 178056. December 21, 2009.

Sanggunian approval.  PICOP had claimed that it complied with Sections 2(c), 26 and 27 of the Local Government Code (which requires the prior approval of the Sanggunian concerned) by submitting a purported resolution of the Province of Surigao del Sur indorsing the approval of PICOP’s application for IFMA conversion. This cannot be deemed sufficient compliance with the foregoing provision. Surigao del Sur is not the only province affected by the area covered by the proposed IFMA.  Hon. Heherson T. Alvarez vs. PICOP Resources, Inc./PICOP Resources, Inc. vs. Hon. Heherson T. Alavarez/Hon. Angelo T. Reyes vs. Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP), G.R. No. 162243/G.R. No. 164516/G.R. No. 171875. December 3, 2009

Other laws

Public bidding; dacion en pago. Under Section 79 of the Government Auditing Code, the disposition of government lands to private parties requires public bidding. COA Circular No. 89-926, issued on 27 January 1989, sets forth the guidelines on the disposal of property and other assets of the government.

Under the Compromise Agreement, PNCC shall dispose of substantial parcels of land, by way of dacion en pago, in favor of Radstock. Citing Uy v. Sandiganbayan, PNCC argues that a dacion en pago is an exception to the requirement of a public bidding.

PNCC’s reliance on Uy is misplaced. There is nothing in Uy declaring that public bidding is dispensed with in a dacion en pago transaction.

Suffice it to state that in Uy, neither PIEDRAS nor the government suffered any loss in the dacion en pago transactions, unlike here where the government stands to lose at least P6.185 billion worth of assets.

Besides, a dacion en pago is in essence a form of sale, which basically involves a disposition of a property.   Strategic Alliance Development Corporation  vs. Radstock Securities Limited and Philippine National Construction Corporation,  G.R. No. 178158/G.R. No. 180428, December 4, 2009.