January 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected January 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law:

Constitutional Law

Eminent domain;  prompt payment of just compensation. The concept of just compensation contemplates  just and timely payment; it embraces not only the correct determination of the amount to be paid to the landowner, but also the payment of the land within a reasonable time from its taking. Without prompt payment, compensation cannot, as Land Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals instructs, be considered “just,” for the owner is made to suffer the consequence of being immediately deprived of his land while being made to wait for years before actually receiving the amount necessary to cope with his loss.  Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board and Heirs of Vicente Adaza, Heirs of Romeo Adaza, Heirs of Cesar Adaza, represented by Russel Adaza, G.R. No. 183279, January 25, 2010.

Judicial review; creation of city. On the OSG’s contention that Congress’ choice of means to comply with the population requirement in the creation of a legislative district is non-justiciable, suffice it to say that questions calling for judicial determination of compliance with constitutional standards by other branches of the government are fundamentally justiciable. The resolution of such questions falls within the checking function of this Court under the 1987 Constitution to determine whether there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.

Even under the 1935 Constitution, this Court had already ruled, “The overwhelming weight of authority is that district apportionment laws are subject to review by the courts.” Compliance with constitutional standards on the creation of legislative districts is important because the “aim of legislative apportionment is ‘to equalize population and voting power among districts.’”  Victorino Aldaba, et al. vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 188078, January 25, 2010.

Local government;  creation of city. RA 9591 is unconstitutional for being violative of Section 5(3), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and Section 3 of the Ordinance appended to the 1987 Constitution.

The 1987 Constitution requires that for a city to have a legislative district, the city must have “a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand.” The only issue here is whether the City of Malolos has a population of at least 250,000, whether actual or projected, for the purpose of creating a legislative district for the City of Malolos in time for the 10 May 2010 elections. If not, then RA 9591 creating a legislative district in the City of Malolos is unconstitutional.

There is no official record that the population of the City of Malolos will be at least 250,000, actual or projected, prior to the 10 May 2010 elections, the immediately following election after the supposed attainment of such population. Thus, the City of Malolos is not qualified to have a legislative district of its own under Section 5(3), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and Section 3 of the Ordinance appended to the 1987 Constitution.  Victorino Aldaba, et al. vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 188078, January 25, 2010.

Administrative Law

Administrative agencies; findings of fact. The findings of fact of administrative bodies, such as the SEC, will not be interfered with by the courts in the absence of grave abuse of discretion on the part of said agencies, or unless the aforementioned findings are not supported by substantial evidence. These factual findings carry even more weight when affirmed by the CA. They are accorded not only great respect but even finality, and are binding upon this Court, unless it is shown that the administrative body had arbitrarily disregarded or misapprehended evidence before it to such an extent as to compel a contrary conclusion had such evidence been properly appreciated. By reason of the special knowledge and expertise of administrative agencies over matters falling under their jurisdiction, they are in a better position to pass judgment thereon.

A review of the petition does not show any reversible error committed by the appellate court; hence, the petition must be denied. Petitioner failed to present any argument that would convince the Court that the SEC and the CA made any misappreciation of the facts and the applicable laws such that their decisions should be overturned.  Catmon Sales International Corporation vs. Atty. Manuel D. Yngson, Jr. as Liquidator of Catmon Sales International Corporation, G.R. No. 179761, January 15, 2010.

Election Law

Ballots;  nuisance candidates. Ensconced in our jurisprudence is the well-founded rule that laws and statutes governing election contests especially appreciation of ballots must be liberally construed to the end that the will of the electorate in the choice of public officials may not be defeated by technical infirmities. An election protest is imbued with public interest so much so that the need to dispel uncertainties which becloud the real choice of the people is imperative. The prohibition against nuisance candidates is aimed precisely at preventing uncertainty and confusion in ascertaining the true will of the electorate. Thus, in certain situations as in the case at bar, final judgments declaring a nuisance candidate should effectively cancel the certificate of candidacy filed by such candidate as of election day. Otherwise, potential nuisance candidates will continue to put the electoral process into mockery by filing certificates of candidacy at the last minute and delaying resolution of any petition to declare them as nuisance candidates until elections are held and the votes counted and canvassed.

We therefore hold that ballots indicating only the similar surname of two (2) candidates for the same position may, in appropriate cases, be counted in favor of the bona fide candidate and not considered stray, even if the other candidate was declared a nuisance candidate by final judgment after the elections. Accordingly, the 5,401 votes for “MARTINEZ” or “C. MARTINEZ” should be credited to petitioner giving him a total of 72,056 votes as against 67,108 total votes of private respondent. Petitioner thus garnered more votes than private respondent with a winning margin of 4,948 votes.  Celestino A. Martinez III vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Benhur L. Salimbangon, G.R. No. 189034, January 11, 2010.

Election contest; appeal. For the sake of laying down clearly the rules regarding the payment of the appeal fee, a discussion of the application of the recent Divinagracia v. COMELEC to election contests involving elective municipal and barangay officials is necessary. Divinagracia explained the purpose of Resolution No. 8486 which, as earlier stated, the COMELEC issued to clarify existing rules and address the resulting confusion caused by the two appeal fees required, for the perfection of appeals, by the two different jurisdictions: the court and COMELEC. Divinagracia stressed that if the appellants had already paid the amount of PhP 1,000 to the lower courts within the five-day reglementary period, they are further required to pay the COMELEC, through its Cash Division, the appeal fee of PhP 3,200 within fifteen (15) days from the time of the filing of the notice of appeal with the lower court. If the appellants failed to pay the PhP 3,200 within the prescribed period, then the appeal should be dismissed. The Court went on to state in Divinagracia that Aguilar did not “dilute the force of COMELEC Resolution No. 8486 on the matter of compliance with the COMELEC-required appeal fees.” The resolution, to reiterate, was mainly issued to clarify the confusion caused by the requirement of payment of two appeal fees.

Divinagracia, however, contained the following final caveat: that “for notice of appeal filed after the promulgation of this decision, errors in the matter ofnon-payment or incomplete payment of the two appeal fees in election cases are no longer excusable.”  Mateo R. Nollen, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections and Susana M. Caballes, G.R. No. 187635, January 11, 2010.

Election protest;  nuisance candidates. The purpose of an election protest is to ascertain whether the candidate proclaimed by the board of canvassers is the lawful choice of the people. What is sought is the correction of the canvass of votes, which was the basis of proclamation of the winning candidate. Election contests, therefore, involve the adjudication not only of private and pecuniary interests of rival candidates, but also of paramount public interest considering the need to dispel uncertainty over the real choice of the electorate.

In controversies pertaining to nuisance candidates as in the case at bar, the law contemplates the likelihood of confusion which the similarity of surnames of two (2) candidates may generate. A nuisance candidate is thus defined as one who, based on the attendant circumstances, has no bona fide intention to run for the office for which the certificate of candidacy has been filed, his sole purpose being the reduction of the votes of a strong candidate, upon the expectation that ballots with only the surname of such candidate will be considered stray and not counted for either of them.

In elections for national positions such as President, Vice-President and Senator, the sheer logistical challenge posed by nuisance candidates gives compelling reason for the Commission to exercise its authority to eliminate nuisance candidates who obviously have no financial capacity or serious intention to mount a nationwide campaign. Celestino A. Martinez III vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Benhur L. Salimbangon, G.R. No. 189034, January 11, 2010.

Electoral tribunal; judicial review. The judgments of the Electoral Tribunals are beyond judicial interference, unless rendered without or in excess of their jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion. The power of judicial review may be invoked in exceptional cases upon a clear showing of such arbitrary and improvident use by the Tribunal of its power as constitutes a clear denial of due process of law, or upon a demonstration of a very clear unmitigated error, manifestly constituting such grave abuse of direction that there has to be a remedy for such abuse. Grave abuse of discretion implies capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment amounting to lack of jurisdiction, or arbitrary and despotic exercise of power because of passion or personal hostility. The grave abuse of discretion must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion or refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law.

Respondent HRET gravely abused its discretion in affirming the proclamation of respondent Salimbangon as the duly elected Representative of the Fourth Legislative District of Cebu despite the final outcome of revision showing 5,401 ballots with only “MARTINEZ” or “C. “MARTINEZ” written on the line for Representative, votes which should have been properly counted in favor of petitioner and not nullified as stray votes, after considering all relevant circumstances clearly establishing that such votes could not have been intended for “Edilito C. Martinez” who was declared a nuisance candidate in a final judgment.  Celestino A. Martinez III vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Benhur L. Salimbangon, G.R. No. 189034, January 11, 2010.