March 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Constitutionality; justiciable controversy. Courts will not assume jurisdiction over a constitutional question unless the following requisites are satisfied: (1) there must be an actual case calling for the exercise of judicial review; (2) the question before the court must be ripe for adjudication; (3) the person challenging the validity of the act must have standing to do so; (4) the question of constitutionality must have been raised at the earliest opportunity and (5) the issue of constitutionality must be the very lis mota of the case.

Respondents aver that the first three requisites are absent in this case. According to them, there is no actual case calling for the exercise of judicial power and it is not yet ripe for adjudication.

An actual case or controversy involves a conflict of legal rights or an assertion of opposite legal claims which is susceptible of judicial resolution as distinguished from a hypothetical or abstract difference or dispute. On the other hand, a question is considered ripe for adjudication when the act being challenged has a direct adverse effect on the individual challenging it.

Contrary to respondents’ assertion, we do not have to wait until petitioner’s members have shut down their operations as a result of the MCIT or CWT. The assailed provisions are already being implemented. As we stated in Didipio Earth-Savers’ Multi-Purpose Association, Incorporated (DESAMA) v. Gozun: “By the mere enactment of the questioned law or the approval of the challenged act, the dispute is said to have ripened into a judicial controversy even without any other overt act. Indeed, even a singular violation of the Constitution and/or the law is enough to awaken judicial duty.”

If the assailed provisions are indeed unconstitutional, there is no better time than the present to settle such question once and for all.  Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Associations, Inc. Vs. The Hon. Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, et al., G.R. No. 160756, March 9, 2010.

Constitutionality; justiciable controversy. We hold that the petitions set forth an actual case or controversy that is ripe for judicial determination. The reality is that the JBC already commenced the proceedings for the selection of the nominees to be included in a short list to be submitted to the President for consideration of which of them will succeed Chief Justice Puno as the next Chief Justice. Although the position is not yet vacant, the fact that the JBC began the process of nomination pursuant to its rules and practices, although it has yet to decide whether to submit the list of nominees to the incumbent outgoing President or to the next President, makes the situation ripe for judicial determination, because the next steps are the public interview of the candidates, the preparation of the short list of candidates, and the “interview of constitutional experts, as may be needed.”

A part of the question to be reviewed by the Court is whether the JBC properly initiated the process, there being an insistence from some of the oppositors-intervenors that the JBC could only do so once the vacancy has occurred (that is, after May 17, 2010). Another part is, of course, whether the JBC may resume its process until the short list is prepared, in view of the provision of Section 4(1), Article VIII, which unqualifiedly requires the President to appoint one from the short list to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court (be it the Chief Justice or an Associate Justice) within 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy.

The ripeness of the controversy for judicial determination may not be doubted. The challenges to the authority of the JBC to open the process of nomination and to continue the process until the submission of the list of nominees; the insistence of some of the petitioners to compel the JBC through mandamus to submit the short list to the incumbent President; the counter-insistence of the intervenors to prohibit the JBC from submitting the short list to the incumbent President on the ground that said list should be submitted instead to the next President; the strong position that the incumbent President is already prohibited under Section 15, Article VII from making any appointments, including those to the Judiciary, starting on May 10, 2010 until June 30, 2010; and the contrary position that the incumbent President is not so prohibited are only some of the real issues for determination. All such issues establish the ripeness of the controversy, considering that for some the short list must be submitted before the vacancy actually occurs by May 17, 2010. The outcome will not be an abstraction, or a merely hypothetical exercise. The resolution of the controversy will surely settle – with finality – the nagging questions that are preventing the JBC from moving on with the process that it already began, or that are reasons persuading the JBC to desist from the rest of the process.   Arturo M. De Castro vs. Judicial and Bar Council, et al., G.R. No. 191002, G.R. No. 191032, G.R. No. 191057, A.M. No. 10-2-5-SC, G.R. No. 191149, G.R. No. 191342, March 17, 2010.

Constitutionality;  justiciable controversy. It will not do for the COMELEC to insist that the reliability and authoritativeness of the population indicators Congress used in enacting RA 9591 are non-justiciable. If laws creating legislative districts are unquestionably within the ambit of this Court’s judicial review power, then there is more reason to hold justiciable subsidiary questions impacting on their constitutionality, such as their compliance with a specific constitutional limitation under Section 5(3), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution that only cities with at least 250,000 constituents are entitled to representation in Congress. To fulfill this obligation, the Court, of necessity, must inquire into the authoritativeness and reliability of the population indicators Congress used to comply with the constitutional limitation.  Victorino B. Aldaba, et al. Vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 188078, March 15, 2010.

Constitutionality;  standing to sue. The Court rules that the petitioners have each demonstrated adequate interest in the outcome of the controversy as to vest them with the requisite locus standi.The issues before us are of transcendental importance to the people as a whole, and to the petitioners in particular. Indeed, the issues affect everyone (including the petitioners), regardless of one’s personal interest in life, because they concern that great doubt about the authority of the incumbent President to appoint not only the successor of the retiring incumbent Chief Justice, but also others who may serve in the Judiciary, which already suffers from a far too great number of vacancies in the ranks of trial judges throughout the country.

In any event, the Court retains the broad discretion to waive the requirement of legal standing in favor of any petitioner when the matter involved has transcendental importance, or otherwise requires a liberalization of the requirement.

Yet, if any doubt still lingers about the locus standi of any petitioner, we dispel the doubt now in order to remove any obstacle or obstruction to the resolution of the essential issue squarely presented herein. We are not to shirk from discharging our solemn duty by reason alone of an obstacle more technical than otherwise. In Agan, Jr. v. Philippine International Air Terminals Co., Inc., we pointed out: “Standing is a peculiar concept in constitutional law because in some cases, suits are not brought by parties who have been personally injured by the operation of a law or any other government act but by concerned citizens, taxpayers or voters who actually sue in the public interest.” But even if, strictly speaking, the petitioners “are not covered by the definition, it is still within the wide discretion of the Court to waive the requirement and so remove the impediment to its addressing and resolving the serious constitutional questions raised.”  Arturo M. De Castro vs. Judicial and Bar Council, et al., G.R. No. 191002, G.R. No. 191032, G.R. No. 191057, A.M. No. 10-2-5-SC, G.R. No. 191149, G.R. No. 191342, March 17, 2010.

Constitutionality; standing to sue. Respondents next argue that petitioner has no legal standing to sue: “Petitioner is an association of some of the real estate developers and builders in the Philippines. Petitioners did not allege that [it] itself is in the real estate business. It did not allege any material interest or any wrong that it may suffer from the enforcement of [the assailed provisions].”

Legal standing or locus standi is a party’s personal and substantial interest in a case such that it has sustained or will sustain direct injury as a result of the governmental act being challenged. In Holy Spirit Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Defensor, we held that the association had legal standing because its members stood to be injured by the enforcement of the assailed provisions.

In any event, this Court has the discretion to take cognizance of a suit which does not satisfy the requirements of an actual case, ripeness or legal standing when paramount public interest is involved. The questioned MCIT and CWT affect not only petitioners but practically all domestic corporate taxpayers in our country. The transcendental importance of the issues raised and their overreaching significance to society make it proper for us to take cognizance of this petition.  Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Associations, Inc. Vs. The Hon. Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, et al., G.R. No. 160756, March 9, 2010.

Due process; minimum corporate income tax. Petitioner claims that the MCIT under Section 27(E) of RA 8424 is unconstitutional because it is highly oppressive, arbitrary and confiscatory which amounts to deprivation of property without due process of law. It explains that gross income as defined under said provision only considers the cost of goods sold and other direct expenses; other major expenditures, such as administrative and interest expenses which are equally necessary to produce gross income, were not taken into account. Thus, pegging the tax base of the MCIT to a corporation’s gross income is tantamount to a confiscation of capital because gross income, unlike net income, is not “realized gain.”

Petitioner failed to support, by any factual or legal basis, its allegation that the MCIT is arbitrary and confiscatory. The Court cannot strike down a law as unconstitutional simply because of its yokes. Taxation is necessarily burdensome because, by its nature, it adversely affects property rights. The party alleging the law’s unconstitutionality has the burden to demonstrate the supposed violations in understandable terms.  Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Associations, Inc. Vs. The Hon. Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, et al., G.R. No. 160756, March 9, 2010.

Equal protection; creditable withholding tax. Petitioner claims that the revenue regulations are violative of the equal protection clause because the CWT is being levied only on real estate enterprises. Specifically, petitioner points out that manufacturing enterprises are not similarly imposed a CWT on their sales, even if their manner of doing business is not much different from that of a real estate enterprise. Like a manufacturing concern, a real estate business is involved in a continuous process of production and it incurs costs and expenditures on a regular basis. The only difference is that “goods” produced by the real estate business are house and lot units.

The equal protection clause under the Constitution means that “no person or class of persons shall be deprived of the same protection of laws which is enjoyed by other persons or other classes in the same place and in like circumstances.” Stated differently, all persons belonging to the same class shall be taxed alike. It follows that the guaranty of the equal protection of the laws is not violated by legislation based on a reasonable classification. Classification, to be valid, 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 taxing power has the authority to make reasonable classifications for purposes of taxation. Inequalities which result from a singling out of one particular class for taxation, or exemption, infringe no constitutional limitation. The real estate industry is, by itself, a class and can be validly treated differently from other business enterprises.  Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Associations, Inc. Vs. The Hon. Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, et al., G.R. No. 160756, March 9, 2010.

Equal protection;  NPC regulation. The equal protection clause means that “no person or class of persons shall be deprived of the same protection of laws which is enjoyed by other persons or other classes in the same place and in like circumstances.” The guaranty of the equal protection of the laws is not violated by a legislation based on a reasonable classification. The equal protection clause, therefore, does not preclude classification of individuals who may be accorded different treatment under the law as long as the classification is reasonable and not arbitrary.

Items 3 and 3.1 clearly did not infringe on the equal protection clause as these were based on a reasonable classification intended to protect, not the right of any business or trade but the integrity of government property, as well as promote the objectives of RA 7832. Traders like Pinatubo could not claim similar treatment as direct manufacturers/processors especially in the light of their failure to negate the rationale behind the distinction. National Power Corporation vs. Pinatubo Commercial, represented by Alfredo A. Dy, G.R. No. 176006, March 26, 2010.

Freedom of speech; prior restraint. Petitioner’s threshold posture that the suspension thus imposed constitutes prior restraint and an abridgement of his exercise of religion and freedom of expression is a mere rehash of the position he articulated in the underlying petitions for certiorari and expounded in his memorandum. So are the supportive arguments and some of the citations of decisional law, Philippine and American, holding it together. They have been considered, sufficiently discussed in some detail, and found to be without merit in our Decision. It would, thus, make little sense to embark on another lengthy discussion of the same issues and arguments.

Suffice it to reiterate that the sanction imposed on the TV program in question does not, under the factual milieu of the case, constitute prior restraint, but partakes of the nature of subsequent punishment for past violation committed by petitioner in the course of the broadcast of the program on August 10, 2004.  Eliseo F. Soriano Vs. Ma. Consoliza P. Laguardia, etc. et al./Eliseo F. Soriano Vs. Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, et al., G.R. No. 164785/G.R. No. 165636, March 15, 2010.

HRET;  procedure.  It is quite clear that the Tribunal acted in the best interest of the electorate, ensuring the determination of the latter’s will within a reasonable time. In sum, there is absolutely nothing in this case that would justify a finding that the HRET gravely abused its discretion by not granting petitioner an extension of time to present additional evidence and formally offer the same.  Representative Alvin S. Sandoval vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal Josephine Veronique R. Lacson-Noel and Hon. Speaker Prospero Nograles, G.R. No. 190067, March 9, 2010.

Legislative districts; contiguous requirement. Aside from failing to comply with Section 5(3), Article VI of the Constitution on the population requirement, the creation by RA 9591 of a legislative district for Malolos City, carving the city from the former First Legislative District, leaves the town of Bulacan isolated from the rest of the geographic mass of that district. This contravenes the requirement in Section 5(3), Article VI that each legislative district shall “comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory.” It is no argument to say, as the OSG does, that it was impracticable for Congress to create a district with contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory because Malolos city lies at the center of the First Legislative District. The geographic lay-out of the First Legislative District is not an insuperable condition making compliance with Section 5(3) impracticable. To adhere to the constitutional mandate, and thus maintain fidelity to its purpose of ensuring efficient representation, the practicable alternative for Congress was to include the municipality of Bulacan in Malolos City’s legislative district. Although unorthodox, the resulting contiguous and compact district fulfills the constitutional requirements of geographic unity and population floor, ensuring efficient representation of the minimum mass of constituents. Victorino B. Aldaba, et al. Vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 188078, March 15, 2010.

President;  power of appointment. The incumbent President can appoint the successor of Chief Justice Puno upon his retirement on May 17, 2010 as the prohibition against presidential appointments under Section 15, Article VII does not extend to appointments in the Judiciary.  Arturo M. De Castro vs. Judicial and Bar Council, et al., G.R. No. 191002, G.R. No. 191032, G.R. No. 191057, A.M. No. 10-2-5-SC, G.R. No. 191149, G.R. No. 191342, March 17, 2010.

Speedy trial. The constitutional right to a “speedy disposition of cases” is not limited to the accused in criminal proceedings but extends to all parties in all cases, including civil and administrative cases, and in all proceedings, including judicial and quasi-judicial hearings. Hence, under the Constitution, any party to a case may demand expeditious action by all officials who are tasked with the administration of justice.

The right to a speedy disposition of a case, like the right to a speedy trial, is deemed violated only when the proceedings are attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays; or when unjustified postponements of the trial are asked for and secured; or even without cause or justifiable motive, a long period of time is allowed to elapse without the party having his case tried. Equally applicable is the balancing test used to determine whether a defendant has been denied his right to a speedy trial, or a speedy disposition of a case for that matter, in which the conduct of both the prosecution and the defendant is weighed, and such factors as the length of the delay, the reasons for such delay, the assertion or failure to assert such right by the accused, and the prejudice caused by the delay. The concept of a speedy disposition is a relative term and must necessarily be a flexible concept.

Hence, the doctrinal rule is that in the determination of whether that right has been violated, the factors that may be considered and balanced are as follows: (1) the length of delay; (2) the reasons for the delay; (3) the assertion or failure to assert such right by the accused; and (4) the prejudice caused by the delay.

Applying the doctrinal ruling vis-a-vis the factual milieu of this case, the violation of the right to a speedy disposition of the case against petitioner is clear for the following reasons: (1) the delay of almost five (5) years on the part of ADT in resolving the motion of petitioner, which resolution petitioner reasonably found necessary before he could present his defense; (2) the unreasonableness of the delay; and (3) the timely assertions by petitioner of the right to an early disposition which he did through a motion to dismiss. Over and above this, the delay was prejudicial to petitioner’s cause as he was under preventive suspension for ninety (90) days, and during the interregnum of almost five years, the trial of the accusation against him remained stagnant at the prosecution stage.

The Constitutional guarantee against unreasonable delay in the disposition of cases was intended to stem the tide of disenchantment among the people in the administration of justice by our judicial and quasi-judicial tribunals. The adjudication of cases must not only be done in an orderly manner that is in accord with the established rules of procedure but must also be promptly decided to better serve the ends of justice. Excessive delay in the disposition of cases renders the rights of the people guaranteed by the Constitution and by various legislations inutile.  Capt. Wilferdo G. Roquero vs. The Chancellor of UP Manila, et al., G.R. No. 181851, March 9, 2010.

Unfair competition; bidding. The provision imposed the precondition that the contracting parties should be eligible and qualified. It should be emphasized that the bidding process was not a “free-for-all” where any and all interested parties, qualified or not, could take part. Section 5(e) of RA 9184 defines competitive bidding as a “method of procurement which is open to participation by any interested party and which consists of the following processes: advertisement, pre-bid conference,eligibility screening of prospective bidders, receipt and opening of bids, evaluation of bids, post-qualification, and award of contract x x x.” The law categorically mandates that prospective bidders are subject to eligibility screening, and as earlier stated, bidding rules may specify other conditions or order that the bidding process be subjected to certain reservations or qualifications. Thus, in its pre-qualification guidelines issued for the sale of scrap ACSRs, the NPC reserved the right to pre-disqualify any applicant who did not meet the requirements for pre-qualification. Clearly, the competitiveness policy of a bidding process presupposes the eligibility and qualification of a contestant; otherwise, it defeats the principle that only “responsible” and “qualified” bidders can bid and be awarded government contracts. Our free enterprise system is not based on a market of pure and unadulterated competition where the State pursues a strict hands-off policy and follows the let-the-devil-devour-the-hindmost rule.

Moreover, the mere fact that incentives and privileges are granted to certain enterprises to the exclusion of others does not render the issuance unconstitutional for espousing unfair competition. While the Constitution enshrines free enterprise as a policy, it nonetheless reserves to the government the power to intervene whenever necessary to promote the general welfare. In the present case, the unregulated disposal and sale of scrap ACSR wires will hamper the government’s effort of curtailing the pernicious practice of trafficking stolen government property. This is an evil sought to be prevented by RA 7832 and certainly, it was well within the authority of the NPC to prescribe conditions in order to prevent it.  National Power Corporation vs. Pinatubo Commercial, represented by Alfredo A. Dy, G.R. No. 176006, March 26, 2010.

Administrative Law

Administrative due process. Petitioner’s allegation of improper venue and the fact that the complaint was not under oath are not sufficient grounds for the dismissal of the complaint. Well to remember, the case was an administrative case and as such, technical rules of procedure are liberally applied. In administrative cases, technical rules of procedure and evidence are not strictly applied and administrative due process cannot be fully equated with due process in its strict judicial sense. The intention is to resolve disputes brought before such bodies in the most expeditious and inexpensive manner possible.

Petitioner was likewise amply afforded administrative due process the essence of which is an opportunity to explain one’s side or an opportunity to seek reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. The records show that petitioner filed the following: (1) Compliance-Answer to the Complaint; (2) Rejoinder; (3) Position paper; (4) Motion for Reconsideration of the Resolution of the Board of Professional Teachers finding him guilty as charged; and (5) Motion for Reconsideration of the decision of the Court of Appeals. He attended the preliminary conference and hearing where he was able to adduce his evidence. With the opportunities he had, he cannot claim he was denied due process.  Rene Ventenilla Puse Vs. Ligaya delos Santos-Puse, G.R. No. 183678, March 15, 2010

Exhaustion of administrative remedies. Considering that the President has the power to review on appeal the orders or acts of petitioner NEA, the failure of respondent to undertake such an appeal bars him from resorting to a judicial suit. It is settled that under the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies, recourse through court action cannot prosper until after all such administrative remedies have first been exhausted. If remedy is available within the administrative machinery, this should be resorted to before recourse can be made to courts. The party with an administrative remedy must not only initiate the prescribed administrative procedure to obtain relief but also pursue it to its appropriate conclusion before seeking judicial intervention in order to give the administrative agency an opportunity to decide the matter itself correctly and prevent unnecessary and premature resort to the court. The non-observance of the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies results in lack of cause of action, which is one of the grounds in the Rules of Court justifying the dismissal of the complaint.

In the present case, respondent failed to exhaust his administrative remedies when he filed a case with the RTC without appealing the decision of the NEA to the Office of the President. As such, his petition filed with the RTC must necessarily fail.  National Electrification Administration vs. Val L. Villanueva, G.R. No. 168203, March 9, 2010

Regulations;  publication. NPC Circular No. 99-75 did not have to be published since it was merely an internal rule or regulation. It did not purport to enforce or implement an existing law but was merely a directive issued by the NPC President to his subordinates to regulate the proper and efficient disposal of scrap ACSRs to qualified bidders. Thus, NPC Circular No. 99-75 defined the responsibilities of the different NPC personnel in the disposal, pre-qualification, bidding and award of scrap ACSRS. It also provided for the deposit of a proposal bond to be submitted by bidders, the approval of the award, mode of payment and release of awarded scrap ACSRs. All these guidelines were addressed to the NPC personnel involved in the bidding and award of scrap ACSRs. It did not, in any way, affect the rights of the public in general or of any other person not involved in the bidding process. Assuming it affected individual rights, it did so only remotely, indirectly and incidentally.  National Power Corporation vs. Pinatubo Commercial, represented by Alfredo A. Dy, G.R. No. 176006, March 26, 2010.

Agrarian law

CARL; coverage.  Resolution No. 5, passed on March 12, 1981 by the Sangguniang Bayan of Sorsogon, Sorsogon, showed that the limits of the poblacion area of the municipality included Barangay Bibincahan, where the respondents’ landholdings were situated. The significance of this fact cannot be overstated, for, thereby, the respondents’ landholdings were presumed to be industrial and residential lands. Jurisprudence has been clear about the presumption. In Hilario v. Intermediate Appellate Court, the Court said: “The presumption assumed by the appellate court that a parcel of land which is located in a poblacion is not necessarily devoted to residential purposes is wrong. It should be the other way around. A lot inside the poblacion should be presumed residential, or commercial, or non-agricultural unless there is a clearly preponderant evidence to show that it is agricultural.”

To the same effect was Natalia Realty Corporation v. DAR, thus: “We now determine whether such lands are covered by the CARL. Section 4 of R.A. 6657 provides that the CARL shall “cover, regardless of tenurial arrangement and commodity produced, all public and private agricultural lands.” As to what constitutes “agricultural land,” it is referred to as “land devoted to agricultural activity as defined in this Act and not classified as mineral, forest, residential, commercial or industrial land.” The deliberations of the Constitutional Commission confirm this limitation. “Agricultural lands” are only those lands which are “arable and suitable agricultural lands” and “do not include commercial, industrial and residential lands.”

There is no dispute that as early as 1981, the respondents’ landholdings have been part of the poblacion of Sorsogon, Sorsogon. Consistent with Hilario andNatalia, holding that the respondents’ landholdings were non-agricultural, and, consequently, outside the coverage of the CARL, was fully warranted. In fact, the excerpt from the Comprehensive Development Plan of Sorsogon, Sorsogon showed that Barangay Bibincahan was within the Central Business District of the municipality. Department of Agrarian Reform, represented by Secretary Hernani A. Braganza vs. Pablo Berenguer, et al., G.R. No. 154094, March 9, 2010.

CARP;  coverage. Petitioner insists on exemption of the Alangilan landholding from CARP coverage. It argues that the subject landholding had already been converted into non-agricultural use long before the advent of the CARP. The passage of the 1982 Ordinance, classifying the property as reserved for residential, it asserts, effectively transformed the land into non-agricultural use, and thus, outside the ambit of the CARL. It cites Natalia, wherein it was ruled that lands intended for residential use are outside the coverage of the CARL.

Indeed, lands devoted to non-agricultural activity are outside the coverage of CARL. These include lands previously converted into non-agricultural uses prior to the effectivity of the CARL on June 15, 1988. Unfortunately, petitioner failed to convince us that the Alangilan landholding ceased to be agricultural at the time of the effectivity of the CARL.

It is beyond cavil that the Alangilan landholding was classified as agricultural, reserved for residential in 1982, and was reclassified as residential-1 in 1994. However, contrary to petitioner’s assertion, the term reserved for residential does not change the nature of the land from agricultural to non-agricultural. As aptly explained by the DAR Secretary,
the term reserved for residential simply reflects the intended land use. It does not denote that the property has already been reclassified as residential, because the phrase reserved for residential is not a land classification category.

Indubitably, at the time of the effectivity of the CARL in 1988, the subject landholding was still agricultural. This was bolstered by the fact that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan had to pass an Ordinance in 1994, reclassifying the landholding as residential-1. If, indeed, the landholding had already been earmarked for residential use in 1982, as petitioner claims, then there would have been no necessity for the passage of the 1994 Ordinance.  Alangilan Realty & Development Corporation vs. Office of the President, represented by Alberto Romulo, as Executive Secretary and Arthur P. Autea, as Deputy Secretary and Department of Agrarian Reform, G.R. No. 180471, March 26, 2010.

Election law

COMELEC; findings. The appreciation of election documents involves a question of fact best left to the determination of the COMELEC, a specialized agency tasked with the supervision of elections all over the country. The findings of fact of administrative bodies, when supported by substantial evidence, are final and nonreviewable by courts of justice. This principle is applied with greater force when the case concerns the COMELEC, because the framers of the Constitution intended to place the poll body—created and explicitly made independent by the Constitution itself—on a level higher than statutory administrative organs.  Jesus O. Typoco vs. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. No. 186359. March 5, 2010.

COMELEC; majority vote. The failure of the COMELEC En Banc to muster the required majority vote even after the 15 February 2010 re-hearing should have caused the dismissal of respondent’s Election Protest. Promulgated on 15 February 1993 pursuant to Section 6, Article IX-A and Section 3, Article IX-C of the Constitution, the COMELEC Rules of Procedure is clear on this matter.  Without any trace of ambiguity, Section 6, Rule 18 of said Rule categorically provides as follows:  “Sec. 6. Procedure if Opinion is Equally Divided. – When the Commission en banc is equally divided in opinion, or the necessary majority cannot be had, the case shall be reheard, and if on rehearing no decision is reached, the action or proceeding shall be dismissed if originally commenced in the Commission; in appealed cases, the judgment or order appealed from shall stand affirmed; and in all incidental matters, the petition or motion shall be denied.”  Joselito R. Mendoza vs. Commission on Elections and Roberto M. Pagdanganan, G.R. No. 191084, March 25, 2010.

COMELEC; firearms ban. The main issue is whether or not the COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in including airsoft guns and their replicas/imitations in the term “firearm” in Section 2 (b) of R.A. No. 8714. The Court finds that the COMELEC did not commit grave abuse of discretion in this case.  Atty. Reynante B. Orceo vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 190779, March 26, 2010.

HRET; vote count. What petitioner questions is the Tribunal’s reliance on election returns and/or tally sheets and other election documents to arrive at the number of votes for each of the parties. However, jurisprudence has established that such action of the HRET was well within its discretion and jurisdiction.

Indeed, the general rule is, if what is being questioned is the correctness of the number of votes for each candidate, the best and most conclusive evidence is the ballots themselves. However, this rule applies only if the ballots are available and their integrity has been preserved from the day of elections until revision. When the ballots are unavailable or cannot be produced, then recourse can be made to untampered and unaltered election returns or other election documents as evidence.   Bai Sandra S.A. Sema vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Didagen P. Dilangalen, G.R. No. 190734, March 26, 2010.

Local Government

City;  population requirement.  Under Executive Order No. 135 (EO 135), the population indicators Congress used to measure Malolos City’s compliance with the constitutional limitation are unreliable and non-authoritative.  Victorino B. Aldaba, et al. Vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 188078, March 15, 2010.

Public officers

Appointment. Section 27 (1), of the Civil Service Law provides: “(1) Permanent status. – A permanent appointment shall be issued to a person who meets all the requirements for the position to which he is being appointed, including the appropriate eligibility prescribed, in accordance with the provisions of law, rules and standards promulgated in pursuance thereof. (emphasis and underscoring supplied)”

In the CES under which the position of PEZA Deputy Director General for Policy and Planning is classified, the acquisition of security of tenure which presupposes a permanent appointment is governed by the Rules and Regulations promulgated by the CES Board.

Clearly, for an examinee or an incumbent to be a member of the CES and be entitled to security of tenure, she/he must pass the CES examinations, be conferred CES eligibility, comply with the other requirements prescribed by the CES Board, and be appointed to a CES rank by the President.

Admittedly, before and up to the time of the termination of her appointment, respondent did not go through the four stages of CES eligibility examinations.

The appellate court’s ruling that respondent became CES eligible upon earning the MNSA degree, purportedly in accordance with Executive Order No. 696, as amended by Executive Order No. 771, does not lie.

By respondent’s attainment of an MNSA degree, she was not conferred automatic CES eligibility. It was, as above-quoted portions of CESB Resolution No. 204 state, merely accredited as “equivalent to passing the Management Aptitude Test Battery.” For respondent to acquire CES eligibility and CES rank, she could “proceed to the second stage of the eligibility examination process . . . and the other stages of the examination . . . in accordance with existing policies and regulations”; and that if respondent as MNSA degree holder passed the three other stages of the CES eligibility examinations and is conferred CES eligibility, she could “qualify for appointment to CES ranks,” PROVIDED that she meets and complies “with other requirements of the CES Board and the Office of the President to qualify for rank appointment.”

Since, it is admitted that respondent, who acquired an MNSA degree in 1993, had not undergone the second, third and fourth stages of the CES eligibility examinations prior to her appointment or during her incumbency as Deputy Director General up to the time her appointment was terminated, she was not a CES eligible, as indeed certified to by the CES Board. Not being a CES eligible, she had no security of tenure, hence, the termination by the PEZA Board on June 1, 2000 of her appointment, as well as the appointment in her stead of CES eligible by Ortaliz, were not illegal.  PEZA Board of Directors and Lilia D. De Lima vs. Gloria J. Mercado, G.R. No. 172144, March 9, 2010.

Leave.  Section 49, Rule XVI of the Omnibus Rules on Leave requires that an application for leave should be acted upon within 5 working days from receipt, otherwise, such application is deemed approved. The CSC interpreted said provision in this wise”  “It is explicit from the aforequoted rule that an application for leave of absence which had not been acted upon – either by approving or disapproving – by the head of agency or his/her authorized representative within five (5) working days from the date of its filing shall be deemed approved.”

The CSC also ruled that “Section 49 calls for a specific action to be done by the head of the agency or his duly authorized representative on the application for leave filed which is either to approve or to deny the same.”

Being the central agency mandated to “prescribe, amend, and enforce rules and regulations for carrying into effect the provisions of the Civil Service Law and other pertinent laws,” the CSC has the power to interpret its own rules and any phrase contained in them, with its interpretation significantly becoming part of the rules themselves. The Court has consistently yielded and accorded great respect to the interpretation by administrative agencies of their own rules unless there is an error of law, abuse of power, lack of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion clearly conflicting with the letter and spirit of the law.

Clearly, Atty. Nghuatco’s memorandum did not cover the action contemplated by Section 49. For one, it did not bear the imprimatur of the Commission Chairman (or his duly authorized representative) who was the proper party to grant or deny the application, as dictated by Section 52 of the Omnibus Rules on Leave. For another, it only submitted to the Commission Secretary Atty. Nghuatco’s comments and/or recommendations on Paler’s application. It was merely preliminary and did not propose any definitive action (i.e., approval or disapproval) on Paler’s application, and simply recommended what action to take. It was obviously not controlling and the Chairman could have agreed or disagreed with the recommended action. In fact, the memorandum clearly provided that Paler’s request was still to be referred to the Legal Service for comment, and that the application “(could) be acted upon depending on the completion of his work load and submission of the medical certificate.” These circumstances plainly meant that further action was yet to be made on the application. And since there was no final approval or disapproval of Paler’s application within 5 working days from receipt as required by Section 49, the application was deemed approved. Paler, therefore, could not be considered on AWOL.  Commission on Appointments, represented herein by its Secretary Hon. Arturo L. Tiu vs. Celso M. Paler, G.R. No. 172623. March 3, 2010.

Misconduct. Misconduct means intentional wrongdoing or deliberate violation of a rule of law or standard of behavior. To constitute an administrative offense, misconduct should relate to or be connected with the performance of the official functions and duties of a public officer. In grave misconduct, as distinguished from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of an established rule must be manifest.

Respondent’s acts of grabbing petitioner and attempting to kiss her were, no doubt, intentional. Worse, the incident occurred months after he had made similar but subtler overtures to De la Cruz, who made it clear that his sexual advances were not welcome. Considering that the acts respondent committed against petitioner were much more aggressive, it was impossible that the offensive nature of his actions could have escaped him. It does not appear that petitioner and respondent were carrying on an amorous relationship that might have justified his attempt to kiss petitioner while they were separated from their companions. Worse, as petitioner and respondent were both married (to other persons), respondent not only took his marital status lightly, he also ignored petitioner’s married state, and good character and reputation.  Teresita G. Narvasa vs. Benjamin A. Sanchez, Jr., G.R. No. 169449, March 26, 2010.