June 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Administrative cases; quantum of evidence.  In administrative cases, the quantum of evidence necessary to find an individual administratively liable is substantial evidence.  Substantial evidence does not necessarily mean preponderant proof as required in ordinary civil cases, but such kind of relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion or evidence commonly accepted by reasonably prudent men in the conduct of their affairs.  The evidence upon which respondent’s administrative liability would be anchored lacked that degree of certainty required in administrative cases, because the two separate audits conducted by the Commission on Audit yielded conflicting results.  Evidence of shortage in respondent’s cash and accounts, as alleged in the first audit report, is imperative to hold him liable.  In this case, the evidence against respondent could not be relied upon, because the second audit report, which was favorable to him, necessarily puts into question the reliability of the initial audit findings.  Whether the zero balance as appearing in the second audit report was correct or inadvertently indicated, the credibility and accuracy of the two audit reports were already tarnished.  Even in administrative cases, a degree of moral certainty is necessary to support a finding of liability.  Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas) vs. Rodolfo Zaldarriaga, G.R. No. 175349, June 22, 2010.

Agrarian cases; just compensation.  The taking of property under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) is a government exercise of the power of eminent domain.  Since the determination of just compensation in eminent domain proceedings is a judicial function, a court proceeding to fix just compensation cannot be made to depend on the existence of, and is considered separate and independent from, an administrative case of a similar nature.  Thus, the filing by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) of a new petition for judicial determination of just compensation after the dismissal without prejudice of another LBP-initiated court proceeding on the same issue cannot be regarded as barred by the filing of the latter proceeding beyond the 15-day period prescribed under Rule XIII, Section 11 of the Rules of the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB). Although the formula for fixing just compensation found in Section 17 of the CARL may be justly adopted in certain cases, it is by no means the only formula that the court may adopt in determining just compensation. Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Fortune Savings and Loan Association, Inc., represented by Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation, G.R. No. 177511, June 29, 2010.

Due process; local autonomy; police power. Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Administrative Order No. 01-02, as amended, which sets out rules on land use conversion, does not violate the due process clause, because in providing administrative and criminal penalties, the Secretary of Agrarian Reform simply implements the provisions of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law and the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act, both of which provide penalties for illegal land conversion. Contrary to petitioner’s assertions, the penalties provided under DAR AO No. 01-02 are imposed upon the illegal or premature conversion of lands within DAR’s jurisdiction.

In providing that reclassification of agricultural lands by local government units (LGUs) shall be subject to the requirements of, and procedures for, land use conversion, including DAR approval or clearance, DAR AO No. 01-02 did not violate the autonomy of the LGUs. The power of LGUs to reclassify agricultural lands is not absolute, and the Local Government Code recognizes the authority of DAR to approve conversion of agricultural lands. DAR Memorandum No. 88, which temporarily suspended the processing and approval of all land use conversion applications, is a valid exercise of police power, as it was issued upon the instruction of the President in order to address the unabated conversion of prime agricultural lands for real estate development because of the worsening rice shortage in the country at that time. Such measure was made in order to ensure that there are enough agricultural lands in which rice cultivation and production may be carried into. Chamber of Real Estate and Builders Associations, Inc. vs. The Secretary of Agrarian Reform, G.R. No. 183409, June 18, 2010.

Jurisdiction over election cases; administrative regulation; substitution of party-list nominees. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over a controversy in which the petitioner is seeking to be seated as the second nominee of a party-list group on the basis that the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it issued a resolution approving that group’s withdrawal of his nomination and substitution by another nominee. Such controversy is neither an election protest nor an action for quo warranto, both of which are within the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal. Petitioner correctly brought before the Supreme Court this special civil action for certiorari under Section 7 of Article IX-A of the 1987 Constitution, notwithstanding the proclamation of, and assumption of office by, the substitute nominee.

The COMELEC exceeded its authority when it issued an implementing regulation allowing a party-list nominee to be substituted when his nomination is withdrawn by his party, because the statutory provision (Section 8 of the Party-List System Act) that such regulation seeks to implement provides an exclusive list of instances in which a party-list organization can substitute its nominees, and the above ground for substitution is not one of those instances. It is basic that implementing rules and regulations should remain consistent with, and cannot override or modify, the law they intend to carry out. Luis K. Lokin, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections, et al./Luis K. Lokin, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections, et al. G.R. Nos. 179431-32/G.R. No. 180443. June 22, 2010.

Party list; Qualifications of party-list nominees. The provision in Section 9 of Republic Act No. 7941 (The Party-List System Act) that a nominee of the youth sector must be at least 25 but not more than 30 years of age on the day of the election applies to all youth sector nominees of any party-list group. Public respondent erroneously interpreted that provision as applying only to those nominated during the first three congressional terms after the ratification of the 1987 Constitution or until 1998, unless a sectoral party is thereafter registered exclusively as representing the youth sector.

Section 15 of RA 7941 provides that a nominee of a sectoral party who changes his sectoral affiliation within the same party is not eligible for nomination under the new sectoral affiliation unless such change occurred at least six months before the elections. There is no textual support in the law for public respondent’s argument that Section 15 does not apply to private respondent’s shift of affiliation from his party’s youth sector to its sector representing overseas Filipino workers and their families on the basis that there was no resultant change in party affiliation. Section 15 clearly covers changes in both political party and sectoral affiliation within the same party. Milagros E. Amores vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal and Emmanuel Joel J. Villanueva. G.R. No. 189600, June 29, 2010.

Philippine Economic Zone Authority; jurisdiction over building and fencing permits.  By specific provision of law, it is the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), through its building officials, which has authority to issue building permits for the construction of structures within the areas owned or administered by it, whether on public or private lands.  Corollary to this, PEZA, through its director general, may require owners of structures built without said permit to remove such structures within 60 days.  Otherwise, PEZA may summarily remove them at the expense of the owner of the houses, buildings or structures.  Considering that, in this case, a fencing permit is issued complementary to a building permit and that, within its premises, PEZA may properly issue a building permit, it is only fitting that fencing permits be issued by PEZA within such premises. Philippine Economic Zone Authority vs. Joseph Jude Carantes, et al., G.R. No. 181274, June 23, 2010.

Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation; power to grant casino licenses in economic zones. The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) draws its authority and power to operate, license and regulate casinos from its charter, Presidential Decree No. 1869, and not from Section 5 of Executive Order No. 80, dated April 3, 1993 (which extended to the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) all applicable incentives granted to the Subic Bay Special Economic Zone), in relation to Section 13 of Republic Act No. 7227, which created the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority and empowered it to license tourism related activities except casinos which shall continue to be licensed by PAGCOR.  Thus, PAGCOR did not lose its power to license and regulate casinos when the Supreme Court nullified Section 5 of EO 80.  It incorrectly argued that such nullification automatically invalidated its memorandum of agreement with respondent for the operation of a casino inside the CSEZ.  It cannot therefore, on the basis of that position, revoke such memorandum of agreement and replace it with its new Standard Authority to Operate. Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation vs. Fontana Development Corporation, G.R. No. 187972, June 29, 2010.

Presidential Commission on Good Government; power to grant immunity.   The scope of immunity that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) may offer to witnesses under Section 5 of Executive Order No. 14 may vary.  It has discretion to grant appropriate levels of criminal immunity depending on the situation of the witness and his relative importance to the prosecution of ill-gotten wealth cases.  It can even agree to conditions expressed by the witness as sufficient to induce cooperation.  In petitioner’s case, respondent Republic of the Philippines, acting through the PCGG, offered him not only criminal and civil immunity but also immunity against being compelled to testify in any domestic or foreign proceeding, other than the civil and arbitration cases identified in the Immunity Agreement, just so he would agree to testify.  Trusting in the Government’s honesty and fidelity, petitioner agreed and fulfilled his part of the bargain.  Surely, the principle of fair play, which is the essence of due process, should hold the Republic on to its promise.  The immunity from criminal or civil prosecution that Section 5 of EO 14 authorizes covers immunity from giving evidence in a case before a court of law, because in reality the guarantee given to a witness against being compelled to testify constitutes a grant of immunity from civil or criminal prosecution.  Jesus P. Disini vs. The Honorable Sandiganbayan, et al., G.R. No. 180564, June 22, 2010.

Standing to sue.  Petitioner’s citizenship and taxpayer status do not automatically clothe him with standing to bring suit.  The Supreme Court will grant access to citizen’s suits on the narrowest of ground: when they raise issues of transcendental importance calling for urgent resolution.  Three factors are relevant in the Court’s determination to allow third party suits so it can resolve the merits of the crucial issues raised – the character of funds or assets involved in the controversy; a clear disregard of constitutional or statutory prohibition; and the lack of any other party with a more direct and specific interest to bring the suit. Petitioner’s suspension from the practice of law bars him from performing any activity, in or out of court, which requires the application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training and experience.  Preparing a petition raising carefully crafted arguments on equal protection grounds and employing highly legalistic rules of statutory construction falls within the proscribed conduct.  Allan F. Paguia vs. Office of the President, et al., G.R. No. 176278, June 25, 2010.

Warrantless search; arrest without warrant.  The search of a moving vehicle is one of the doctrinally accepted exceptions to the Constitutional mandate that no search or seizure shall be made except by virtue of a warrant issued by a judge after personally determining the existence of probable cause.  In the instances the Supreme Court has recognized as exceptions to the requirement of a judicial warrant, it is necessary that the officer effecting the seizure must have been impelled to do so because of probable cause.  The essential requisite of probable cause must be satisfied before a warrantless search can be lawfully conducted. The vehicle that carried the contraband or prohibited drugs was about to leave.  The searching officer had to make a quick decision and act fast.  It would be unreasonable to require him to procure a warrant before conducting the search under the circumstances.  He only had enough time to board the vehicle before the same left for its destination.  Given the above, and the fact that the officer had probable cause to search the packages allegedly containing illegal drugs, the search in this case was valid. A search substantially contemporaneous with an arrest can precede the arrest if the police has probable cause to make the arrest at the outset of the search.  Given that the search was valid, appellant’s arrest based on that search was also valid.  People of the Philippines vs. Belen Mariacos, G.R. No. 188611, June 16, 2010.