July 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Agrarian reform; coverage.  Lands that are not directly, actually and exclusively used for pasture nor devoted to commercial livestock raising are not excluded from the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.  A.Z. Arnaiz Realty, Inc. vs. Office of the President. G.R. No. 170623, July 7, 2010.

Certificate of candidacy; residency requirement.  The Omnibus Election Code provides that a certificate of candidacy may be denied due course or cancelled if there is any false representation of a material fact.  The critical material facts are those that refer to a candidate’s qualifications for elective office, such as his or her citizenship and residence.  The false representation must be a deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact that would otherwise render a candidate ineligible. Given the purpose of the requirement, it must be made with the intention to deceive the electorate as to the would-be candidate’s qualifications for public office.  Thus, the misrepresentation cannot be the result of a mere innocuous mistake, and cannot exist in a situation where the intent to deceive is patently absent, or where no deception on the electorate results. The foregoing are the legal standards by which the COMELEC must act on a petition to deny due course or to cancel a certificate of candidacy.  Thus, in considering the residency of a candidate as stated in the certificate of candidacy, the COMELEC must determine whether or not the candidate deliberately attempted to mislead, misinform or hide a fact about his or her residency that would otherwise render him or her ineligible for the position sought.  The COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in this case when, in considering the residency issue, it based its decision solely on very personal and subjective assessment standards, such as the nature or design and furnishings of the dwelling place in relation to the stature of the candidate.  Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra vs. Commission on Elections, et al. G.R. No. 191938, July 2, 2010.

Citizenship; election and constructive registration. The statutory formalities of electing Philippine citizenship are the following: (1) a statement of election under oath; (2) an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and Government of the Philippines; and (3) registration of the statement of election and of the oath with the nearest civil registry.  Here, petitioners complied with the first and second requirements upon reaching the age of majority.  However, registration of the documents of election with the civil registry was done belatedly.  Under the facts peculiar to the petitioners, the right to elect Philippine citizenship has not been lost and they should be allowed to complete the statutory requirements for such election.  Their exercise of suffrage, being elected to public office, continuous and uninterrupted stay in the Philippines, and other similar acts showing exercise of Philippine citizenship do not on their own take the place of election of citizenship.  But where, as here, the election of citizenship has in fact been done and documented within the constitutional and statutory timeframe, registration of the documents of election beyond the timeframe should be allowed if in the meanwhile positive acts of citizenship have been done publicly, consistently and continuously.  These acts constitute constructive registration.  In other words, the actual exercise of Philippine citizenship for over half a century by the petitioners is actual notice to the Philippine public, which is equivalent to formal registration of the election of Philippine citizenship.  It is not the registration of the act of election, although a valid requirement under Commonwealth Act No. 625, that will confer Philippine citizenship on the petitioners.  It is only a means of confirming the fact that citizenship has been claimed.  Having a Filipino mother is permanent.  It is the basis of the right of the petitioners to elect Philippine citizenship.  Petitioners elected Philippine citizenship in form and substance.  The failure to register the election in the civil registry should not defeat that election and negate the permanent fact that petitioners have a Filipino mother.  The lacking requirements may still be complied with subject to the imposition of appropriate administrative penalties, if any.  The documents petitioners submitted supporting their allegations that they have registered with the civil registry, although belatedly, should be examined for validation purposes by the appropriate agency, in this case the Bureau of Immigration.  Other requirements embodied in the administrative orders and other issuances of the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Justice must be complied with within a reasonable time.  Balgamelo Cabiling Ma, et al. vs. Commissioner Alipio F. Fernandez, Jr., et al. G.R. No. 183133, July 26, 2010.

Double jeopardy; elements.  Following are the elements of double jeopardy: (1) the complaint or information was sufficient in form and substance to sustain a conviction; (2) the court had jurisdiction; (3) the accused had been arraigned and had pleaded; and (4) the accused was convicted or acquitted, or the case was dismissed without his express consent.  These elements are present in this case.  The information filed in each of the criminal cases against respondent was sufficient in form and substance to sustain a conviction.  The regional trial court had jurisdiction over these cases.  The respondent was arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty.  The court dismissed both cases on a demurrer to evidence on the ground of insufficiency of evidence, which amounts to an acquittal from which no appeal can be had as that would place respondent in double jeopardy.  People of the Philippines vs. Dante Tan. G.R. No. 167526, July 26, 2010.

Double jeopardy; exceptions.  The rule on double jeopardy is not without exceptions. Double jeopardy will not attach when the trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion, or when the prosecution was denied due process.  Here, the prosecution was given more than ample opportunity to present its case.  No grave abuse of discretion can be attributed to the trial court simply because it chose not to hold in abeyance the resolution of the demurrer to evidence filed by the accused.  While it would have been ideal for the trial court to hold in abeyance the resolution of the demurrer to evidence, nowhere in the rules is it mandated to do so. Furthermore, even if the Supreme Court were to consider the same as an error on the part of the trial court, the same would merely constitute an error of procedure or of judgment and not an error of jurisdiction.  Errors or irregularities, which do not render the proceedings a nullity, will not defeat a plea of double jeopardy.  People of the Philippines vs. Dante Tan. G.R. No. 167526, July 26, 2010.

Due process; administrative proceedings.  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. The standard of due process that must be met in administrative tribunals allows a certain degree of latitude as long as fairness is not ignored. It is, therefore, not legally objectionable for violating due process for an administrative agency to resolve a case based solely on position papers, affidavits or documentary evidence submitted by the parties.  Even if no formal hearing took place, it is not sufficient ground for petitioner to claim that due process was not afforded it.  In this case, petitioner was given all the opportunity to prove and establish its claim that the properties were excluded from the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Petitioner actively participated in the proceedings by submitting various pleadings and documentary evidence.  It filed motions for reconsideration of every unfavorable outcome in all tiers of the administrative and judicial processes.  The essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard, or, as applied to administrative proceedings, an opportunity to explain one’s side or an opportunity to seek for a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of.  Any seeming defect in its observance is cured by the filing of a motion for reconsideration.  Denial of due process cannot be successfully invoked by a party who has had the opportunity to be heard on his motion for reconsideration.  A.Z. Arnaiz Realty, Inc. vs. Office of the President. G.R. No. 170623, July 7, 2010.

Exhaustion of administrative remedies.  The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies requires that where a remedy before an administrative agency is provided, the administrative agency concerned must be given the opportunity to decide a matter within its jurisdiction before an action is brought before the courts.  Failure to exhaust administrative remedies is a ground for dismissal of the action.  In this case, however, the doctrine does not apply because petitioners failed to demonstrate that recourse to the Commission on Higher Education is mandatory – or even possible – in an action such as that brought by the respondent, which is essentially one for mandamus and damages.  The doctrine admits of numerous exceptions, one of which is where the issues are purely legal and well within the jurisdiction of the trial court, as in the present case.  Petitioners’ liability, if any, for damages will have to be decided by the courts, since any judgment inevitably calls for the application and the interpretation of the Civil Code.  As such, exhaustion of administrative remedies may be dispensed with. University of Santo Tomas, et al. vs. Danes B. Sanchez. G.R. No. 165569. July 29, 2010.

Freedom of speech.  Government workers, whatever their rank, have as much right as any person in the land to voice out their protests against what they believe to be a violation of their rights and interests.  Civil Service does not deprive them of their freedom of expression.  It would be unfair to hold that by joining the government service, the members thereof have renounced or waived this basic liberty. This freedom can be reasonably regulated only but can never be taken away.  Thus, Section 5 of Civil Service Commission Resolution No. 02-1316, which regulates the political rights of those in the government service, provides that the concerted activity or mass action proscribed must be coupled with the “intent of effecting work stoppage or service disruption in order to realize their demands of force concession.”  Such limitation or qualification in the above rule is intended to temper and focus the application of the prohibition, as not all collective activity or mass undertaking of government employees is prohibited. Otherwise, government employees would be deprived of their constitutional right to freedom of expression.  Respondents’ act of wearing similarly colored shirts, attending a public hearing for just over an hour at the office of the GSIS Investigation Unit, bringing with them recording gadgets, clenching their fists, and some even badmouthing the GSIS guards and GSIS President and General Manager Winston F. Garcia, are not constitutive of an (i) intent to effect work stoppage or service disruption and (ii) for the purpose of realizing their demands of force concession.  These actuations did not amount to a prohibited concerted activity or mass action.  Government Service Insurance System and Winston F. Garcia vs. Dinnah Villaviza, et al. G.R. No. 180291, July 27, 2010.

Government agencies; reorganization.  Reorganization in a government agency is valid provided that it is done in good faith.  As a general rule, the test of good faith is whether or not the purpose of the reorganization is for economy or to make the bureaucracy more efficient.  Removal from office as a result of reorganization must pass the test of good faith.  A demotion in office, i.e., the movement from one position to another involving the issuance of an appointment with diminution in duties, responsibilities, status or rank, which may or may not involve a reduction in salary, is tantamount to removal, if no cause is shown for it.  Consequently, before a demotion may be effected pursuant to reorganization, the observance of the rules on bona fide abolition of public office is essential.  There was no demotion in this case because petitioner was appointed to a position comparable to her former position.  In fact, her new position entailed an increase in her salary grade from 20 to 24.   There is, thus, no evidence to suggest that the Development Bank of the Philippines acted in bad faith.  Virginia D. Bautista vs. Civil Service Commission and Development Bank of the Philippines. G.R. No. 185215, July 22, 2010.

Government contracts; perfection.  Contracts to which the government is a party are generally subject to the same laws and regulations that govern the validity and sufficiency of contracts between private individuals.  A government contract, however, is perfected only upon approval of competent authority, where such approval is required.  With respect to contracts of government-owned and controlled corporations, the provisions of existing laws are clear in requiring the governing board’s approval thereof.  For the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), its charter (Presidential Decree 857) vests the general manager with power to sign contracts and to perform such other duties as the Board of Directors may assign.  Therefore, unless the Board validly authorizes the general manager, the latter cannot bind PPA to a contract.  The authority of government officials to represent the government in any contract must proceed from an express provision of law or valid delegation of authority.  Without such actual authority being possessed by PPA’s general manager, there could be no real consent, much less a perfected contract, to speak of.  A notice of award signed by the general manager does not embody a perfected contract without the PPA Board’s prior approval of the contract.  Sargasso Construction & Development Corporation, et al. vs. Philippine Ports Authority. G.R. No. 170530, July 5, 2010.

Local governments; authority of local chief executive.  Under Section 444(b)(1)(iv) of the Local Government Code, a municipal mayor is required to secure the prior authorization of the Sangguniang Bayan (municipal council) before entering into a contract on behalf of the municipality.  In this case, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi unanimously passed Resolution No. 15-92 authorizing the Mayor to hire a lawyer of her choice to represent the interest of Tiwi in the execution of this Court’s Decision in another case.  Such authority necessarily carried with it the power to negotiate, execute and sign on behalf of Tiwi the Contract of Legal Services.  That the authorization did not set the terms and conditions of the compensation of the lawyer signifies that the council empowered the Mayor to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement with the lawyer of her choice subject to the general limitation that the contractual stipulations should not be contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy, and, considering that this is a contract of legal services, to the added restriction that the agreed attorney’s fees must not be unreasonable and unconscionable.  On its face, and there is no allegation to the contrary, the prior authorization given under Resolution No. 15-92 appears to have been given by the council in good faith in order to expeditiously safeguard the rights of Tiwi.  Thus, there is nothing objectionable to this manner of prior authorization, and the Mayor was sufficiently authorized to enter into said Contract of Legal Services.  Such contract need not be ratified first by the Sangguniang Bayan to be enforceable against Tiwi.  The law speaks of prior authorization and not ratification with respect to the power of the local chief executive to enter into a contract on behalf of the local government unit.  That authority was granted by the Sangguniang Bayan to the Mayor under Resolution No. 15-92. Municipality of Tiwi, represented by Hon. Mayor Jiame C. Villanueva and Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi Vs. Antonio B. Betito, G.R. No. 171873, July 9, 2010.

Municipal ordinance; deed of restrictions.  While a zoning ordinance can override the deed of restrictions on the use of a property on the basis of the municipality’s exercise of police power, the Court will reconcile seemingly opposing provisions in the deed of restrictions and the zoning ordinance rather than nullify one or the other, particularly where, as here, the continued enforcement of the deed of restrictions is reasonable and the municipality was not asserting any interest or zoning purpose contrary to the interest of the subdivision developer that is seeking to enforce the deed of restrictions.  The Learning Child, Inc., et al. vs. Ayala Alabang Village Association, et al./Jose Marie V. Aquino, minor and represented by his parents Dr. Errol Aquino and Atty. Marilyn Aquino, et al. vs. Ayala Alabang Village Association, et al./Ayala Alabang Village Association, et al. vs. Municipality of Muntinlupa, et al. G.R. No. 134269/G.R. No. 134440/G.R. No. 144518, July 7, 2010.

Ombudsman; jurisdiction.  The primary jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to investigate any act or omission of a public officer or employee applies only in cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan.  In cases cognizable by regular courts, the Ombudsman has concurrent jurisdiction with other investigative agencies of government.  Republic Act No. 8249 (Act Further Defining the Jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan) limits the cases that are cognizable by the Sandiganbayan to public officials occupying positions corresponding to salary grade 27 and higher.  The Sandiganbayan has no jurisdiction over private respondent who, as punong barangay, is occupying a position corresponding to salary grade 14.  Under the Local Government Code, the sangguniang bayan has disciplinary authority over any elective barangay official.  Clearly, therefore, the Ombudsman has concurrent jurisdiction with the sangguniang bayan over administrative cases against elective barangay officials occupying positions below salary grade 27, such as private respondent in this case.  In administrative cases involving the concurrent jurisdiction of two or more disciplining authorities, the body in which the complaint is filed first, and which opts to take cognizance of the case, acquires jurisdiction to the exclusion of other tribunals exercising concurrent jurisdiction.  In this case, since the complaint was filed first in the Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman opted to assume jurisdiction over the complaint, the Ombudsman’s exercise of jurisdiction is to the exclusion of the sangguniang bayan exercising concurrent jurisdiction.  Jurisdiction is a matter of law. Jurisdiction, once acquired, is not lost upon the instance of the parties but continues until the case is terminated.  When complainants first filed the complaint in the Ombudsman, jurisdiction was already vested on the latter. Jurisdiction could no longer be transferred to the sangguniang bayan by virtue of a subsequent complaint filed by the same complainants.  As a final note, under Section 60 of the Local Government Code, the sangguniang bayan has no power to remove an elective barangay official.  Apart from the Ombudsman, only a proper court may do so.  Unlike the sangguniang bayan, the Ombudsman’s powers are not merely recommendatory.  The Ombudsman is clothed with authority to directly remove an erring public official other than officials who may be removed only by impeachment.  Office of the Ombudsman vs. Rolson Rodriquez. G.R. No. 172700, July 23, 2010.

Primary jurisdiction; Commission on Higher Education. The rule on primary jurisdiction applies only where the administrative agency exercises quasi-judicial or adjudicatory functions.  Petitioners have not shown that the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has power to “investigate facts or ascertain the existence of facts, hold hearings, weigh evidence, and draw conclusions.”  Section 8 of Republic Act No. 7722 (the Higher Education Act of 1994), which enumerates the powers and functions of CHED) does not contain any express grant to CHED of judicial or quasi-judicial power. In any event, CHED has no authority to adjudicate an action for damages.  University of Santo Tomas, et al. vs. Danes B. Sanchez. G.R. No. 165569. July 29, 2010.

Public lands; registration.  All lands not appearing to be clearly of private dominion presumptively belong to the State.  Public lands not shown to have been reclassified or released as alienable agricultural land or alienated to a private person by the State remain part of the inalienable public domain.  The onus to overturn, by incontrovertible evidence, the presumption that the land subject of an application for registration is alienable or disposable rests with the applicant.  A notation on the advanced survey plan stating in effect that the subject property is alienable and disposable is not sufficient to establish the actual legal classification of the disputed lot.  It is not the kind of evidence required by law to establish that the land is alienable and disposable.  The approved survey plan merely identifies the property preparatory to a judicial proceeding for adjudication of title.  Republic of the Philippines vs. Domingo Espinosa. G.R. No. 176885, July 5, 2010.

Public officers; demotion. There is demotion when an employee is appointed to a position resulting in diminution of duties, responsibilities, status or rank, which may or may not involve a reduction in salary.  Where an employee is appointed to a position with the same duties and responsibilities but with rank and salary higher than those enjoyed in his previous position, there is no demotion and the appointment is valid.  In this case, the appointment of petitioner to Bank Executive Officer II did not constitute a demotion.  Her duties and responsibilities as Account Officer (her previous position) and as BEO II are practically the same.  Rather than lowering her rank and salary, petitioner’s appointment as BEO II had, in fact, resulted in an increase thereof from salary grade 20 to 24.  Further, her appointment to BEO II was done in good faith and pursuant to a valid reorganization.  Virginia D. Bautista vs. Civil Service Commission and Development Bank of the Philippines. G.R. No. 185215, July 22, 2010.

Review of COMELEC Decision.  In light of the Supreme Court’s limited authority to review findings of fact, it does not ordinarily review in a certiorari case the COMELEC’s appreciation and evaluation of evidence.  Findings of fact of the COMELEC, supported by substantial evidence, are final and non-reviewable.  Any misstep by the COMELEC in this regard generally involves an error of judgment, not of jurisdiction.  In exceptional cases, however, when the COMELEC’s action on the appreciation and evaluation of evidence oversteps the limits of its discretion to the point of being grossly unreasonable, the Supreme Court is not only obliged, but has the constitutional duty to intervene.  When grave abuse of discretion is present, resulting errors arising from the grave abuse mutate from error of judgment to one of jurisdiction.  Abraham Kahlil B. Mitra vs. Commission on Elections, et al. G.R. No. 191938, July 2, 2010.

Right to information.  Like all constitutional guarantees, the right to information is not absolute. The people’s right to information is limited to matters of public concern, and is further subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.  Similarly, the State’s policy of full disclosure is limited to transactions involving public interest, and is subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law.  National board examinations, such as the certified public accountant board examinations, are matters of public concern.  The populace in general, and the examinees in particular, would understandably be interested in the fair and competent administration of these examinations in order to ensure that only those qualified are admitted into the accounting profession. And as with all matters pedagogical, these examinations could be not merely quantitative means of assessment, but also means to further improve the teaching and learning of the art and science of accounting.  On the other hand, there may be valid reasons to limit access to the examination papers in order to properly administer the tests.  More than the mere convenience of the examiner, it may well be that there exist inherent difficulties in the preparation, generation, encoding, administration, and checking of the multiple choice examinations that require that the questions and answers remain confidential for a limited duration. However, the Professional Regulation Commission is not a party to the proceedings.  It has not been given an opportunity to explain the reasons behind the regulations or articulate the justification for keeping the examination documents confidential.  In view of the far-reaching implications of the cases, which may impact on every board examination administered by the Professional Regulation Commission, and in order that all relevant issues may be ventilated, the Court remanded the cases to the Regional Trial Court for further proceedings.  Hazel Ma. C. Antolin vs. Abelardo R. Domondon, et al./Hazel Ma. C. Antolin vs. Antonieta Fortuna-Ibe. G.R. No. 165036/G.R. No. 175705, July 5, 2010.

Sanggunian resolution; validity.  A municipal resolution correcting an alleged typographical error in a zoning ordinance does not have to comply with the requirements of notice and hearing, which are required for the validity and effectiveness of zoning ordinances.  The Learning Child, Inc., et al. vs. Ayala Alabang Village Association, et al./Jose Marie V. Aquino, minor and represented by his parents Dr. Errol Aquino and Atty. Marilyn Aquino, et al. vs. Ayala Alabang Village Association, et al./Ayala Alabang Village Association, et al. vs. Municipality of Muntinlupa, et al. G.R. No. 134269/G.R. No. 134440/G.R. No. 144518, July 7, 2010.

Standing to sue.  Legal standing refers to a party’s personal and substantial interest in a case, arising from the direct injury it has sustained or will sustain as a result of the challenged governmental action. Legal standing calls for more than just a generalized grievance.  The term “interest” means a material interest, an interest in issue affected by the governmental action, as distinguished from mere interest in the question involved, or a mere incidental interest.  Unless a person’s constitutional rights are adversely affected by a statute or governmental action, he has no legal standing to challenge the same.  In this case, petitioner challenges the constitutionality of Section 2.6 of the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules (DSOAR) of the Energy Regulatory Commission, which obligates residential end-users to advance the cost of extending power distribution lines and installing additional facilities.  However, petitioner’s members consist of developers, brokers, appraisers, contractors, manufacturers, suppliers, engineers, architects, and other persons or entities engaged in the housing and real estate business.  It does not question the challenged DSOAR provision as a residential end-user, and it cannot do so because the challenged provision refers only to the rights and obligations of distribution utilities and residential end-users; neither the petitioner nor its members are residential end-users.  Thus, neither the petitioner nor its members can claim any injury, as residential end-users, arising from Section 2.6 of the DSOAR; neither can they cite any benefit accruing to them as residential end-users that would result from the invalidation of the assailed provision. Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Association, Inc. Vs. Energy Regulatory Commission, et al. G.R. No. 174697, July 8, 2010.

Waiver of locus standi rule. The Court can waive the procedural rule on standing in cases that raise issues of transcendental importance.  Following are the guidelines in determining whether or not a matter is of transcendental importance: (1) the character of the funds or other assets involved in the case; (2) the presence of a clear case of disregard of a constitutional or statutory prohibition by the public respondent agency or instrumentality of the government; and (3) the lack of any other party with a more direct and specific interest in the questions being raised.  In this case, the three determinants are absent.  Public funds are not involved.  The allegations of constitutional and statutory violations of the public respondent agency are unsubstantiated by facts and are mere challenges on the wisdom of the rules.  Parties with a more direct and specific interest in the questions being raised – the residential end-users – undoubtedly exist and are not included as parties to the petition.  Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Association, Inc. Vs. Energy Regulatory Commission, et al. G.R. No. 174697, July 8, 2010.