August 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Civil Service Commission; jurisdiction. The civil service encompasses all branches and agencies of the Government, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters, like the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), or those created by special law. Thus, GSIS employees are part of the civil service system and are subject to the law and to the circulars, rules and regulations issued by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) on discipline, attendance and general terms and conditions of employment. The CSC has jurisdiction to hear and decide disciplinary cases against erring employees. Winston F. Garcia vs. Mario I. Molina, et al./Winston F. Garcia vs. Mario I. Molina, et al., G.R. No. 157383/G.R. No. 174137, August 18, 2010.

Double compensation. Section 8, Article IX-B of the Constitution provides that no elective or appointive public officer or employee shall receive additional, double or indirect compensation, unless specifically authorized by law, nor accept without the consent of the Congress, any present emolument, office or title of any kind from any foreign government.  Pensions and gratuities shall not be considered as additional, double or indirect compensation. This provision, however, does not apply to the present case as there was no double compensation to the petitioners. The questioned resolutions of the Monetary Board are valid corporate acts of petitioners that became the bases for granting them additional monthly representation and transportation allowance (RATA), as members of the Board of Directors of Philippine International Convention Center Inc. (PICCI), a government corporation whose sole stockholder is the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). RATA is distinct from salary as a form of compensation.  Unlike salary which is paid for services rendered, RATA is a form of allowance intended to defray expenses deemed unavoidable in the discharge of office.  Hence, RATA is paid only to certain officials who, by the nature of their offices, incur representation and transportation expenses.  Indeed, aside from the RATA that they have been receiving from the BSP, the grant of RATA to each of the petitioners for every board meeting they attended, in their capacity as members of the Board of Directors of PICCI, in addition to their per diem, does not violate the constitutional proscription against double compensation. Gabriel C. Singson, et al. vs. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 159355, August 9, 2010.

Eminent domain; voluntary agreement by landowner. Where the landowner agrees voluntarily to the taking of his property by the government for public use, he thereby waives his right to the institution of a formal expropriation proceeding covering such property. Failure for a long time of the owner to question the lack of expropriation proceedings covering a property that the government had taken constitutes a waiver of his right to gain back possession. The landowner’s remedy in such case is an action for the payment of just compensation, not ejectment. Here, the Court of Appeals erred in ordering the eviction of petitioner from the property that it has held as government school site for more than 50 years. The evidence on record shows that the respondents intended to cede the property to the City Government of Lipa permanently. In fact, they allowed the city to declare the property in its name for tax purposes. And when they sought to have the bigger lot subdivided, the respondents earmarked a specific portion for the City Government of Lipa. Under the circumstances, it may be assumed that the respondents had agreed to transfer ownership of the land to the government, whether to the City Government of Lipa or to the Republic of the Philippines, but the parties never formalized and documented such transfer. Consequently, petitioner should be deemed entitled to possession pending the respondents’ formal transfer of ownership to it upon payment of just compensation. Republic of the Philippines vs. Primo Mendoza and Maria Lucero, G.R. No. 185091, August 8, 2010.

Equal protection clause. There is no substantial distinction between municipalities with pending cityhood bills in Congress and municipalities that did not have similar pending bills for purposes of the income requirement for converting a municipality into a city under Republic Act No. 9009.  The pendency of such a bill does not affect or determine the level of income of a municipality.  Municipalities with pending cityhood bills in Congress might even have lower annual income than municipalities that did not have pending cityhood bills.  Thus, the classification criterion − mere pendency of a cityhood bill in Congress − is not rationally related to the purpose of RA 9009, which is to prevent fiscally non-viable municipalities from converting into cities. Moreover, the fact of pendency of a cityhood bill in Congress limits the exemption (from the income requirement) to a specific condition existing at the time of passage of RA 9009.  That specific condition will never happen again.  This violates the requirement that a valid classification must not be limited to existing conditions only. Also, the exemption provision in the Cityhood Laws gives the 16 respondent municipalities a unique advantage based on an arbitrary date −  the filing of their cityhood bills before the end of the 11th Congress – as against all other municipalities that may want to convert into cities after the effectiveness of RA 9009. Lastly, limiting the exemption only to the 16 municipalities violates the Constitutional requirement that the classification must apply to all those who are similarly situated. Municipalities with the same income as the 16 respondent municipalities cannot convert into cities, while those 16 municipalities can. Clearly, as worded, the exemption found in the Cityhood Laws would be unconstitutional for violation of the equal protection clause. League of Cities of the Philippines represented by LCP National President Jerry P. Trenas, et al. vs. Commission on Elections, et al. G.R. No. 176951/G.R. No. 177499/G.R. No. 178056, August 24, 2010.

Judicial review; justiciable controversy; moot case. Private respondent was not elected President in the May 10, 2010 election.  Since the issue on the proper interpretation of the phrase “any reelection” in Section 4, Article VII of the Constitution will be premised on a person’s second (whether immediate or not) election as President, there is no case or controversy to be resolved in this case. No live conflict of legal rights exists.  There is in this case no definite, concrete, real or substantial controversy that touches on the legal relations of parties having adverse legal interests.  No specific relief may conclusively be decreed upon by the Court in this case that will benefit any of the parties.  As such, one of the essential requisites for the exercise of the power of judicial review, the existence of an actual case or controversy, is sorely lacking in this case. As a rule, the Court may only adjudicate actual, ongoing controversies. It is not empowered to decide moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the result as to the thing in issue in the case before it. When a case is moot, it becomes non-justiciable. An action is considered “moot” when it no longer presents a justiciable controversy because the issues involved have become academic or dead or when the matter in dispute has already been resolved and hence, one is not entitled to judicial intervention unless the issue is likely to be raised again between the parties. There is nothing for the Court to resolve as the determination thereof has been overtaken by subsequent events. Assuming an actual case or controversy existed prior to the proclamation of a President who has been duly elected in the May 10, 2010 election, the same is no longer true today. Following the results of that election, private respondent was not elected President for the second time. Thus, any discussion of his “reelection” will simply be hypothetical and speculative. It will serve no useful or practical purpose. Atty. Evillo C. Pormento vs. Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada and Commission on Elections. G.R. No. 191988. August 31, 2010.

Operative fact doctrine. Under the operative fact doctrine, the law is recognized as unconstitutional but the effects of the unconstitutional law, prior to its declaration of nullity, may be left undisturbed as a matter of equity and fair play. However, in this case, the minority’s novel theory, invoking the operative fact doctrine, is that the enactment of the Cityhood Laws and the functioning of the 16 municipalities as new cities with new sets of officials and employees operate to constitutionalize the unconstitutional Cityhood Laws.  This novel theory misapplies the operative fact doctrine and sets a gravely dangerous precedent. Under the minority’s view, an unconstitutional law, if already implemented prior to its declaration of unconstitutionality by the Court, can no longer be revoked and its implementation must be continued despite being unconstitutional.  This view will open the floodgates to the wanton enactment of unconstitutional laws and a mad rush for their immediate implementation before the Court can declare them unconstitutional.  This view is an open invitation to serially violate the Constitution, and be quick about it, lest the violation be stopped by the Court.

The operative fact doctrine is a rule of equity.  As such, it must be applied as an exception to the general rule that an unconstitutional law produces no effects.  It can never be invoked to validate as constitutional an unconstitutional act.  The operative fact doctrine never validates or constitutionalizes an unconstitutional law.  The unconstitutional law remains unconstitutional, but its effects, prior to its judicial declaration of nullity, may be left undisturbed as a matter of equity and fair play.  The doctrine affects or modifies only the effects of the unconstitutional law, not the unconstitutional law itself. Applying the doctrine to this case, the Cityhood Laws remain unconstitutional because they violate Section 10, Article X of the Constitution.  However, the effects of the implementation of the Cityhood Laws prior to the declaration of their nullity, such as the payment of salaries and supplies by the concerned local government units or their issuance of licenses or execution of contracts, may be recognized as valid and effective.  League of Cities of the Philippines represented by LCP National President Jerry P. Trenas, et al. vs. Commission on Elections, et al. G.R. No. 176951/G.R. No. 177499/G.R. No. 178056, August 24, 2010.

Search warrant; requirements for validity. The validity of the issuance of a search warrant rests upon the following factors: (1) it must be issued upon probable cause; (2) the probable cause must be determined by the judge himself and not by the applicant or any other person; (3) in the determination of probable cause, the judge must examine, under oath or affirmation, the complainant and such witnesses as the latter may produce; and (4) the warrant issued must particularly describe the place to be searched and persons or things to be seized. On the first requisite, a magistrate’s determination of probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant is paid great deference by a reviewing court, as long as there was substantial basis for that determination.  Substantial basis means that the questions of the examining judge brought out such facts and circumstances as would lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed, and the objects in connection with the offense sought to be seized are in the place sought to be searched. On the last requirement, a description of the place to be searched is sufficient if the officer serving the warrant can, with reasonable effort, ascertain and identify the place intended and distinguish it from other places in the community.  A designation or description that points out the place to be searched to the exclusion of all others, and on inquiry unerringly leads the peace officers to it, satisfies the constitutional requirement of definiteness. People of the Philippines vs. Estela Tuan y Baludda. G.R. No. 176066, August 11, 2010.

Warrantless arrest. Appellant was arrested during an entrapment operation where he was caught in flagrante delicto selling shabu.  When an arrest is made during an entrapment operation, it is not required that a warrant be secured in line with Rule 113, Section 5(a) of the Revised Rules of Court, which provides that a peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense. A buy-bust operation is a form of entrapment which in recent years has been accepted as a valid and effective mode of apprehending drug pushers.  If carried out with due regard for constitutional and legal safeguards, a buy-bust operation, such as the one involving appellant, deserves judicial sanction. Consequently, the warrantless arrest and warrantless search and seizure conducted on the person of appellant were allowed under the circumstances.  The search, incident to his lawful arrest, needed no warrant to sustain its validity. Thus, there is no doubt that the sachets of shabu recovered during the legitimate buy-bust operation are admissible and were properly admitted in evidence against him. People of the Philippines vs. Michael Sembrano y Castro. G.R. No. 185848, August 16, 2010.

Administrative Law

Administrative agencies; findings. Findings of fact of administrative agencies and quasi-judicial bodies, like the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board, which have acquired expertise because their jurisdiction is confined to specific matters, are generally accorded respect. In this case, there is no ground to disturb the DARAB’s findings, which affirmed those of the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board after due hearing and appreciation of the evidence submitted by both parties. Heirs of Jose M. Cervantes, et al. vs. Jesus G. Miranda. G.R. No. 183352, August 9, 2010.

Administrative cases; preliminary investigation; due process. Section 45 of the Government Service Insurance System Act of 1997 gives the President and General Manager of GSIS the authority and responsibility to remove, suspend or otherwise discipline GSIS personnel for cause. However, this power is not without limitations for it must be exercised in accordance with civil service rules. While the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (Civil Service Rules) do not specifically provide that a formal charge issued against a government employee without the requisite preliminary investigation is null and void, it is required that, upon receipt of a complaint which is sufficient in form and substance, the disciplining authority shall require the person complained of to submit a counter-affidavit or comment under oath within three days from receipt. The use of the word “shall” quite obviously indicates that it is mandatory for the disciplining authority to conduct a preliminary investigation or at least give the respondent the opportunity to comment and explain his side. This must be done prior to the issuance of the formal charge, and the comment required is different from the answer that may later be filed by respondents. Contrary to petitioner’s claim, no exception is provided for in the Civil Service Rules, not even an indictment in flagranti as claimed by petitioner.

The above rules apply even if the complainant is the disciplining authority himself, as in this case. To comply with such requirement, petitioner could have issued a memorandum requiring respondents to explain why no disciplinary action should be taken against them instead of immediately issuing formal charges. With respondents’ comments, petitioner should have properly evaluated both sides of the controversy before making a conclusion that there was a prima facie case against respondents, leading to the issuance of the questioned formal charges. It is noteworthy that the very acts subject of the administrative cases stemmed from an event that took place the day before the formal charges were issued. It appears, therefore, that the formal charges were issued after the sole determination by the petitioner as the disciplining authority that there was a prima facie case against respondents. To condone this would give the disciplining authority an unrestricted power to judge by himself the nature of the act complained of as well as the gravity of the charges. Thus, respondents here were denied due process of law. Not even the fact that the charges against them are serious and evidence of their guilt is – in the opinion of their superior – strong can compensate for the procedural shortcut taken by petitioner. The filing by petitioner of formal charges against the respondents without complying with the mandated preliminary investigation or at least giving the respondents the opportunity to comment violated their right to due process. Accordingly, the formal charges are void ab initio and may be assailed directly or indirectly at anytime. Winston F. Garcia vs. Mario I. Molina, et al./Winston F. Garcia vs. Mario I. Molina, et al. .G.R. No. 157383/G.R. No. 174137, August 18, 2010.

Administrative cases; decision rendered without due process. The cardinal precept is that where there is a violation of basic constitutional rights, courts are ousted from their jurisdiction. The violation of a party’s right to due process raises a serious jurisdictional issue which cannot be glossed over or disregarded at will. Where the denial of the fundamental right to due process is apparent, a decision rendered in disregard of that right is void for lack of jurisdiction. This rule is equally true in quasi-judicial and administrative proceedings, for the constitutional guarantee that no man shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process is unqualified by the type of proceedings (whether judicial or administrative) where he stands to lose the same. Although administrative procedural rules are less stringent and often applied more liberally, administrative proceedings are not exempt from basic and fundamental procedural principles, such as the right to due process in investigations and hearings. Winston F. Garcia vs. Mario I. Molina, et al./Winston F. Garcia vs. Mario I. Molina, et al., G.R. No. 157383/G.R. No. 174137, August 18, 2010.

Administrative cases; quantum of evidence. In administrative cases, the requisite proof is substantial evidence, i.e., the amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion. In this case, substantial evidence consisted of the uniform findings of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon and the Court of Appeals that petitioner connived with his co-defendants to destroy the improvements introduced by respondent on the subject property so they could construct their own cottages thereon. Josephil C. Bien vs. Pedro B. Bo, G.R. No. 179333, August 3, 2010.

Public officers; statement of assets and liabilities. Even an asset that was acquired through chattel mortgage must be declared and included in the Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SSAL). The law requires that the SSAL be accomplished truthfully and in detail without distinction as to how the property was acquired. Respondent, therefore, cannot escape liability by arguing that the ownership of the vehicle has not yet passed to him on the basis that it was acquired only on installment basis. The requirement to file the SSAL not later than the first 15 days of April at the close of every calendar year must not be treated as a simple and trivial routine, but as an obligation that is part and parcel of every civil servant’s duty to the people. It serves as the basis of the government and the people in monitoring the income and lifestyle of officials and employees in the government in compliance with the Constitutional policy to eradicate corruption, promote transparency in government, and ensure that all government employees and officials lead just and modest lives.  It is for this reason that the SSAL must be sworn to and is made accessible to the public, subject to reasonable administrative regulations. Hon. Waldo Q. Flores, et al. vs. Atty. Antonio F. Montemayor. G.R. No. 170146, August 25, 2010.

Local Government

Abuse of authority. Addressing the argument of petitioner, a barangay official, that there was no abuse of authority because the incident complained of occurred in another barangay over which he has no authority and jurisdiction, the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals that petitioner is liable for abuse of authority on the basis that he participated in the unlawful act as a higher authority that gave a semblance of legality over that act and influenced the actions of his co-defendants. Here, petitioner was president of the organization of barangay officials in his municipality and sat as ex-officio member of the Sangguniang Bayan, which has power to review barangay ordinances and authority to discipline barangay officials. His co-defendants were officials in the barangay where the incident occurred. Josephil C. Bien vs. Pedro B. Bo, G.R. No. 179333, August 3, 2010.

Creation of local government unit. The Constitution states that the creation of local government units must follow the criteria established in the Local Government Code and not in any other law.  There is only one Local Government Code.  The Constitution requires Congress to stipulate in the Local Government Code all the criteria necessary for the creation of a city, including the conversion of a municipality into a city. Congress cannot write such criteria in any other law. The clear intent of the Constitution is to insure that the creation of cities and other political units must follow the same uniform, non-discriminatory criteria found solely in the Local Government Code.  Any derogation or deviation from the criteria prescribed in the Local Government Code violates Section 10, Article X of the Constitution.

Republic Act No. 9009 amended Section 450 of the Local Government Code to increase the income requirement from Php20 million to Php100 million for the creation of a city.  This law took effect on 30 June 2001. Hence, from that moment the Local Government Code required that any municipality desiring to become a city must satisfy the Php100 million income requirement.  Section 450 of the Local Government Code, as amended by RA 9009, does not contain any exemption from this income requirement. In enacting RA 9009, Congress did not grant any exemption to respondent municipalities, even though their cityhood bills were pending in Congress when Congress passed RA 9009.  The laws converting these municipalities into cities, all enacted after the RA 9009 became effective, explicitly exempt respondent municipalities from the increased income requirement in Section 450 of the Local Government Code, as amended by RA 9009.  Such exemption clearly violates Section 10, Article X of the Constitution and is thus patently unconstitutional.   To be valid, such exemption must be written in the Local Government Code and not in any other law. League of Cities of the Philippines represented by LCP National President Jerry P. Trenas, et al. vs. Commission on Elections, et al. G.R. No. 176951/G.R. No. 177499/G.R. No. 178056, August 24, 2010.

Special Laws

Agrarian reform; deposit of provisional compensation. The amount of provisional compensation that the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) is required to deposit in the name of the landowner if the latter rejects the offer of compensation of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) under Section 16 of Republic Act No. 6657 should be the LBP’s initial valuation of the land and not, as respondent argues, the sum awarded by DAR’s adjudication bodies as compensation in a summary administrative proceeding. The deposit of such provisional compensation must be made even before the summary administrative proceeding commences, or at least simultaneously with it, once the landowner rejects the initial valuation of the LBP.  Such deposit results from the landowner’s rejection of the DAR offer (based on the LBP’s initial valuation).  Both the conduct of summary administrative proceeding and deposit of provisional compensation follow as a consequence of the landowner’s rejection. Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Heir of Trinidad S. Vda. De Arieta. G.R. No. 161834, August 11, 2010.

Agrarian reform; just compensation. Section 17 of Republic Act No. 6657 is the principal basis for computing just compensation, and the factors set forth therein have been translated into a formula outlined in DAR Administrative Order No. 5, series of 1998 (DAR AO 5). While the determination of just compensation is essentially a judicial function vested in the Regional Trial Court acting as a Special Agrarian Court, a judge cannot abuse his discretion by not taking into full consideration the factors specifically identified by law and its implementing rules. Special Agrarian Courts are not at liberty to disregard the formula laid down in DAR AO 5, because unless an administrative order is declared invalid, courts have no option but to apply it. Courts cannot ignore, without violating the agrarian reform law, the formula provided by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for determining just compensation. In this case, the court adopted a different formula in determining the land value by considering the average between the findings of DAR using the formula laid down in Executive Order No. 228 and the market value of the property as stated in the tax declaration. This is obviously a departure from the mandate of the law and DAR AO 5. Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Rizalina Gustilo Barrido, et al., G.R. No. 183688, August 18, 2010.

Agrarian reform; sale of land. Petitioners’ title shows on its face that the government granted title to them on January 9, 1990, by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 27.  This law explicitly prohibits any form of transfer of the land granted under it except to the government or by hereditary succession to the successors of the farmer beneficiary. Upon the enactment of Executive Order No. 228 in 1987, however, the restriction ceased to be absolute.  Land reform beneficiaries were allowed to transfer ownership of their lands provided that their amortizations with the Land Bank of the Philippines have been paid in full. In this case, petitioners’ title categorically states that they have fully complied with the requirements for the final grant of title under PD 27.  This means that they have completed payment of their amortizations with Land Bank.  Consequently, they could already legally transfer their title to another. Heirs of Paulino Atienza vs. Domingo P. Espidol, G.R. No. 180665, August 11, 2010.

Agricultural land; conversion. Conversion of the subject landholding under the 1980 Kasunduan is not the conversion of landholding that is contemplated by Section 36 of Republic Act No. 3844, which governs the dispossession of an agricultural lessee and the termination of his rights to enjoy and possess the landholding. Conversion here has been defined as the act of changing the current use of a piece of agricultural land into some other use as approved by the Department of Agrarian Reform.  More to the point is that for conversion to avail as a ground for dispossession, Section 36 implies the necessity of prior court proceedings in which the issue of conversion has been determined and a final order issued directing dispossession upon that ground. In this case, however, respondent does not profess that there had been at any tine such proceedings or that there was such court order.  Neither does he assert that the lot in question had undergone conversion with authority from the Department of Agrarian Reform. Emilia Micking Vda. De Coronel, et al. Vs. Miguel Tanjangco, Jr., G.R. No. 170693, August 8, 2010.

Presidential Anti-Graft Commission; powers. The Court rejected respondent’s contention that he was deprived of his right to due process when the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) proceeded to investigate him on the basis of an anonymous complaint in the absence of any documents supporting the complainant’s assertions.  Section 4(c) of Executive Order No. 12 states that the PAGC has the power to give due course to anonymous complaints against presidential appointees if there appears on the face of the complaint or based on the supporting documents attached to the anonymous complaint a probable cause to engender a belief that the allegations may be true.  The use of the conjunctive word “or” in the said provision is determinative since it empowers the PAGC to exercise discretion in giving due course to anonymous complaints. Because of the said provision, an anonymous complaint may be given due course even if the same is without supporting documents, so long as it appears from the face of the complaint that there is probable cause. Hon. Waldo Q. Flores, et al. vs. Atty. Antonio F. Montemayor. G.R. No. 170146, August 25, 2010.

Water districts; government-owned and controlled corporations. A local water district is a government-owned and controlled corporation with special charter since it is created pursuant to a special law, Presidential Decree No. 198 (1973). PD 198 constitutes the special charter by virtue of which local water districts exist. Unlike private corporations that derive their legal existence and power from the Corporation Code, water districts derive their legal existence and power from P.D. No. 198. Section 6 of the decree in fact provides that water districts “shall exercise the powers, rights and privileges given to private corporations under existing laws, in addition to the powers granted in, and subject to such restrictions imposed under this Act.” Therefore, water districts would not have corporate powers without PD 198. Engr. Ranulfo C. Feliciano vs. Hon. Cornelio C. Gison. G.R. No. 165641, August 25, 2010.