November 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Bill of Rights; Right to Speedy Trial. The right to speedy trial is considered violated only when the proceeding is attended by vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays.  In this case, far from being vexatious, capricious and oppressive, the delays entailed by the postponements of the hearings were, to a great extent, attributable to petitioner Francisco’s extraordinary remedies against the interlocutory orders issued by the lower court and the assignment of at least three public prosecutors to the case.  Although the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure mandate commencement of trial within 30 days from receipt of the pre-trial order, and the continuous conduct thereof for a period not exceeding 180 days, Section 3(a)(1) of Rule 119 provides that delays resulting from extraordinary remedies against interlocutory orders shall be excluded in computing the time within which trial must commence.  In determining the right of an accused to speedy trial, courts are required to do more than a mathematical computation of the number of postponements of the scheduled hearings of the case and to give particular regard to the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case. Based on the foregoing, the Court rejected petitioner Francisco’s claim that the postponements of the pre-trial conferences before the lower court violated his right to a speedy trial. Nelson Imperial, et al. vs. Maricel M. Joson, et al./Santos O. Francisco vs. Spouses Gerard and Maricel Joson Nelson/Imperial, et al. vs.. Hilarion C. Felix, et al., G.R. No. 160067/G.R. Mo. 170410/G.R. No. 171622, November 17, 2010.

Bill of Rights; Right to Speedy Trial.  In determining whether the right of the accused to a speedy trial was violated, any delay should be considered in relation to the entirety of the proceedings. Here, there had been an undue and inordinate delay in the reinvestigation of the cases by the Office of the Ombudsman, which failed to submit its reinvestigation report despite the lapse of the 60-day period set by the Sandiganbayan, and did so only after more than a year thereafter.  However, while such reinvestigation delayed the proceedings, the Court held that said process could not have been dispensed with as it was undertaken for the protection of the rights of petitioners and their co-accused.  These rights should not be compromised at the expense of expediency. Thus, even though the Court acknowledged the delay in the criminal proceedings, as well as the prejudice suffered by petitioners and their co-accused by reason thereof, the Court held that petitioners’ right to speedy trial and disposition of the cases involving them do not justify the dismissal of the criminal cases. The Court further held that the State should not be prejudiced and deprived of its right to prosecute the criminal cases simply because of the ineptitude or nonchalance of the Office of the Ombudsman. Monico V. Jacob, et al. vs. Sandiganbayan, et al., G.R. No. 162206, November 17, 2010.

Constitutionality; Legal Standing. Petitioner questioned the constitutionality of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). The Court held that he has no legal standing.  The issue of legal standing is derived from the following requisites of a judicial inquiry:  (1) There must be an actual case or controversy; (2) The question of constitutionality must be raised by the proper party; (3) The constitutional question must be raised at the earliest possible opportunity; and (4) The decision of the constitutional question must be necessary to the determination of the case itself.  The Court said that even if the petitioner’s claim that he is a proper party on the basis that the creation and operation of the PET involves the use of public funds and the issue he raised is of transcendental importance, his standing was still imperiled by his appearance as counsel to then presidential candidate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 election protest filed by her opponent before the PET.  A constitutional question must be raised at the earliest possible opportunity.  That appearance would have been the first opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the PET’s constitution. Instead, petitioner ubiquitously entered his appearance before the PET and acknowledged its jurisdiction.  His failure to raise a seasonable constitutional challenge at that time, coupled with his unconditional acceptance of the PET’s authority, meant that he did not meet the third condition and therefore has no standing to file the petition. Atty. Romulo B. Macalintal vs. Presidential Electoral Tribunal, G.R. No. 191618, November 23, 2010.

Constitutionality; Presidential Electoral Tribunal; Creation. Petitioner here claimed that the creation of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) is unconstitutional as it violates Section 4 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that “The Supreme Court, sitting en banc, shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice-President, and may promulgate its rules for the purpose.” He contends that the provision, as worded, does not authorize the constitution of the PET. The Court said that, while the above provision does not specify the establishment of the PET, neither does it preclude, much less prohibit, the same. The Court further said that its constitutional mandate to act as sole judge of election contests involving the President or Vice-President, and its rule-making authority in connection therewith (granted by the provision of Section 4 that the Court “may promulgate its rules for the purpose”), are not restricted but include all necessary powers implicit in the exercise of such mandate and authority.  These powers are plenary and the authority of the Court to decide presidential and vice-presidential election contests through the PET are derived from the unequivocal grant of jurisdiction under Section 4 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.  Accordingly, the creation of the PET implements Section 4 and faithfully complies with the constitutional directive.  The discussions of the Constitutional Commission clearly support the foregoing conclusion.  Atty. Romulo B. Macalintal vs. Presidential Electoral Tribunal, G.R. No. 191618, November 23, 2010.

Constitutionality; Presidential Electoral Tribunal; Exercise of Quasi-Judicial Function.  The Court here rejected petitioner’s claim that the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) exercises quasi-judicial functions contrary to Section 12, Article VIII of the Constitution, which states that “The Members of the Supreme Court and of other courts established by law shall not be designated to any agency performing quasi-judicial or administrative functions.”  The traditional grant of judicial power is found in Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution, which provides that the power “shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.”  Consistent with the presidential system of government, the function of “dealing with the settlement of disputes, controversies or conflicts involving rights, duties or prerogatives that are legally demandable and enforceable” is apportioned to courts of justice.  With the advent of the 1987 Constitution, judicial power was expanded to include “the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.”  Judicial power was thus expanded, but it remained absolute.

The Court held that set up embodied in the 1987 Constitution characterizes the resolution of electoral contests as essentially an exercise of judicial power.  When the Supreme Court, as the PET, resolves a presidential or vice-presidential election contest, it performs what is essentially a judicial power.  The present Constitution has allocated to the Supreme Court, in conjunction with latter’s exercise of judicial power inherent in all courts, the task of deciding presidential and vice-presidential election contests, with full authority in the exercise thereof. The power wielded by PET is a derivative of the plenary judicial power allocated to courts of law, expressly provided in the Constitution. Atty. Romulo B. Macalintal vs. Presidential Electoral Tribunal, G.R. No. 191618, November 23, 2010.

Eminent Domain; Interest. If property is taken for public use before compensation is paid or deposited with the court having jurisdiction over the case, the final compensation must include interest on its just value to be computed from the time the property was taken to the time when compensation is actually paid or deposited with the court.  In fine, between the taking of the property and the actual payment, legal interest accrue in order to place the owner in a position as good as (but not better than) that he was in before the taking occurred. As in previous cases, the Supreme Court affirmed the award of 12% interest on just compensation payable to the landowner.  Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Esther Anson Rivera, et al., G.R. No. 182431, November 17, 2010.

Administrative Law

Due Process; Administrative Due Process.  Petitioners here assailed the credibility of a witness’s statement because it was not made under oath and he was not presented as witness during the hearing. The Court rejected this claim. In administrative proceedings, technical rules of procedure and evidence are not strictly applied. Administrative due process cannot be fully equated with due process in its strict judicial sense. In administrative proceedings, due process is satisfied when the parties are afforded fair and reasonable opportunity to explain their side of the controversy or given opportunity to move for a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. The measure of due process to be observed by administrative tribunals allows a certain degree of latitude as long as fairness is not compromised. Irene K. Nacu, etc. vs. Civil Service Commission, et al., G.R. No. 187752, November 23, 2010.

Other Laws

Land Bank of the Philippines; Costs of Suit.  Since Land Bank of the Philippines is performing a governmental function in agrarian reform proceedings, it is exempt from the payment of costs of suit under Rule 142, Section 1 of the Rules of Court, which provides that “No costs shall be allowed against the Republic of the Philippines, unless otherwise provided by law.” Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Esther Anson Rivera, et al., G.R. No. 182431, November 17, 2010.

(Teng thanks Charmaine Rose K. Haw for assisting in the preparation of this post.)