January 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected January 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law:

Constitutional Law

Bill of Rights; Rights under custodial investigation. As found by the Court of Appeals, (1) there is no evidence of compulsion or duress or violence on the person of Nagares; (2) Nagares did not complain to the officers administering the oath during the taking of his sworn statement; (3) he did not file any criminal or administrative complaint against his alleged malefactors for maltreatment; (4) no marks of violence were observed on his body; and (5) he did not have himself examined by a physician to support his claim. Moreover, appellant’s confession is replete with details, which, according to the SC, made it highly improbable that it was not voluntarily given. Further, the records show that Nagares was duly assisted by an effective and independent counsel during the custodial investigation in the NBI. As found by the Court of Appeals, after Nagares was informed of his constitutional rights, he was asked by Atty. Esmeralda E. Galang whether he accepts her as counsel. During the trial, Atty. Galang testified on the extent of her assistance. According to her, she thoroughly explained to Nagares his constitutional rights, advised him not to answer matters he did not know, and if he did not want to answer any question, he may inform Atty. Galang who would be the one to relay his refusal to the NBI agents. She was also present during the entire investigation. Thus, the SC held that there was no duress or violence imposed on the person of Nagares during the custodial investigation and that Nagares was duly assisted by an independent counsel during such investigation in the NBI. People of the Philippines vs. Rodolfo Capitle and Arutor Nagares, G.R. No. 175330, January 12, 2010.

Bill of Rights; Double jeopardy. As a rule, a judgment of acquittal cannot be reconsidered because it places the accused under double jeopardy. On occasions, however, a motion for reconsideration after an acquittal is possible.  But the grounds are exceptional and narrow as when the court that absolved the accused gravely abused its discretion, resulting in loss of jurisdiction, or when a mistrial has occurred. In any of such cases, the State may assail the decision by special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65. Here, although complainant Vizconde invoked the exceptions, he was not able to bring his pleas for reconsideration under such exceptions. Complainant Vizconde cited the decision in Galman v. Sandiganbayan as authority that the Court can set aside the acquittal of the accused in the present case.  But the Court observed that the government proved in Galman that the prosecution was deprived of due process since the judgment of acquittal in that case was “dictated, coerced and scripted.”  It was a sham trial.  In this case, however, Vizconde does not allege that the Court held a sham review of the decision of the CA.  He has made out no case that the Court held a phony deliberation such that the seven Justices who voted to acquit the accused, the four who dissented, and the four who inhibited themselves did not really go through the process. Antonio Lejano vs. People of the Philippines / People of the Philippines vs. Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, et al., G.R. No. 176389/G.R. No. 176864. January 18, 2011.

Bill of Rights; Unreasonable searches and seizures. Under the plain view doctrine, objects falling in the “plain view” of an officer, who has a right to be in the position to have that view, are subject to seizure and may be presented as evidence. In this case, the SC found that the seizure of the two receivers of the .45 caliber pistol outside petitioner’s house falls within the purview of the plain view doctrine. First, the presence of SPO2 Nava at the back of the house and of the other law enforcers around the premises was justified by the fact that petitioner and Valerio were earlier seen respectively holding .45 caliber pistols before they ran inside the structure and sought refuge. The attendant circumstances and the evasive actions of petitioner and Valerio when the law enforcers arrived engendered a reasonable ground for the latter to believe that a crime was being committed. Secondly, from where he was situated, SPO2 Nava clearly saw, on two different instances, Valerio emerge on top of the subject dwelling and throw suspicious objects. Lastly, considering the earlier sighting of Valerio holding a pistol, SPO2 Nava had reasonable ground to believe that the things thrown might be contraband items, or evidence of the offense they were then suspected of committing. The ensuing recovery of the receivers may have been deliberate; nonetheless, their initial discovery was indubitably inadvertent. It is not crucial that at initial sighting the seized contraband be identified and known to be so. The law merely requires that the law enforcer observes that the seized item may be evidence of a crime, contraband, or otherwise subject to seizure. Hence, the two receivers were admissible as evidence. Elenita C. Fajardo vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 190889, January 10, 2010.

Bill of rights; Unreasonable searches and seizures. In this case, there was a valid warrantless arrest in flagrante delicto.  The following are the circumstances immediately prior to and surrounding the arrest of accused-appellants: (1) the police officers received information from an operative about an ongoing shipment of contraband; (2) the police officers, with the operative, proceeded to Villa Vicenta Resort in Barangay Bignay II, Sariaya, Quezon; (3) they observed the goings-on at the resort from a distance of around 50 meters; and (4) they spotted the six accused-appellants loading transparent bags containing a white substance into a white L-300 van. The crime was committed in the presence of the police officers with the contraband, inside transparent plastic containers, in plain view and duly observed by the arresting officers. Furthermore, accused-appellants are deemed to have waived their objections to their arrest for not raising the issue before entering their plea. People of the Philippines vs. Ng Yik bun, et al., G.R. No. 180452. January 10, 2010.

Constitutionality; Lis mota. The SC observed that the issue of constitutionality of R.A. No. 95 (Philippine National Red Cross charter) was not raised by the parties, and was not among the issues defined in the body of the previous decision of the SC; thus, it was not the very lis mota of the case. The SC reminded that it will not touch the issue of unconstitutionality unless it is the very lis mota. A court should not pass upon a constitutional question and decide a law to be unconstitutional or invalid, unless such question is raised by the parties. Under this rule, the SC held that it should not have declared void certain sections of R.A. No. 95, as amended by Presidential Decree (P.D.) Nos. 1264 and 1643, the PNRC Charter.  Instead, the Court should have exercised judicial restraint on the matter, especially since there was some other ground upon which the Court could have based its judgment. Dante V. Liban, et al. vs. Richard J. Gordon, G.R. No. 175352, January 18, 2011.

Congress; Creation of private corporations. The SC observed that the purpose of the constitutional provision prohibiting Congress from creating private corporations was to prevent the granting of special privileges to certain individuals, families, or groups, which were denied to other groups.  The SC found the Philippine National Red Cross Charter is not covered by the constitutional provision, as it does not grant special privileges to a particular individual, family, or group, but creates an entity that strives to serve the common good. Dante V. Liban, et al. vs. Richard J. Gordon, G.R. No. 175352, January 18, 2011.

Eminent domain; Just compensation. It is the nature and character of the land at the time of its taking that is the principal criterion for determining how much just compensation should be given to the landowner. Prior to the NPC’s introduction of improvements in the area where the subject parcel of land is located, the properties therein, including the disputed lot, remained agricultural and residential. The SC found that it was only upon entry of the NPC in Barangay San Roque, and after constructing buildings and other facilities and bringing in various equipment for its multi-purpose project, that the lands in the said locality were later classified as commercial or industrial. Moises Tinio, Jr. and Francis Tinio vs. National Power Corporation/National Power Corporation vs. Moises Tinio, Jr. and Francis Tinio, G.R. No. 160923/G.R. No. 161093, January 24, 2011.

Government contracts; Payment based on quantum meruit for illegal contracts. The government project involved in this case, the construction of a dike, was completed way back on 9 July 1992. For almost two decades, the public and the government benefitted from the work done by respondent. According to the SC, public interest and equity dictate that the contractor should be compensated for services rendered and work done. To deny the payment to the contractor would be to allow the government to unjustly enrich itself at the expense of another. Justice and equity demand compensation on the basis of quantum meruit. Gregorio R. Vigilar, et al. vs. Arnulfo D. Aquino, G.R. No. 180388, January 18, 2011.

Philippine National Red Cross; Status. The SC found merit in Philippine National Red Cross’s contention that its structure is sui generis. National Societies such as the PNRC act as auxiliaries to the public authorities of their own countries in the humanitarian field and provide a range of services including disaster relief and health and social programmes. National societies were held to be organizations that are directly regulated by international humanitarian law, in contrast to other ordinary private entities, including NGOs. The auxiliary status of a Red Cross Society means that it is at one and the same time a private institution and a public service organization because the very nature of its work implies cooperation with the authorities, a link with the State. The SC further noted that the creation of the PNRC was a result of the country’s adherence to the Geneva Convention which has the force and effect of law. Under the Constitution, the Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land. The PNRC, as a National Society of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, can neither “be classified as an instrumentality of the State, so as not to lose its character of neutrality” as well as its independence, nor strictly as a private corporation since it is regulated by international humanitarian law and is treated as an auxiliary of the State. Dante V. Liban, et al. vs. Richard J. Gordon, G.R. No. 175352, January 18, 2011.

State; Immunity from suit. The doctrine of governmental immunity from suit cannot serve as an instrument for perpetrating an injustice to a citizen. It would be the apex of injustice and highly inequitable to defeat respondent’s right to be duly compensated for actual work performed and services rendered, where both the government and the public have for years received and accepted benefits from the project and reaped the fruits of respondent’s honest toil and labor. The rule, in any case, is not absolute for it does not say that the state may not be sued under any circumstance. Gregorio R. Vigilar, et al. vs. Arnulfo D. Aquino, G.R. No. 180388, January 18, 2011.

Agrarian Law

Agrarian reform; Coverage. The main issue for resolution by the Court is whether the Lopez and Limot lands of SNLABC can be considered grazing lands for its livestock business and are thus exempted from the coverage of the CARL. In Luz Farms v. Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, the Court declared unconstitutional the CARL provisions that included lands devoted to livestock under the coverage of the CARP. The transcripts of the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 on the meaning of the word “agricultural” showed that it was never the intention of the framers of the Constitution to include the livestock and poultry industry in the coverage of the constitutionally mandated agrarian reform program of the government. Thus, lands devoted to the raising of livestock, poultry and swine have been classified as industrial, not agricultural, and thus exempt from agrarian reform. In the instant case, the MARO in its ocular inspection found on the Lopez lands several heads of cattle, carabaos, horses, goats and pigs. There were likewise structures on the Lopez lands used for its livestock business. Hence, the Court found that the Lopez lands were in fact actually, directly and exclusively being used as industrial lands for livestock-raising. The Court affirmed the findings of the DAR Regional Director and the Court of Appeals that the Lopez lands were actually, directly and exclusively being used for SNLABC’s livestock business and, thus, are exempt from CARP coverage. In contrast, however, the Limot lands were found to be agricultural lands devoted to coconut trees and rubber and as such, are thus not subject to exemption from CARP coverage. Republic of the Philippines, rep. by Dept. Agrarian Reform vs. Salvador N. Lopez Agri-Business Corp./Agri-Business Corp. vs. Dept. Agrarian Reform, G.R. No. 178895, January 10, 2011.

Administrative Law

Administrative remedies; Exhaustion. Respondent in this case filed a complaint for collection of sum of money against petitioners since, according to him, a large amount of money was still due him under the “Contract of Agreement” involving the construction of a dike, executed between him and petitioners. On the other hand, petitioners aver that respondent should have first filed a claim before the Commission on Audit (COA) before going to the courts. The SC held that there was no need to exhaust administrative remedies. The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies and the doctrine of primary jurisdiction are not ironclad rules. The exceptions to these rules are the following: (a) where there is estoppel on the part of the party invoking the doctrine; (b) where the challenged administrative act is patently illegal, amounting to lack of jurisdiction; (c) where there is unreasonable delay or official inaction that will irretrievably prejudice the complainant; (d) where the amount involved is relatively so small as to make the rule impractical and oppressive; (e) where the question involved is purely legal and will ultimately have to be decided by the courts of justice; (f) where judicial intervention is urgent; (g) where the application of the doctrine may cause great and irreparable damage; (h) where the controverted acts violate due process; (i) where the issue of non-exhaustion of administrative remedies has been rendered moot; (j) where there is no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy; (k) where strong public interest is involved; and (l) in quo warranto proceedings. In the present case, the SC found conditions (c) and (e) as present. The government project contracted out to respondent was completed almost two decades ago. To delay the proceedings by remanding the case to the relevant government office or agency will definitely prejudice respondent. More importantly, the issues in the present case involved the validity and the enforceability of the “Contract of Agreement” entered into by the parties. These, according to the SC, are questions purely of law and clearly beyond the expertise of the Commission on Audit or the DPWH. Gregorio R. Vigilar, et al. vs. Arnulfo D. Aquino, G.R. No. 180388, January 18, 2011.

Career Executive Service; Coverage. The Career Executive Service covers presidential appointees only. Corollarily, as the position of Department Manager II of the PEZA does not require appointment by the President of the Philippines, it does not fall under the CES. The Third Level of Career Service covers only the positions in the CES as enumerated in the Administrative Code of 1987 and those identified by the Career Executive Service Board as of equivalent rank, all of whom are appointed by the President of the Philippines. Modesto Agyao, Jr. vs. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 182591. January 18, 2011.

Election Law

Candidate; Disqualification. A petition for disqualification, on the one hand, can be premised on Section 12 or 68 of the Omnibus Election Code, or Section 40 of the Local Government Code. On the other hand, a petition to deny due course to or cancel a Certificate of Candidacy can only be grounded on a statement of a material representation in the said certificate that is false. The petitions also have different effects. While a person who is disqualified under Section 68 is merely prohibited to continue as a candidate, the person whose certificate is cancelled or denied due course under Section 78 is not treated as a candidate at all, as if he/she never filed a CoC. Thus, a candidate who is disqualified under Section 68 can validly be substituted under Section 77 of the OEC because he/she remains a candidate until disqualified; but a person whose CoC has been denied due course or cancelled under Section 78 cannot be substituted because he/she is never considered a candidate. Apart from the qualifications provided for in the Constitution, the power to prescribe additional qualifications for elective office and grounds for disqualification therefrom, consistent with the constitutional provisions, is vested in Congress. However, laws prescribing qualifications for and disqualifications from office are liberally construed in favor of eligibility since the privilege of holding an office is a valuable one. Sergio G. Amora, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections and Arnielo S. Olandria, G.R. No. 192280, January 25, 2011.

Certificate of Candidacy; Requirement of being sworn. According to the SC, it was grave abuse of discretion to uphold Olandria’s claim that an improperly sworn COC is equivalent to possession of a ground for disqualification. This was held not to be a ground for disqualification under Section 68 of the Omnibus Election Code and Section 40 of the Local Government Code. Nowhere therein does it specify that a defective notarization is a ground for the disqualification of a candidate. Sergio G. Amora, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections and Arnielo S. Olandria, G.R. No. 192280, January 25, 2011.

Local Government Code

Local government officials; Suspension pending appeal. Respondent Barriga was held administratively liable by the Office of the Ombudsman as a result of anomalous transactions pertaining to the handling of the trust fund of the Municipality of Carmen, Cebu in the Central Visayas Water and Sanitation Project. This decision was appealed to the CA but was not implemented immediately. According to the SC, it is clear from Section 7, Rule III of Administrative Order No. 7, as amended by Administrative Order No. 17, that when a public official has been found guilty of an administrative charge by the Office of the Ombudsman and the penalty imposed is suspension for more than a month, just like in the present case, an appeal may be made to the CA. However, such appeal shall not stop the decision from being executory and the implementation of the decision follows as a matter of course. The provision in the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman is clear that an appeal by a public official from a decision meted out by the Ombudsman shall not stop the decision from being executory. Office of the Ombudsman vs. Court of Appeals and Dinah C. Barriga, G.R. No. 172224, January 26, 2011.

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