May 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected May 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law.

Constitutional Law

Declaration of unconstitutionality; doctrine of operative fact.  An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office; it is inoperative as if it has not been passed at all.  The doctrine of operative fact is an exception this rule.  It applies as a matter of equity and fair play, and nullifies the effects of an unconstitutional law by recognizing that the existence of a statute prior to a determination of unconstitutionality is an operative fact and may have consequences that cannot always be ignored. It applies when a declaration of unconstitutionality will impose an undue burden on those who have relied on the invalid law.  The doctrine cannot be applied to this case, as to hold otherwise would be iniquitous to petitioner who was illegally dismissed from employment and would allow his employer to profit from a violation of an unconstitutional provision of law.  Claudio S. Yap v. Thenamaris Ship’s Management and Intermare Maritime Agencies, Inc., G.R. No. 179532. May 30, 2011.

Judicial review; review of executive policy.  Petitioner here seeks judicial review of a question of Executive policy, which the Court ruled is outside its jurisdiction.  Despite the definition of judicial power under Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution, the determination of where, as between two possible routes, to construct a road extension is not within the province of courts.  Such determination belongs exclusively to the Executive branch.  Barangay Captain Beda Torrecampo v. Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, et al., G.R. No. 188296. May 30, 2011.

Administrative Law; Public Officers

Administrative cases; due process.  Petitioners argue that they were denied due process because their order of dismissal was not accompanied by any justification from the Board of Directors of Philippine Estates Authority, which merely relied on the findings of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission.  The Court dismissed this argument on the basis that petitioners were given the opportunity to be heard in the course of PAGC’s investigation.  The essence of due process in administrative proceedings is the opportunity to explain one’s side or seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of, and to submit any evidence a party may have in support of his defense. The demands of due process are sufficiently met when the parties are given the opportunity to be heard before judgment is rendered.  Petitioners here actively participated in the proceedings before PAGC where they were afforded the opportunity to explain their actions through their memoranda.  The essence of due process is the right to be heard and this evidently was afforded to them.  Theron V. Lacson v. The Hon. Executive Secretary, et al./Jaime R. Millan and Bernardo T. Viray v. The Hon. Executive Secretary, et al., G.R. No. 165399 & 165475/G.R. No. 165404 & 165489. May 30, 2011.

Administrative proceedings; due process.  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 a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of.  In the application of the principle of due process, what is sought to be safeguarded is not lack of previous notice but the denial of the opportunity to be heard.  As long as a party was given the opportunity to defend his interests in due course, he was not denied due process.  Petitioner here was adequately apprised of the charges filed against him and he submitted his answer to the complaint while the case was still under a pre-charge investigation.  When the Office of the Legal Service conducted a summary hearing on the complaint, petitioner was again duly notified of the proceedings and was given an opportunity to explain his side.  He was not denied due process.  Rimando A. Gannapao v. Civil Service Commission, et al., G.R. No. 180141. May 31, 2011.

Administrative proceedings; length of service as an alternative circumstance.  Length of service as a factor in determining the imposable penalty in administrative cases is not always a mitigating circumstance.  It is an alternative circumstance, which can mitigate or possibly even aggravate the penalty, depending on the circumstances of the case.  Where the government employee concerned took advantage of his long years of service and position in public office, length of service may not be considered in lowering the penalty. The Court will take this circumstance against the public officer or employee in administrative cases involving serious offenses, even if it was the first time said public officer or employee was administratively charged Rimando A. Gannapao v. Civil Service Commission, et al., G.R. No. 180141. May 31, 2011.

Appeal; doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies.  The Supreme Court denied this petition for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.  Petitioner here went to the Court of Appeals to appeal the orders of Laguna Lake Development Authority.  Petitioner cites deprivation of due process and lack of any plain, speedy or adequate remedy as grounds which exempted it from complying with the rule on exhaustion of administrative remedies.  The Supreme Court agreed with the CA that such appeal was premature since the law provides for an appeal from decisions or orders of the LLDA to the DENR Secretary or the Office of the President, a remedy which should have first been exhausted before invoking judicial intervention.  Petitioner’s contrary arguments to show that an appeal to the DENR Secretary would be an exercise in futility as the latter merely adopts the LLDA’s findings is at best speculative and presumptuous.  Universal Robina Corp. v. Laguna Lake Development Authority, G.R. No. 191427. May 30, 2011.

Civil service; security of tenure.  Career service officers enjoy security of tenure as guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution and the Civil Service Decree of the Philippines, which provides that no officer or employee in the Civil Service shall be suspended or dismissed except for cause as provided by law and after due process.  The tenurial protection accorded to a civil servant is a guaranty of both procedural and substantive due process.  Procedural due process requires that the dismissal, when warranted, be effected only after notice and hearing.  Substantive due process requires, among others, that the dismissal be for legal cause, which must relate to and effect the administration of the office of which the concerned employee is a member and must be restricted to something of a substantial nature directly affecting the rights and interests of the public.  Nevertheless, the right to security of tenure is not tantamount to immunity from dismissal.  Petitioners cannot seek absolute protection from this constitutional provision.  As long as their dismissal was for a legal cause and the requirements of due process were met, the law will not prevent their removal from office.  Theron V. Lacson v. The Hon. Executive Secretary, et al./Jaime R. Millan and Bernardo T. Viray v. The Hon. Executive Secretary, et al., G.R. No. 165399 & 165475/G.R. No. 165404 & 165489. May 30, 2011.

Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service; requirements; examples. The acts of respondent constitute the administrative offense of Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service, which need not be related to, or connected with, the public officer’s official functions.  As long as the questioned conduct tarnishes the image and integrity of his public office, the corresponding penalty may be meted on the erring public officer or employee.  Under the Civil Service law and rules, there is no concrete description of what specific acts constitute the grave offense of Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service. However, the Court has considered the following acts or omissions, inter alia, as Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service: misappropriation of public funds; abandonment of office; failure to report back to work without prior notice; failure to safe keep public records and property; making false entries in public documents; falsification of court orders; a judge’s act of brandishing a gun and threatening the complainants during a traffic altercation; and a court interpreter’s participation in the execution of a document conveying complainant’s property which resulted in a quarrel in the latter’s family. Rimando A. Gannapao v. Civil Service Commission, et al., G.R. No. 180141. May 31, 2011.

Government owned and controlled corporation; requisites.  The Court here ruled that Philippine Centennial Expo ’98 Corporation is a private corporation.  It was not created by a special law but was incorporated under the Corporation Code and was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  It is not a government-owned or controlled corporation. Although the Bases Conversion Development Authority owned almost all of the shares of Expocorp at the time of the latter’s incorporation, the Board of Directors of Expocorp allowed a private corporation to buy its shares constituting 55.16% of its outstanding capital stock two months after incorporation.  With the BCDA as a minority stockholder, Expocorp cannot be characterized as a government-owned or controlled corporation. A government-owned or controlled corporation must be owned by the government, and in the case of a stock corporation, at least a majority of its capital stock must be owned by the government.  Since Expocorp is not a GOCC, its officers and employees are private individuals who are outside the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. People of the Philippines v. Luis J. Morales, G.R. No. 166355. May 30, 2011.

Misconduct; relation to the official performance of duties.  To constitute misconduct, the act or acts must have a direct relation to, and must be connected with, the performance of official duties.  The duties of respondent here as a member of the GSIS Fund Management Accounting Department do not involve the modification of IP addresses, the offense he committed.  The act was considered unauthorized, precisely because dealing with the GSIS network’s IP addresses is strictly reserved for personnel of the Information Technology Services Group, who are expectedly knowledgeable in this field.  Government Service Insurance System, et al. v. Arwin T. Mayordomo, G.R. No. 191218. May 31, 2011.

Procedural due process; right to cross-examine.  While the right to cross-examine is a vital element of procedural due process, the right does not require an actual cross examination but merely an opportunity to exercise this right if desired by the party entitled to it.  In this case, while National Police Commission Memorandum Circular No. 96-010 provides that the sworn statements of witnesses shall take the place of oral testimony but shall be subject to cross-examination, petitioner missed this opportunity precisely because he did not appear at the deadline for the filing of his supplemental answer or counter-affidavit, and accordingly the hearing officer considered the case submitted for decision.  And even with the grant of his subsequent motion to be furnished with a copy of the complaint and its annexes, he still failed to file a supplemental answer or counter-affidavit and instead filed a motion to dismiss.  Rimando A. Gannapao v. Civil Service Commission, et al., G.R. No. 180141. May 31, 2011.

Agrarian Law

Tenancy relation; elements.  RA 1199, the Agricultural Tenancy Act of the Philippines, defines a tenant as a person who, himself and with the aid available from within his immediate farm household, cultivates the land belonging to, or possessed by, another, with the latter’s consent for purposes of production, sharing the produce with the landholder under the share tenancy system, or paying the landholder a price certain or ascertainable in produce or in money or both, under a leasehold tenancy system.  For a tenancy relationship to exist, the following essential elements must be shown: (1) the parties are the landowner and the tenant; (2) the subject matter is agricultural land; (3) there is consent between the parties; (4) the purpose is agricultural production; (5) there is personal cultivation by the tenant; and (6) there is sharing of the harvests between the parties.  The presence of all of these elements must be proved by substantial evidence.  Estate of Pasto Samson v. Mercedes & Ruberto Susano/Julian Chan v. Mercedes and Ruberto Susano, G.R. No. 179024/G.R. No. 179086. May 30, 2011.

(Teng thanks Charmaine Haw for her assistance in preparing this post.)