June 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Commission on Audit; jurisdiction over Boy Scouts.  The issue was whether or not the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (“BSP”) fall under the jurisdiction of the Commission on Audit.  The BSP contends that it is not a government-owned or controlled corporation; neither is it an instrumentality, agency, or subdivision of the government.  The Supreme Court, however, held that not all corporations, which are not government owned or controlled, are ipso facto to be considered private corporations as there exists another distinct class of corporations or chartered institutions which are otherwise known as “public corporations.” These corporations are treated by law as agencies or instrumentalities of the government which are not subject to the tests of ownership or control and economic viability but to a different criteria relating to their public purposes/interests or constitutional policies and objectives and their administrative relationship to the government or any of its departments or offices.  As presently constituted, the BSP is a public corporation created by law for a public purpose, attached to the Department of Education Culture and Sports pursuant to its Charter and the Administrative Code of 1987.  It is not a private corporation which is required to be owned or controlled by the government and be economically viable to justify its existence under a special law.     The economic viability test would only apply if the corporation is engaged in some economic activity or business function for the government, which is not the case for BSP.  Therefore, being a public corporation, the funds of the BSP fall under the jurisdiction of the Commission on Audit.  Boy Scouts of the Philippines vs. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 177131. June 7, 2011.

Local governments; principle of local autonomy.  The claim of petitioners in this case that the subject proclamation and administrative orders violate the principle of local autonomy is anchored on the allegation that, through them, the President authorized the DILG Secretary to take over the operations of the ARMM and assume direct governmental powers over the region.  The Supreme Court held that in the first place, the DILG Secretary did not take over control of the powers of the ARMM.  The SC observed that after law enforcement agents took respondent Governor of ARMM into custody for alleged complicity in the Maguindanao massacre, the ARMM Vice-Governor, petitioner Ansaruddin Adiong, assumed the vacated post on December 10, 2009 pursuant to the rule on succession found in Article VII, Section 12, of RA 9054.  In turn, Acting Governor Adiong named the then Speaker of the ARMM Regional Assembly, petitioner Sahali-Generale, Acting ARMM Vice-Governor.  In short, the DILG Secretary did not take over the administration or operations of the ARMM.  Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan, et al. v. Hon. Ronaldo Puno, et al., G.R. No. 190259. June 7, 2011.

Presidential Electoral Tribunal; constitutionality.     This case involved a motion for reconsideration, reiterating the contention that the constitution of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal is unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court denied the motion and explained that judicial power granted to the Supreme Court by the Constitution is plenary.  And under the doctrine of necessary implication, the additional jurisdiction bestowed by the last paragraph of Section 4, Article VII of the Constitution to decide presidential and vice-presidential elections contests includes the means necessary to carry it into effect.  As to the claim of petitioner that the PET exercises quasi-judicial power and, thus, its members violate the proscription in Section 12, Article VIII of the Constitution, the Supreme Court held that, contrary to petitioner’s claim, the resolution of electoral contests are judicial in nature.  Atty. Romulo B. Macalintal vs. Presidential Electoral Tribunal, G.R. No. 191618. June 7, 2011.

Presidential powers; declaration of a state of emergency.  Petitioners contend that the President unlawfully exercised her powers when she declared a state of emergency in the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat and the City of Cotabato.  The President’s call on the armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence springs from the power vested in her under Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution.  While it is true that the Court may inquire into the factual bases for the President’s exercise of the above power, it would generally defer to her judgment on the matter.  It is clearly to the President that the Constitution entrusts the determination of the need for calling out the armed forces to prevent and suppress lawless violence.  Unless it is shown that such determination was attended by grave abuse of discretion, the Court will accord respect to the President’s judgment.  Here, petitioners failed to show that the declaration of a state of emergency as well as the President’s exercise of the “calling out” power had no factual basis. They simply alleged that, since not all areas under the ARMM were placed under a state of emergency, it follows that the take over of the entire ARMM by the DILG Secretary had no basis too.  Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan, et al. v. Hon. Ronaldo Puno, et al., G.R. No. 190259. June 7, 2011.

Presidential powers; calling-out power.  Petitioners contend that the President unlawfully exercised emergency powers when she ordered the deployment of AFP and PNP personnel in the Provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat and the City of Cotabato.  The Supreme Court held that such deployment is not by itself an exercise of emergency powers as understood under Section 23 (2), Article VI of the Constitution.  The President did not proclaim a national emergency, only a state of emergency in the three places mentioned.  And she did not act pursuant to any law enacted by Congress that authorized her to exercise extraordinary powers.  The calling out of the armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence in such places is a power that the Constitution directly vests in the President.  She did not need a congressional authority to exercise the same.  But, apart from the fact that there was no such take over to begin with, the SC held the imminence of violence and anarchy at the time the President issued Proclamation 1946 was too grave to ignore and as a result, the President had to act to prevent further bloodshed and hostilities in the places mentioned.  Progress reports also indicated that there was movement in these places of both high-powered firearms and armed men sympathetic to the two clans.  Thus, to pacify the people’s fears and stabilize the situation, the President had to take preventive action.  She called out the armed forces to control the proliferation of loose firearms and dismantle the armed groups that continuously threatened the peace and security in the affected places. Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan, et al. v. Hon. Ronaldo Puno, et al., G.R. No. 190259. June 7, 2011.

Right to fair trial v. freedom of the press.  On the possible influence of media coverage on the impartiality of trial court judges, the Court found that prejudicial publicity insofar as it undermines the right to a fair trial must pass the “totality of circumstances” test, applied in People v. Teehankee, Jr. and Estrada v. Desierto, that the right of an accused to a fair trial is not incompatible to a free press, that pervasive publicity is not per se prejudicial to the right of an accused to a fair trial, and that there must be allegation and proof of the impaired capacity of a judge to render a bias-free decision.  Mere fear of possible undue influence is not tantamount to actual prejudice resulting in the deprivation of the right to a fair trial.  Re: Petition for radio and television coverage of the multiple murder cases against Maguindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, et al., A.M. No. 10-11-5-SC/A.M. No. 10-11-6-SC/A.M. No. 10-11-7-SC. June 14, 2011.

Local Government Code

Local government; power to classify lands.  Petitioners in this case contend that the subject property is outside the coverage of the agrarian reform program in view of the enactment of City Ordinance No. 1313 by the City of Iligan reclassifying the area into a residential/commercial land.  Unconvinced, the DARAB, in its Decision, noted that the record is bereft of any evidence that the city ordinance has been approved by the HLURB, thereby allegedly casting doubt on the validity of the reclassification over the subject property.  The Supreme Court agreed with petitioners that the property is outside the coverage of the agrarian reform program.  Ordinance No. 1313 was enacted in 1975. Significantly, there was still no HLURB to speak of during that time. It was the Task Force on Human Settlements, the earliest predecessor of HLURB, which was in existence at that time. The Task Force was not empowered to review and approve zoning ordinances and regulations.  As a matter of fact, it was only on August 9, 1978, with the issuance of Letter of Instructions No. 729, that local governments were required to submit their existing land use plans, zoning ordinances, enforcement systems and procedures to the Ministry of Human Settlements for review and ratification.  Heirs of Dr. Jose Deleste v. Land Bank of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 169913. June 8, 2011.

Administrative Law

Administrative cases; due process.  Petitioners contend that DAR failed to notify them that it is putting the subject property under the coverage of the agrarian reform program; hence, their right to due process of law was violated.  The SC agreed.  The importance of an actual notice in subjecting a property under the agrarian reform program cannot be underrated, as non-compliance with it violates the essential requirements of administrative due process of law.  If the illegality in the issuance of the CLTs is patent, the Court must immediately take action and declare the issuance as null and void.  Accordingly, there being no question that the CLTs in the instant case were “improperly issued, for which reason, their cancellation is warranted.”  The same holds true with respect to the EPs and certificates of title issued by virtue of the void CLTs, as there can be no valid transfer of title should the CLTs on which they were grounded are void.  Heirs of Dr. Jose Deleste v. Land Bank of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 169913. June 8, 2011.

Administrative cases; execution of Ombudsman decisions.  Petitioners in this case raise the issue of whether administrative decisions of the Office of the Ombudsman imposing the penalties of dismissal and one-year suspension from office are immediately executory pending appeal.  The Supreme Court held that it is immediately executory pending appeal.  This is the rule provided for under Section 7, Rule III of the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman, as amended by Administrative Order No. 17, dated September 15, 2003, which provides among others: “An appeal shall not stop the decision from being executory. In case the penalty is suspension or removal and the respondent wins such appeal, he shall be considered as having been under preventive suspension and shall be paid the salary and such other emoluments that he did not receive by reason of the suspension or removal. A decision of the Office of the Ombudsman in administrative cases shall be executed as a matter of course…” Under this provision, a respondent who is found administratively liable by the Office of the Ombudsman and is slapped with a penalty of suspension of more than one month from service has the right to file an appeal with the CA under Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended.  But although a respondent is given the right to appeal, the act of filing an appeal does not stay the execution of the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman.  Marcelo G. Ganaden, et al. v. The Hon. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. Nos. 170500 & 170510-11. June 1, 2011.

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

(This post will be updated when the remaining June 201o cases are published.)