August 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Constitutionality of statutes; writ of certiorari and prohibition.  Writs of certiorari and prohibition are proper remedies to test the constitutionality of statutes and the acts of the other branches of government.  Prof. Merlin M. Magallona, et al. vs. Eduardo Ermita, et al., G.R. No. 187167, August 16, 2011.

International law; UNCLOS III; RA 9522.  The Supreme Court rejected petitioners’ contention that RA 9522 “dismembers a large portion of the national territory” because it discards the pre-UNCLOS III demarcation of Philippine territory under the Treaty of Paris and related treaties, successively encoded in the definition of national territory under the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions.  Petitioners argue that from the Treaty of Paris’ technical description, Philippine sovereignty over territorial waters extends hundreds of nautical miles around the Philippine archipelago, embracing the rectangular area delineated in the Treaty of Paris.  The Court said that UNCLOS III has nothing to do with the acquisition (or loss) of territory.  It is a multilateral treaty regulating, among others, sea-use rights over maritime zones (i.e., the territorial waters [12 nautical miles from the baselines], contiguous zone [24 nautical miles from the baselines], and exclusive economic zone [200 nautical miles from the baselines]), and continental shelves that UNCLOS III delimits.  On the other hand, baselines laws such as RA 9522 are enacted by UNCLOS III States to mark-out specific basepoints along their coasts from which baselines are drawn, either straight or contoured, to serve as geographic starting points to measure the breadth of the maritime zones and continental shelf.  In other words, baselines laws are nothing but statutory mechanisms for UNCLOS III States to delimit with precision the extent of their maritime zones and continental shelves.  In turn, this gives notice to the rest of the international community of the scope of the maritime space and submarine areas within which States exercise treaty-based rights, namely, the exercise of sovereignty over territorial waters (Article 2), the jurisdiction to enforce customs, fiscal, immigration, and sanitation laws in the contiguous zone (Article 33), and the right to exploit the living and non-living resources in the exclusive economic zone (Article 56) and continental shelf (Article 77).  In sum, UNCLOS III and its ancillary baselines laws play no role in the acquisition, enlargement or, as petitioners claim, diminution of territory. Under traditional international law typology, States acquire (or conversely, lose) territory through occupation, accretion, cession and prescription, not by executing multilateral treaties on the regulations of sea-use rights or enacting statutes to comply with the treaty’s terms to delimit maritime zones and continental shelves. Territorial claims to land features are outside UNCLOS III, and are instead governed by the rules on general international law.  Prof. Merlin M. Magallona, et al. vs. Eduardo Ermita, et al., G.R. No. 187167, August 16, 2011.

International law; archipelagic waters.  Petitioners contend that RA 9522 unconstitutionally “converts” internal waters into archipelagic waters, hence subjecting these waters to the right of innocent and sea lanes passage under UNCLOS III, including overflight. Petitioners extrapolate that these passage rights indubitably expose Philippine internal waters to nuclear and maritime pollution hazards, in violation of the Constitution.  To this the Supreme Court held: Whether referred to as Philippine “internal waters” under Article I of the Constitution or as “archipelagic waters” under UNCLOS III (Article 49 [1]), the Philippines exercises sovereignty over the body of water lying landward of the baselines, including the air space over it and the submarine areas underneath. The fact of sovereignty, however, does not preclude the operation of municipal and international law norms subjecting the territorial sea or archipelagic waters to necessary, if not marginal, burdens in the interest of maintaining unimpeded, expeditious international navigation, consistent with the international law principle of freedom of navigation. Thus, domestically, the political branches of the Philippine government, in the competent discharge of their constitutional powers, may pass legislation designating routes within the archipelagic waters to regulate innocent and sea lanes passage. Prof. Merlin M. Magallona, et al. vs. Eduardo Ermita, et al., G.R. No. 187167, August 16, 2011.

International law; rights of innocent passage. In the absence of municipal legislation, international law norms, now codified in UNCLOS III, operate to grant innocent passage rights over the territorial sea or archipelagic waters, subject to the treaty’s limitations and conditions for their exercise. Significantly, the right of innocent passage is a customary international law, thus automatically incorporated in the corpus of Philippine law. No modern State can validly invoke its sovereignty to absolutely forbid innocent passage that is exercised in accordance with customary international law without risking retaliatory measures from the international community. The fact that, for archipelagic States, their archipelagic waters are subject to both the right of innocent passage and sea lanes passage does not place them in lesser footing vis-à-vis continental coastal States which are subject, in their territorial sea, to the right of innocent passage and the right of transit passage through international straits. The imposition of these passage rights through archipelagic waters under UNCLOS III was a concession by archipelagic States, in exchange for their right to claim all the waters landward of their baselines, regardless of their depth or distance from the coast, as archipelagic waters subject to their territorial sovereignty. More important, the recognition of archipelagic States’ archipelago and the waters enclosed by their baselines as one cohesive entity prevents the treatment of their islands as separate islands under UNCLOS III. Separate islands generate their own maritime zones, placing the waters between islands separated by more than 24 nautical miles beyond the States’ territorial sovereignty, subjecting these waters to the rights of other States under UNCLOS III. Prof. Merlin M. Magallona, et al. vs. Eduardo Ermita, et al., G.R. No. 187167, August 16, 2011.

Administrative Law

Administrative offense; exoneration.  The mere reduction of the penalty on appeal does not entitle a government employee to back salaries if he was not exonerated of the charge against him.  If the exoneration of the employee is relative (as distinguished from complete exoneration), an inquiry into the factual premise of the offense charged and of the offense committed must be made.  If the administrative offense found to have been actually committed is of lesser gravity than the offense charged, the employee cannot be considered exonerated if the factual premise for the imposition of the lesser penalty remains the same.  The Civil Service Commission vs. Richard G. Cruz, G.R. No. 187858, August 9, 2011.

Administrative proceedings; substantial evidence.  Self-serving and unsubstantiated declarations are insufficient to establish a case before quasi-judicial bodies where the quantum of evidence required establishing a fact is substantial evidence.  Often described as more than a mere scintilla, substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other equally reasonable minds might conceivably opine otherwise.  In this case, there is no dispute regarding the fact that Esguerra had altogether failed to comply with the mandatory reporting requirement under the POEA-SEC.  Beyond his bare assertion that CSMSI (employer) “never gave him referrals to continue his medications as recommended by the foreign doctor” despite his call on 8 July 2003 “to inform them that he will report the next day in order to submit his medical evaluation abroad,” Esguerra did not present any evidence to prove justification for his inability to submit himself to a post-employment medical examination by a company-designated physician.  Thus, he was not awarded disability benefits and sickness allowance.  Coastal Safeway Marine Services vs. Esguerra, G.R. No. 185352, August 10, 2011.

Public officers; No work-no pay principle; Exception.   The general rule is that public officials are only entitled to compensation if they render service.  This is otherwise known as the “no work-no pay” principle.  However, back salaries may be awarded even for unworked days to illegally dismissed or unjustly suspended employees based on the constitutional provision that “no officer or employee in the civil service shall be removed or suspended except for cause provided by law.”  In order, however, to fall under this exception, two conditions must be complied with: (a) the employee must be found innocent of the charges; and (b) his suspension must be unjustified.  In this case, the two conditions were present.  The first condition was met since the offense which the respondent was found guilty of (violation of reasonable rules and regulations) stemmed from an act (failure to log in and log out) different from the act of dishonesty (claiming overtime pay despite his failure to render overtime work) that he was charged with.  The second condition was met as the respondent’s committed offense merits neither dismissal from the service nor suspension (for more than one month), but only reprimand.  In sum, the respondent is entitled to back salaries from the time he was dismissed until his reinstatement to his former position – i.e., for the period of his preventive suspension pending appeal.  For the period of his preventive suspension pending investigation, the respondent is not entitled to any back salaries. The Civil Service Commission vs. Richard G. Cruz, G.R. No. 187858, August 9, 2011.

Public officers; kinds of preventive suspension.  There are two kinds of preventive suspension of civil service employees who are charged with offenses punishable by removal or suspension: (i) preventive suspension pending investigation and (ii) preventive suspension pending appeal.  Compensation is due only for the period of preventive suspension pending appeal should the employee be ultimately exonerated.  The Civil Service Commission vs. Richard G. Cruz, G.R. No. 187858, August 9, 2011.

Election Law

Election contest; preliminary conference.  The questioned notice of preliminary conference issued in the instant election protest was defective in that (1) the notice issued by the MCTC clerk of court was a generic notice of hearing without any mention that it was for preliminary conference, and (2) it was served on the party himself despite being represented by counsel in contravention of Rule 9, Section 21 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC.  For this reason the Supreme Court disagreed with the RTC’s finding that impliedly ascribed all fault to petitioner in failing to timely file his preliminary conference brief.  Ceriaco Bulilis vs. Victorino Nuez, Hon. Pres. Judge, 6th MCTC, Ubay, Bohol, et al., G.R. No. 195953, August 9, 2011.

Election contest; COMELEC’s jurisdiction.  The Supreme Court found no merit in petitioner’s argument that Rule 28, Section 1 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure limits the COMELEC’s jurisdiction over petitions for certiorari in election cases to issues related to elections, returns and qualifications of elective municipal and barangay officials.  According to the Supreme Court, said provision, taken together with the succeeding section, undeniably shows that an aggrieved party may file a petition for certiorari with the COMELEC whenever a judge hearing an election case has acted without or in excess of his jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion and there is no appeal, nor any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.  A petition for certiorari questioning an interlocutory order of a trial court in an electoral protest is within the appellate jurisdiction of the COMELEC.  Ceriaco Bulilis vs. Victorino Nuez, Hon. Pres. Judge, 6th MCTC, Ubay, Bohol, et al., G.R. No. 195953, August 9, 2011.

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