October 2011 Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Constitutionality of RA 10153. Republic Act 10153 reset the ARMM elections from August 8, 2011, to the second Monday of May 2013 and every three years thereafter, to coincide with the country’s regular national and local elections. The law also granted the President the power to appoint officers in charge for the Office of the ARMM Regional Governor, the Regional Vice-Governor, and the Members of the Regional Legislative Assembly, who will hold said offices until the officials duly elected in the May 2013 elections shall have qualified and assumed office.  In addressing the constitutionality of this law, the Court discussed the following issues:

Does the Constitution mandate the synchronization of elections?  Yes. While the Constitution does not expressly state that Congress has to synchronize national and local elections, the clear intent towards this objective can be gleaned from the Transitory Provisions (Article XVIII) of the Constitution, which show the extent to which the Constitutional Commission, by deliberately making adjustments to the terms of the incumbent officials, sought to attain synchronization of elections.  The objective behind setting a common termination date for all elective officials, done among others through the shortening the terms of the twelve winning senators with the least number of votes, is to synchronize the holding of all future elections – whether national or local – to once every three years. This intention finds full support in the discussions during the Constitutional Commission deliberations.  These Constitutional Commission exchanges, read with the provisions of the Transitory Provisions of the Constitution, all serve as patent indicators of the constitutional mandate to hold synchronized national and local elections, starting the second Monday of May, 1992 and for all the following elections.  Although called regional elections, the ARMM elections should be included among the elections to be synchronized as it is a “local” election based on the wording and structure of the Constitution.

Does the passage of RA 10153 violate Section 26(2), Article VI of the Constitution?  No. That section provides that before a bill passed by either the House or the Senate can become law, it must pass through three readings on separate days. The exception is when the President certifies to the necessity of the bill’s immediate enactment.  In this case, the records show that the President wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives to certify the necessity of the immediate enactment of a law synchronizing the ARMM elections with the national and local elections.  Following Tolentino v. Secretary of Finance, the President’s certification exempted both the House and the Senate from having to comply with the three separate readings requirement. 

Does the requirement of a supermajority vote for amendments or revisions to RA 9054 violate Section 1 and Section 16(2), Article VI of the Constitution and the corollary doctrine on irrepealable laws?  Yes.  Even assuming that RA 9333 and RA 10153 did in fact amend RA 9054 (the Court ruled in this case that those two laws did not amend RA 9054), the supermajority (2/3) voting requirement required under Section 1, Article XVII of RA 9054 has to be struck down for giving that law the character of an irrepealable law by requiring more than what the Constitution demands.  RA 9054 is the Second Organic Act of the ARMM, which provided that the first ARMM elections would be held on the second Monday of September 2001. RA 9333 is one of several laws prior to RA 10153 that reset the date of the ARMM regional elections.  Section 16(2), Article VI of the Constitution provides that a “majority of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business.”  As long as majority of the members of the House of Representatives or the Senate are present, these bodies have the quorum needed to conduct business and hold session.  Within a quorum, a vote of majority is generally sufficient to enact laws or approve acts.  In contrast, Section 1, Article XVII of RA 9054 requires a vote of no less than 2/3 of the Members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate, voting separately, in order to amend that law.  Clearly, this 2/3 voting requirement is higher than what the Constitution requires for the passage of bills, and served to restrain the plenary powers of Congress to amend, revise or repeal the laws it had passed.  While a supermajority is not a total ban against a repeal, it is a limitation in excess of what the Constitution requires on the passage of bills and is constitutionally obnoxious because it significantly constricts the future legislators’ room for action and flexibility.

Does the requirement of a plebiscite apply only to the creation of autonomous regions under paragraph 2, Section 18, Article X of the Constitution?  Yes.  RA 9054 enlarged the plebiscite requirement in the Constitution with respect to the ARMM.  This enlargement violates Section 18, Article X of the Constitution.  Section 18 states that a plebiscite is required only for the creation of autonomous regions and for determining which provinces, cities and geographic areas will be included in the autonomous regions. This means that only amendments to, or revisions of, the Organic Act constitutionally-essential to the creation ofautonomous regions – i.e., those aspects specifically mentioned in the Constitution which Congress must provide for in the Organic Act – require ratification through a plebiscite.  These amendments to the Organic Act are those that relate to: (a) the basic structure of the regional government; (b) the region’s judicial system, i.e., the  special  courts  with  personal, family, and property law jurisdiction; and, (c) the grant and extent of the legislative powers constitutionally conceded to the regional government under Section 20, Article X of the Constitution.  The date of the ARMM elections does not fall under any of the matters that the Constitution specifically mandated Congress to provide for in the Organic Act. Therefore, any change in the date of elections cannot be construed as a substantial amendment of the Organic Act that would require compliance with the plebiscite  requirement.

Does RA 10153 violate the autonomy granted to the ARMM?  No.  Petitioners argued that while synchronization may be constitutionally mandated, it cannot be used to defeat or to impede the autonomy that the Constitution granted to the ARMM. Phrased in this manner, one would presume that there exists a conflict between two recognized Constitutional mandates – synchronization and regional autonomy – such that it is necessary to choose one over the other.  The Court found this to be an erroneous approach that violates a basic principle in constitutional construction that the Constitution is to be interpreted as a whole,  and one mandate should not be given importance over the other except where the primacy of one over the other is clear.  Synchronization is an interest that is as constitutionally entrenched as regional autonomy. They are interests that the Court should reconcile and give effect to, in the way that Congress did in RA 10153, which provides the measure to transit to synchronized regional elections with the least disturbance on the interests that must be respected.  Particularly, regional autonomy will be respected instead of being sidelined, as the law does not in any way alter, change or modify its governing features, except in a very temporary manner and only as necessitated by the attendant circumstances.  Further, while autonomous regions are granted political autonomy, the framers of the Constitution never equated autonomy with independence. The ARMM as a regional entity thus continues to operate within the larger framework of the State and is still subject to the national policies set by the national government, save only for those specific areas reserved by the Constitution for regional autonomous determination.  The autonomy granted to the ARMM cannot be invoked to defeat national policies and concerns.  Since the synchronization of elections is not just a regional concern but a national one, the ARMM is subject to it; the regional autonomy granted to the ARMM cannot be used to exempt the region from having to act in accordance with a national policy mandated by no less than the Constitution. 

Given the constitutional objective of synchronization, did Congress gravely abuse its discretion or violate the Constitution when it addressed through RA 10153 the concomitant problems that the adjustment of elections necessarily brought with it?  No.  The Court here identified the following options open to Congress in order to resolve the problems: (1) allow the elective officials in the ARMM to remain in office in a hold over capacity until those elected in the synchronized elections assume office; (2) hold special elections in the ARMM, with the terms of those elected to expire when those elected in the synchronized elections assume office; or (3) authorize the President to appoint officers in charge, pursuant to Section 3 of RA 10153, until those elected in the synchronized elections assume office.  The Court held that in choosing to grant the President the power to appoint OICs, Congress chose the correct option and passed RA 10153 as a valid law.

Holdover option is unconstitutional.  This option violates Section 8, Article X of the Constitution, which states that the term of office of elective local officials, except barangay officials, which shall be determined by law, shall be three years and no such official shall serve for more than three consecutive terms.  Since elective ARMM officials are local officials, they are covered and bound by the three-year term limit prescribed by the Constitution; Congress cannot extend their term through a law allowing officials to serve in a holdover capacity.  If it will be claimed that the holdover period is effectively another term mandated by Congress, the net result is for Congress to create a new term and to appoint the occupant for the new term. This view – like the  extension of the elective term – is constitutionally infirm because Congress cannot do indirectly what it cannot do directly, i.e., to act in a way that would effectively extend the term of the incumbents.  Congress cannot also create a new term and effectively appoint the occupant of the position for the new term. This is effectively an act of appointment by Congress and an unconstitutional intrusion into the constitutional appointment power of the President. 

COMELEC has no authority to order special elections.   Another option proposed by the petitioner is for this Court to compel COMELEC to immediately conduct special elections pursuant to Section 5 and 6 of Batas Pambansa Bilang 881.  The power to fix the date of elections is essentially legislative in nature.  Congress has acted on the ARMM elections by postponing the scheduled August 2011 elections and setting another date – May 13, 2011 – for regional elections synchronized with the presidential, congressional and other local elections.  By so doing, Congress itself has madea policy decision in the exercise of its legislative wisdom that it shall not call special elections as an adjustment measure in synchronizing the ARMM elections with the other elections.  After Congress has so acted, neither the Executive nor the Judiciary can act to the contrary by ordering special elections instead at the call of the COMELEC.  The Court, particularly, cannot make this call without thereby supplanting the legislative decision and effectively legislating.  Further, the constitutional power of COMELEC, in contrast with the power of Congress to call for and to set the date of elections, is limited to enforcing and administering all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election. COMELEC has no power to call for the holding of special elections unless pursuant to a specific statutory grant. 

The Court has no power to shorten the terms of elective officials.  Even assuming that it is legally permissible for the Court to compel the COMELEC to hold special elections, no legal basis exists to rule that the newly elected ARMM officials shall hold office only until the ARMM officials elected in the synchronized elections shall have assumed office.  The Court is not empowered to adjust the terms of elective officials. Based on the Constitution, the power to fix the term of office of elective officials, which can be exercised only in the case of barangay officials, is specifically given to Congress. Even Congress itself may be denied such power, as shown when the Constitution shortened the terms of twelve Senators obtaining the least votes in the 1992 congressional elections, and extended the terms of the President and the Vice-President in order to synchronize elections; Congress was not granted this same power.  The settled rule is that terms fixed by the Constitution cannot be changed by mere statute.  More particularly, not even Congress and certainly not the Court, has the authority to fix the terms of elective local officials in the ARMM forless, or more, than the constitutionally mandated three years, as this tinkering would directly contravene Section 8, Article X of the Constitution.  In the same way that the term of elective ARMM officials cannot be extended through a holdover, the term cannot be shortened by putting an expiration date earlier than the three years that the Constitution itself commands.  This is what will happen – a term of less than two years – if a call for special elections shall prevail.

 Does the grant to the President of the power to appoint OICs violate the Constitution?  No.  The power to appoint is essentially executive in nature, and the limitations on or qualifications to the exercise of this power should be strictly construed; these limitations or qualifications must be clearly stated in order to be recognized. The appointing power is embodied in Section 16, Article VII of the Constitution, which pertinently states that the President shall appoint all other officers of the government whose whom the President may be authorized by law to appoint.  Since the President’s authority to appoint OICs emanates from RA 10153, it falls under this group of officials that the President can appoint pursuant to Section 16, Article VII of the Constitution. Thus, the assailed law rests on clear constitutional basis. 

If at all, the gravest challenge posed by the petitions to the authority to appoint OICs under Section 3 of RA 10153 is the assertion that the Constitution requires that the ARMM executive and legislative officials be “elective and representative of the constituent political units.” This requirement indeed is an express limitation whose non-observance in the assailed law leaves the appointment of OICs constitutionally defective.  But the Court said this alleged  constitutional problem is more apparent than real and becomes very real only if RA 10153 were to be mistakenly read as a law that changes the elective and representative character of ARMM positions.  RA 10153, however, does not in any way amend what the organic law of the ARMM sets outs in terms of structure of governance.  What RA 10153 in fact only does is to “appoint officers-in-charge for the Office of the Regional Governor, Regional Vice Governor and Members of the Regional Legislative Assembly who shall perform the functions pertaining to the said offices until the officials duly elected in the May 2013 elections shall have qualified and assumed office.”  This power is far different from appointing elective ARMM officials for the abbreviated term ending on the assumption to office of the officials elected in the May 2013 elections.

Given the plain unconstitutionality of providing for a holdover and the unavailability of constitutional possibilities for lengthening or shortening the term of the elected ARMM officials, is the choice of the President’s power to appoint – for a fixed and specific period as an interim measure, and as allowed under Section 16, Article VII of the Constitution – an unconstitutional or unreasonable choice for Congress to make?  Admittedly, the grant of the power to the President under other situations or where the power of appointment would extend beyond the adjustment period for synchronization would be to foster a government that is not “democratic and republican.” For then, the people’s right to choose the leaders to govern them may be said to be systemically withdrawn to the point of fostering an undemocratic regime.  This is the grant that would frontally breach the “elective and representative” governance requirement of Section 18, Article X of the Constitution.  But this conclusion would not be true under the very limited circumstances contemplated in RA 10153 where the period is fixed and, more important, the terms of governance – both under Section 18, Article X of the Constitution and RA 9054 – will not systemically be touched nor affected at all.  RA 9054 will govern unchanged and continuously, with full effect in accordance with the Constitution, save only for the interim and temporary measures that synchronization of elections requires.  

Viewed from another perspective, synchronization will temporarily disrupt the election process in a local community, the ARMM, as well as the community’s choice of leaders, but this will take place under a situation of necessity and as an interim measure in the manner that interim measures have been adopted and used in the creation of local government units and the adjustments of sub-provinces to the status of provinces.  These measures, too, are used in light of the wider national demand for the synchronization of elections (considered vis-à-vis the regional interests involved).  The adoption of these measures, in other words, is no different from the exercise by Congress of the inherent police power of the State, where one of the essential tests is the reasonableness of the interim measure taken in light of the given circumstances.

Furthermore, the “representative” character of the chosen leaders need not necessarily be affected by the appointment of OICs as this requirement is really a function of the appointment process; only the “elective” aspect shall be supplanted by the appointment of OICs.  In this regard, RA 10153 significantly seeks to address concerns arising from the appointments by providing, under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the assailed law, concrete terms in the Appointment of OIC, the Manner and Procedure of Appointing OICs, and their Qualifications.  Datu Michael Abas Kida, etc., et al. vs. Senate of the Philippines, etc., et al./Basari D. Mapupuno vs. Sixto Brillantes, etc., et al./Rep. Edcel C. Lagman vs. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., etc., et al./Almarin Centi Tillah, et al. vs. The Commission on Elections, etc., et al./Atty. Romulo B. Macalintal vs. Commission on Elections, et al./Luis “Barok” Biraogo vs. The Commission on Elections, et al./Jacinto V. Paras vs. Executive Secretary, et al., G.R. No. 196271/G.R. No. 196305/G.R. No. 197221/G.R. No. 197280/G.R. No. 197282/G.R. No. 197392/G.R. No. 197454. October 18, 2011.

Ombudsman; power to grant immunityIn this case, petitioner argues that by excluding the respondents in the information, the Ombudsman is engaged in “selective prosecution” which is a clear case of grave abuse of discretion.  He claims that before the Ombudsman may avail of the respondents as state witnesses, they must be included first in the information filed with the court.  Thereafter, the Ombudsman can ask the court for their discharge so that they can be used as state witnesses under the conditions laid down in Section 17, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court.  The Supreme Court held petitioner’s claim to be erroneous.  The Ombudsman has the power to grant immunity by itself and even prior to the filing of information in court.  RA No. 6770 fully recognizes this prosecutory prerogative by empowering the Ombudsman to grant immunity, subject to “such terms and conditions” as he may determine. The only textual limitation imposed by law on this authority is the need to take “into account the pertinent provisions of the Rules of Court,” – i.e., Section 17, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court.  The rule under RA No. 6770 clarifies that in cases already filed with the courts, the prosecution merely makes a proposal and initiates the process of granting immunity to an accused-witness in order to use him as a witness against his co-accused.  If there is any distinction at all between the public prosecutor and the Ombudsman in this endeavor, it is in the specificity of and the higher priority given by law to the Ombudsman’s purpose and objective.  This accounts for the Ombudsman’s unique power to grant immunity by itself and even prior to the filing of information in court, a power that the public prosecutor himself generally does not enjoy.  Thus, there was no grave abuse of discretion in this case.  Erdito Quarto vs. The Hon. Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo, et al., G.R. No. 169042. October 5, 2011. 

Police power; zoning. Congress expressly granted the city government, through the city council, police power by virtue of Section 12(oo) of Republic Act No. 537, or the Revised Charter of Quezon City.  With regard to the power of local government units to issue zoning ordinances, jurisprudence has recognized that the government may enact legislation that may interfere with personal liberty, property, lawful businesses and occupations to promote the general welfare.   However, the interference must be reasonable and not arbitrary.  Based on the foregoing, the power to establish zones for industrial, commercial and residential uses is derived from the police power itself and is exercised for the protection and benefit of the residents of a locality.  In this case, it is clear that the primary objectives of the city council of Quezon City when it issued the questioned ordinance ordering the construction of arcades were the health and safety of the city and its inhabitants; the promotion of their prosperity; and the improvement of their morals, peace, good order, comfort, and the convenience. These arcades provide safe and convenient passage along the sidewalk for commuters and pedestrians, not just the residents of Quezon City.  More especially so because the contested portion of the building is located on a busy segment of the city, in a business zone along EDSA.  Consequently, the enactment of the ordinance in this case is within the power of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Quezon City and any resulting burden on those affected cannot be said to be unjust.  Emilio Gancayco vs. Cito Government of Quezon City and Metro Manila Development Authority/Metro Manila Development Authority vs. Justice Emilio A. Gancayco (Retired), G.R. No. 177807/G.R. No. 177933. October 11, 2011.

Right to privacy; unreasonable search and seizureThis case involves a search of office computer assigned to a government employee who was charged administratively and eventually dismissed from the service. The employee’s personal files stored in the computer were used by the government employer as evidence of misconduct.  Petitioner questions the legality of the search conducted on his office computer and the copying of his personal files without his knowledge and consent.  He said this search violated his constitutional right to privacy.  The right to privacy is a facet of the right protected by the guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure under Section 2, Article III of the 1987 Constitution. 

Relying on US jurisprudence, the Court noted that the existence of privacy right involves a two-fold requirement: first, that a person has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy; and second, that the expectation be one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable (objective).  Once the right is established, the next inquiry is whether the search alleged to have violated such right was reasonable.  This proceeds from the principle that the constitutional guarantee under Section 2, Article III, is not a prohibition of all searches and seizures but only of unreasonable searches and seizures. 

In the case of searches conducted by a public employer, the court needs to balance the invasion of the employees’ legitimate expectations of privacy against the government’s need for supervision, control, and the efficient operation of the workplace.  A public employer’s intrusions on the constitutionally protected privacy interests of government employees for non-investigatory, work-related purposes, as well as for investigations of work-related misconduct, should be judged by the standard of reasonableness under all the circumstances.  Under this reasonableness standard, both the inception and the scope of the intrusion must be reasonable.  Ordinarily, a search of an employee’s office by a supervisor will be “justified at its inception” when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the employee is guilty of work-related misconduct, or that the search is necessary for a non-investigatory work-related purpose. The search will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the nature of the misconduct.

Applying the above standards and principles, the Court then addressed the following issues:  (1)  Did petitioner have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his office and computer files?; and (2) Was the search authorized by the respondent Civil Service Commission Chair, the copying of the contents of the hard drive on petitioner’s computer, reasonable in its inception and scope?  Here, the relevant surrounding circumstances to consider include: (1) the employee’s relationship to the item seized; (2) whether the item was in the immediate control of the employee when it was seized; and (3) whether the employee took actions to maintain his privacy in the item. 

The Court answered the first issue in the negative.  Petitioner failed to prove that he had an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy either in his office or government-issued computer which contained his personal files.  Petitioner did not allege that he had a separate enclosed office which he did not share with anyone, or that his office was always locked and not open to other employees or visitors.  Neither did he allege that he used passwords or adopted any means to prevent other employees from accessing his computer files.  On the contrary, he submits that being in the public assistance office of the CSC, he normally would have visitors in his office.  Even assuming that petitioner had at least a subjective expectation of privacy in his computer as he claims, the same is negated by the presence of policy regulating the use of office computers.  The CSC had implemented a policy that puts its employees on notice that they have no expectation of privacy in anything they create, store, send or receive on the office computers.  Under this policy, the CSC may monitor the use of the computer resources using both automated or human means.  This implies that on-the-spot inspections may be done to ensure that computer resources were used only for legitimate business purposes. 

On the second issue, the Court answered in the affirmative.  The search of petitioner’s computer files was conducted in connection with an investigation of work-related misconduct.  Under the facts obtaining, the Court held that the search conducted on petitioner’s computer was justified at its inception and in scope.  Briccio “Ricky” A. Pollo vs. Chairperson Karina Constantino-David, et al., G.R. No. 181881. October 18, 2011.

Administrative Law

Administrative agencies; due process.  Procedural due process is the constitutional standard demanding that notice and an opportunity to be heard be given before judgment is rendered.  As long as a party is given the opportunity to defend his interests in due course, he would have no reason to complain; the essence of due process is in the opportunity to be heard.  A formal or trial-type hearing is not always necessary.  In this case, while the petitioner did not participate in the August 17, 2006 pre-hearing conference (despite receipt on August 14, 2006 of a fax copy of the August 11, 2006 order) conducted by the GSIS, GSIS President and General Manager Winston Garcia’s decision of February 21, 2007 duly considered and discussed the defenses raised in the pleadings filed by petitioner’s counsel.  Furthermore, what negates any due process infirmity is the petitioner’s subsequent motion for reconsideration which cured whatever defect the Hearing Officer might have committed in the course of hearing the petitioner’s case.  Again, Garcia duly considered the arguments presented in the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration when he rendered the June 6, 2007 resolution.  Thus, the petitioner was actually heard through his pleadings.  Monico K. Imperial, Jr. vs. Government Service Insurance System, G.R. No. 191224. October 4, 2011. 

Administrative agencies; findings of facts.  In this case, petitioner was found to have committed the acts complained of, i.e., he approved the requests for salary loans of eight GSIS Naga Field Office employees who lacked the necessary contribution requirements under PPG No. 153-99.  However, the Supreme Court disagreed with the findings of the GSIS, the CSC and the CA that the petitioner’s acts constituted grave misconduct. While great respect is accorded to the factual findings of administrative agencies, the Supreme Court did not characterize the offense committed as grave. No substantial evidence was adduced to support the elements of “corruption,” “clear intent to violate the law” or “flagrant disregard of established rule” that must be present to characterize the misconduct as grave.  Under the circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court did not see the type of open defiance and disregard of GSIS rules that the CSC observed.  In fact, the CSC’s findings on the petitioner’s actions prior to the approval of the loans negate the presence of any intent on the petitioner’s part to deliberately defy the policy of the GSIS.  First, GSIS branch managers have been granted in the past the authority to approve loan applications beyond the prescribed requirements of GSIS; second, there was a customary lenient practice in the approval of loans exercised by some branch managers notwithstanding the existing GSIS policy; and third, the petitioner first sought the approval of his immediate supervisor before acting on the loan applications. These circumstances run counter to the characteristic flagrant disregard of the rules that grave misconduct requires.  Thus, the his liability under the given facts was found to constitute as simple misconduct only.  Monico K. Imperial, Jr. vs. Government Service Insurance System, G.R. No. 191224. October 4, 2011. 

Administrative proceedings; due process.  Due process in administrative proceedings requires compliance with the following cardinal principles: (1) the respondents’ right to a hearing, which includes the right to present one’s case and submit supporting evidence, must be observed; (2) the tribunal must consider the evidence presented; (3) the decision must have some basis to support itself; (4) there must be substantial evidence; (5) the decision must be rendered on the evidence presented at the hearing, or at least contained in the record and disclosed to the parties affected; (6) in arriving at a decision, the tribunal must have acted on its own consideration of the law and the facts of the controversy and must not have simply accepted the views of a subordinate; and (7) the decision must be rendered in such manner that respondents would know the reasons for it and the various issues involved.  In the present case, the fifth requirement was not complied with.  Reyes was not properly apprised of the evidence offered against him, which were eventually made the bases of petitioner’s decision that found him guilty of grave misconduct.  The fact that Reyes was able to assail the adverse decision of the petitioner via a Motion for Reconsideration Cum Motion to Set the Case for Preliminary Conference did not cure the violation of his right to due process in this case.  Reyes filed the said motion precisely to raise the issue of the violation of his right to due process.  As it were, petitioner rendered its Decision dated September 24, 2001 on the basis of evidence that were not disclosed to Reyes.  Thus, it cannot be said that Reyes had a fair opportunity to squarely and intelligently answer the accusations therein or to offer any rebuttal evidence thereto.  Office of the Ombudsman vs. Antonio T. Reyes, G.R. No. 170512. October 5, 2011.

Government contract; lack of appropriationPetitioner DPWH argues that the contracts with respondents were void for not complying with Sections 85 and 86 of Presidential Decree 1445, or the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines, as amended by Executive Order No. 292.  These sections require an appropriation for the contracts and a certification by the chief accountant of the agency or by the head of its accounting unit as to the availability of funds.   In this case, there was an appropriation amounting to Php400 million, which was increased to Php700 million. The funding was for the rehabilitation of the areas devastated and affected by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, which included the Sacobia-Bamban-Parua River for which some of the channeling, desilting and diking works were rendered by respondents’ construction companies.  It was, however, undisputed that there was no certification from the chief accountant of DPWH regarding the availability of funds for the disputed expenditure.  In spite of the lack of certification, however, the Supreme Court held that jurisprudence has consistently recognized the rule that payment for services done on account of the government, but based on a void contract, cannot be avoided.  The contract in this case was not illegal per se. Department of Public Works and Highways vs. Ronald E. Quiwa, doing under the name “R.E.Q. Construction,” et al., G.R. No. 183444. October 12, 2011. 

Government construction contracts; price escalation.  The issue here is whether Presidential Decree 1594 requires the contractor to prove that the price increase of construction materials was due to the direct acts of the government before a price escalation is granted in a construction contract.  Petitioner argues that Section 8 of PD 1594 requires the following conditions before an adjustment of the contract price may be made: (i) there was an increase or a decrease in the cost of labor, equipment, materials and  supplies for construction; and (ii) the increase or decrease is due to the direct acts of the government.  Petitioner stresses that respondent failed to show the existence of these conditions.  The Court disagreed.  The contractor does not need to prove that the increase in construction cost was due to the direct acts of the government.  PD 454, which was enacted prior to PD 1594, provides (in relation to adjustment of contract price for public works projects) that “increase of prices of gasoline and other fuel oils and of cement shall be considered direct acts of the Government.”  Consequently, when PD 1594 reproduced the phrase “direct acts of the government” without supplying a contrary or different definition, the definition and coverage provided by the earlier enacted PD 454 were deemed adopted by the later decree.  Thus, proof of increase in fuel or cement price during the contract period is enough to justify a claim for price escalation based on such increase.  Philippine Economic zone Authority vs. Green Asia Construction & Development Corporation, etc., G.R. No. 188866. October 19, 2011.

MMDA; power to demolishMMDA alleges that by virtue of MMDA Resolution No. 02-28, Series of 2002, it is empowered to demolish Justice Gancayco’s property.  It further alleges that it demolished the property pursuant to the Building Code in relation to Ordinance No. 2904, as amended.  However, the Supreme Court held that the power to enforce the provisions of the Building Code was lodged in the Department of Public Works and Highways, not in MMDA.  Since there was no evidence that the MMDA had been delegated by the DPWH to implement the Building Code, it necessarily had no authority to carry out the demolition. Additionally, the penalty prescribed by Ordinance No. 2904 itself does not include the demolition of illegally constructed buildings in case of violations. Instead, it merely prescribes a punishment of a fine or by imprisonment, or both, at the discretion of the court.  The ordinance itself clearly states that it is the regular courts that will determine whether there was a violation of the ordinance.  Emilio Gancayco vs. Cito Government of Quezon City and Metro Manila Development Authority/Metro Manila Development Authority vs. Justice Emilio A. Gancayco (Retired), G.R. No. 177807/G.R. No. 177933. October 11, 2011.

Election Law

Election protest; failure to file preliminary conference brief.  In exercising its powers and jurisdiction, as defined by its mandate to protect the integrity of elections, the COMELEC “must not be straitjacketed by procedural rules in resolving election disputes.” Here, notwithstanding the fact that petitioner’s motion for reconsideration was not verified, the COMELEC should have considered the merits of the said motion in light of petitioner’s meritorious claim that he was not given timely notice of the date set for the preliminary conference. The essence of due process is to be afforded a reasonable opportunity to be heard and to submit any evidence in support of one’s claim or defense.  It is the denial of this opportunity that constitutes violation of due process of law.  Procedural due process demands prior notice and hearing.  The fact that petitioner somehow acquired knowledge or information of the date set for the preliminary conference by means other than the official notice sent by the COMELEC is not an excuse to dismiss his protest, because it cannot be denied that he was not afforded reasonable notice and time to adequately prepare for and submit his brief.  This is precisely the reason why petitioner was only able to file his Preliminary Conference Brief on the day of the conference itself. Hence, by denying petitioner’s motion for reconsideration, without taking into consideration the violation of his right to procedural due process, the COMELEC also guilty of grave abuse of discretion.  Salvador D. Violago, Sr. vs. Commission on Elections and Joan V. Alarilla, G.R. No. 194143. October 4, 2011.

Public Officers

Public officers; dishonesty.  Good faith is ordinarily used to describe that state of mind denoting honesty of intention and freedom from knowledge of circumstances which ought to put the holder upon inquiry.  In other words, good faith is actually a question of intention.  Although this is something internal, one can ascertain a person’s intention not from his own protestation of good faith, which is self-serving, but from evidence of his conduct and outward acts.  In this case, the facts and circumstances surrounding petitioner’s acquisition of the Certificate of Eligibility cast serious doubts on his good faith.  He made a deal with a retired CSC official and accepted the Certificate of Eligibility from the latter’s representative. These circumstances reveal petitioner’s knowledge that the CSC official could have pulled strings in order to obtain his Certificate of Eligibility and have it delivered to his residence.  Besides, whether some CSC personnel should be held administratively liable for falsifying petitioner’s Certificate of Eligibility is beside the point.  The fact that someone else falsified the certificate will not excuse him for knowingly using the same for his career advancement.  Thus, the Supreme Court held that that the CA did not err in affirming the penalty of dismissal and all its accessory penalties imposed by the CSC.  Cesar S. Dumduma vs. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 182606. October 4, 2011.

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