November 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Agrarian reform; control over agricultural lands.  Upon review of the facts and circumstances, the Court concluded that the farm worker beneficiaries (FWBs) will never have control over the agricultural lands as long as they remain as stockholders of HLI.  Since control over agricultural lands must always be in the hands of the farmers, the Court reconsidered its earlier ruling that the qualified FWBs should be given an option to remain as stockholders of HLI, inasmuch as these qualified FWBs will never gain control given the present proportion of shareholdings in HLI.  A revisit of HLI’s Proposal for Stock Distribution under CARP and the Stock Distribution Option Agreement upon which the proposal was based reveals that the total assets of HLI is PhP590,554,220, while the value of the 4,915.7466 hectares is PhP196,630,000.  Consequently, the share of the farmer-beneficiaries in the HLI capital stock is 33.296% (196,630,000 divided by 590,554.220); 118,391,976.85 HLI shares represent 33.296%. Thus, even if all the holders of the 118,391,976.85 HLI shares unanimously vote to remain as HLI stockholders, which is unlikely, control will never be placed in the hands of the farmer-beneficiaries.  Control, of course, means the majority of 50% plus at least one share of the common shares and other voting shares. Applying the formula to the HLI stockholdings, the number of shares that will constitute the majority is 295,112,101 shares (590,554,220 divided by 2 plus one HLI share).  The 118,391,976.85 shares subject to the SDP approved by PARC substantially fall short of the 295,112,101 shares needed by the FWBs to acquire control of HLI.  Hence, control can never be attained by the FWBs.  There is even no assurance that 100% of the 118,391,976.85 shares issued to the FWBs will all be voted in favor of staying in HLI, taking into account the previous referendum among the farmers where said shares were not voted unanimously in favor of retaining the SDP.  In light of the foregoing consideration, the option to remain in HLI granted to the individual FWBs will have to be recalled and revoked.  Moreover, bearing in mind that with the revocation of the approval of the SDP, HLI will no longer be operating under SDP and will only be treated as an ordinary private corporation; the FWBs who remain as stockholders of HLI will be treated as ordinary stockholders and will no longer be under the protective mantle of RA 6657.  Hacienda Luisita Incorporated vs. Presidential Agrarian Reform Council, et al., G.R. No. 171101. November 22, 2011.

Command responsibility. One of the issues raised in this case was whether or not the President, as commander-in-chief of the military, can be held responsible or accountable for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.  The Supreme Court held that the President may be held responsible or accountable.  To hold someone liable under the doctrine of command responsibility, the following elements must obtain:  (a) the existence of a superior-subordinate relationship between the accused as superior and the perpetrator of the crime as his subordinate; (b) the superior knew or had reason to know that the crime was about to be or had been committed; and (c) the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent the criminal acts or punish the perpetrators thereof.  The President, being the commander-in-chief of all armed forces, necessarily possesses control over the military that qualifies him as a superior within the purview of the command responsibility doctrine. On the issue of knowledge, it must be pointed out that although international tribunals apply a strict standard of knowledge, i.e., actual knowledge, the same may nonetheless be established through circumstantial evidence.  In the Philippines, a more liberal view is adopted and superiors may be charged with constructive knowledge. Knowledge of the commission of irregularities, crimes or offenses is presumed when: (a) the acts are widespread within the government official’s area of jurisdiction; (b) the acts have been repeatedly or regularly committed within his area of responsibility; or (c) members of his immediate staff or office personnel are involved.  As to the issue of failure to prevent or punish, it is important to note that as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the President has the power to effectively command, control and discipline the military.  The Supreme Court held, however, that aside from Rodriguez’s general averments, there is no piece of evidence that could establish former President Arroyo’s responsibility or accountability for his abduction.  Neither was there even a clear attempt to show that she should have known about the violation of his right to life, liberty or security, or that she had failed to investigate, punish or prevent it.  In the Matter of the Petition for the Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data in favor of Noriel H. Rodriguez; Noriel H. Rodriguez vs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, et al., G.R. No. 191805 & G.R. No. 193160. November 15, 2011.

Expropriation; denial of due process.  In this case, the petitioner argues that it was deprived of its right to due process when it was not given an opportunity to present its evidence.  The petitioner claims that the committee tasked by the court to receive evidence on just compensation did not conduct any hearing to enable the parties to present their respective evidence.  Instead, the committee based the Report on documents submitted by the parties, verifications from offices, ocular inspections and local market conditions, and unsubstantiated statements as to the highest and best use of the properties, and the devaluation of the peso.  The Supreme Court held that there was no such deprivation of due process.  The pleadings it submitted and the testimonial evidence presented during the several hearings conducted all prove that the petitioner was given its day in court. The Court noted that the RTC acceded to the petitioner’s request, over the respondents’ objection, for the reconvening of the Committee for reception of evidence and further proceedings. It also heard and allowed both sides to present evidence during the clarificatory hearings and rendered a decision based on the evidence presented.  Republic of the Philippines vs. Sps. Tan Song Bok, G.R. No. 191448. November 16, 2011.

Expropriation; valuation of expropriated property.  One of the issues in this case was whether or not the RTC and the CA had sufficient basis in arriving at the questioned amount of just compensation of the subject properties.  The Supreme Court held that even in expropriation cases, “questions of facts are beyond the pale of Rule 45 of the Rules of Court as a petition for review may only raise questions of law.  Moreover, factual findings of the trial court, particularly when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are generally binding on this Court.”  Thus, the Court affirmed the ruling of the RTC and the CA that the Report is founded on evidence.  The petitioner’s tax declarations, the BIR zonal valuation and the deeds of sale it presented are not the only proof of the fair value of properties. Zonal valuation is just one of the indices of the fair market value of real estate.  By itself, this index cannot be the sole basis of “just compensation” in expropriation cases.  Various factors come into play in the valuation of specific properties singled out for expropriation. Tax values can serve as guides but cannot be absolute substitutes for just compensation.  Republic of the Philippines vs. Sps. Tan Song Bok, G.R. No. 191448. November 16, 2011.

Operative fact doctrine.  The operative fact doctrine does not only apply to laws subsequently declared unconstitutional or unlawful, as it also applies to executive acts subsequently declared as invalid.  The Court rejected the view that the applicability of the operative fact doctrine should be limited to statutes and rules and regulations issued by the executive department that are accorded the same status as that of a statute or those which are quasi-legislative in nature.  While orders, rules and regulations issued by the President or the executive branch have fixed definitions and meaning in the Administrative Code and jurisprudence, the phrase “executive act” does not have such specific definition under existing laws.  The term “executive act” is broad enough to encompass decisions of administrative bodies and agencies under the executive department which are subsequently revoked by the agency in question or nullified by the Court.  Even assuming that the operative fact doctrine applies only to executive issuances like orders and rules and regulations, said principle can nonetheless be applied, by analogy, to decisions made by the President or the agencies under the executive department. This doctrine, in the interest of justice and equity, can be applied liberally and in a broad sense to encompass said decisions of the executive branch. In keeping with the demands of equity, the Court can apply the operative fact doctrine to acts and consequences that resulted from the reliance not only on a law or executive act which is quasi-legislative in nature but also on decisions or orders of the executive branch which were later nullified. This Court is not unmindful that such acts and consequences must be recognized in the higher interest of justice, equity and fairness.  Significantly, a decision made by the President or the administrative agencies has to be complied with because it has the force and effect of law, springing from the powers of the President under the Constitution and existing laws.  Prior to the nullification or recall of said decision, it may have produced acts and consequences in conformity to and in reliance of said decision, which must be respected.  Hacienda Luisita Incorporated vs. Presidential Agrarian Reform Council, et al., G.R. No. 171101. November 22, 2011.

Presidential immunity from suit; non-sitting president.  The Court of Appeals found respondents in G.R. No. 191805 – with the exception of Calog, Palacpac or Harry – to be accountable for the violations of Rodriguez’s right to life, liberty and security committed by the 17th Infantry Battalion, 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.  It, however, dismissed the petition with respect to former President Arroyo on account of her presidential immunity from suit.  Regarding this issue, the Supreme Court held that a non-sitting President does not enjoy immunity from suit, even for acts committed during the latter’s tenure.  Thus, the rationale for the CA’s dropping of the case against former President Arroyo no longer exists in the present case.  It will be anomalous to hold that immunity is an inoculation from liability for unlawful acts and omissions. The rule is that unlawful acts of public officials are not acts of the State and the officer who acts illegally is not acting as such but stands in the same footing as any other trespasser.  The intent of the framers of the Constitution is clear that the immunity of the president from suit is concurrent only with his tenure and not his term.  Applying the foregoing rationale to this case, it is clear that former President Arroyo cannot use the presidential immunity from suit to shield herself from judicial scrutiny that would assess whether, within the context of amparo proceedings, she was responsible or accountable for the abduction of Rodriguez.  In the Matter of the Petition for the Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data in favor of Noriel H. Rodriguez; Noriel H. Rodriguez vs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, et al., G.R. No. 191805 & G.R. No. 193160. November 15, 2011.

Taking and just compensation in agrarian reform.  The Court maintains its earlier ruling in this case that the date of “taking” is November 21, 1989, the date when PARC approved HLI’s Stock Distribution Plan (SDP) per PARC Resolution No. 89-12-2, in view of the fact that this is the time that the farm worker beneficiaries (FWBs) were considered to have owned and possessed the agricultural lands in Hacienda Luisita.  These lands became subject of the agrarian reform coverage through the stock distribution scheme only upon the approval of the SDP. Such approval is akin to a notice of coverage ordinarily issued under compulsory acquisition.  The minority contends that it is the date of the notice of coverage, that is, January 2, 2006, which is determinative of the just compensation HLI is entitled to for its expropriated lands. To support its contention, it cited numerous cases where the time of the taking was reckoned on the date of the issuance of the notice of coverage.  However, a perusal of the cases cited by the minority would reveal that none of them involved the stock distribution scheme. Thus, said cases do not squarely apply to this case. Moreover, it should be noted that it is precisely because the stock distribution option is a distinctive mechanism under RA 6657 that it cannot be treated similarly with that of compulsory land acquisition as these are two different modalities under the agrarian reform program. In this regard, it should be noted that when HLI submitted the SDP to DAR for approval, it cannot be gainsaid that the stock distribution scheme is clearly HLI’s preferred modality in order to comply with CARP. And when the SDP was approved, stocks were given to the FWBs in lieu of land distribution. As aptly observed by the minority itself, “[i]nstead of expropriating lands, what the government took and distributed to the FWBs were shares of stock of petitioner HLI in proportion to the value of the agricultural lands that should have been expropriated and turned over to the FWBs.” It cannot, therefore, be denied that upon the approval of the SDP submitted by HLI, the agricultural lands of Hacienda Luisita became subject of CARP coverage. Evidently, the approval of the SDP took the place of a notice of coverage issued under compulsory acquisition.  Hacienda Luisita Incorporated vs. Presidential Agrarian Reform Council, et al., G.R. No. 171101. November 22, 2011.

Election Law

Barangay elections; three-consecutive term limit rule.  Mendoza was a candidate for Barangay Captain of Barangay Balatasan, Oriental Mindoro, in the 29 October 2007 Barangay Elections. Prior thereto, Mendoza had been elected as Barangay Captain of Barangay Balatasan for three consecutive terms, on 9 May 1994, 12 May 1997 and 15 July 2002.  On 26 October 2007, respondent Senen C. Familara (Familara) filed a Petition to Disqualify Mendoza averring that Mendoza, under Section 2 of RA No. 9164, is ineligible to run again for Barangay Captain of Barangay Balatasan, having been elected and having served in the same position for three consecutive terms immediately prior to the 2007 Barangay Elections.  When the case was brought to the Supreme Court, one of the issues Mendoza raised was the constitutionality of the retroactive application to the 1994 Barangay Elections of the three-consecutive term limit rule.  The Supreme Court held that the issue has already been settled in the case of COMELEC v. Cruz.  The Court reiterated that no retroactive application was made because the three-term limit has been there all along as early as the second barangay law (RA No. 6679) after the 1987 Constitution took effect; it was continued under the Local Government Code and can still be found in the current law.    Constancio F. Mendoza vs. Senen C. Familara & Commission Elections, G.R. No. 191017. November 15, 2011.

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