July 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are select July 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law:

Constitutional Law

Bill of rights; right of confrontation.  The examination of witnesses must be done orally before a judge in open court.  This is true especially in criminal cases where the Constitution secures to the accused his right to a public trial and to meet the witnesses against him face to face.  The requirement is the “safest and most satisfactory method of investigating facts” as it enables the judge to test the witness’ credibility through his manner and deportment while testifying.  It is not without exceptions, however, as the Rules of Court recognizes the conditional examination of witnesses and the use of their depositions as testimonial evidence in lieu of direct court testimony.  Go, et al.  v. The People of the Philippines and Highdone Company, Ltd., et al., G.R. No. 185527, July 18, 2012.

Bill of rights; right of confrontation; conditional examination of witnesses.  But for purposes of taking the deposition in criminal cases, more particularly of a prosecution witness who would foreseeably be unavailable for trial, the testimonial examination should be made before the court, or at least before the judge, where the case is pending as required by the clear mandate of Section 15, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure…

Certainly, to take the deposition of the prosecution witness elsewhere and not before the very same court where the case is pending would not only deprive a detained accused of his right to attend the proceedings but also deprive the trial judge of the opportunity to observe the prosecution witness’ deportment and properly assess his credibility, which is especially intolerable when the witness’ testimony is crucial to the prosecution’s case against the accused…

The right of confrontation, on the other hand, is held to apply specifically to criminal proceedings and to have a twofold purpose: (1) to afford the accused an opportunity to test the testimony of witnesses by cross-examination, and (2) to allow the judge to observe the deportment of witnesses.  The Court explained in People v. Seneris [G.R. No. L- 48883, August 6, 1980] that the constitutional requirement “insures that the witness will give his testimony under oath, thus deterring lying by the threat of perjury charge; it forces the witness to submit to cross-examination, a valuable instrument in exposing falsehood and bringing out the truth; and it enables the court to observe the demeanor of the witness and assess his credibility.”  Go, et al.  v. The People of the Philippines and Highdone Company, Ltd., et al., G.R. No. 185527, July 18, 2012.

Bill of rights; right to privacy.  Clearly [citing Morfe v. Mutuc (130 Phil. 415 [1968]) and Ople v. Torres (354 Phil. 948 [1998]), the right to privacy is considered a fundamental right that must be protected from intrusion or constraint.  However, in Standard Chartered Bank v. Senate Committee on Banks [G.R. No. 167173, December 27, 2007], this Court underscored that the right to privacy is not absolute…

Therefore, when the right to privacy finds tension with a competing state objective, the courts are required to weigh both notions.  In these cases, although considered a fundamental right, the right to privacy may nevertheless succumb to an opposing or overriding state interest deemed legitimate and compelling.  Gamboa v. P/Ssupt. Marlou C. Chan, et al., G.R. No. 193636, July 24, 2012.

Bill of rights; writ of habeas data.  The writ of habeas data is an independent and summary remedy designed to protect the image, privacy, honor, information, and freedom of information of an individual, and to provide a forum to enforce one’s right to the truth and to informational privacy.  It seeks to protect a person’s right to control information regarding oneself, particularly in instances in which such information is being collected through unlawful means in order to achieve unlawful ends.  It must be emphasized that in order for the privilege of the writ to be granted, there must exist a nexus between the right to privacy on the one hand, and the right to life, liberty or security on the other.  Gamboa v. P/Ssupt. Marlou C. Chan, et al., G.R. No. 193636, July 24, 2012.

Bill of rights; writ of habeas data.  The notion of informational privacy is still developing in Philippine law and jurisprudence.  Considering that even the Latin American habeas data, on which our own Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data is rooted, finds its origins from the European tradition of data protection, this Court can be guided by cases on the protection of personal data decided by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).  Of particular note is Leander v. Sweden [26 March 1987, 9 EHRR 433], in which the ECHR balanced the right of citizens to be free from interference in their private affairs with the right of the state to protect its national security…

Leander illustrates how the right to informational privacy, as a specific component of the right to privacy, may yield to an overriding legitimate state interest.  In similar fashion, the determination of whether the privilege of the writ of habeas data, being an extraordinary remedy, may be granted in this case entails a delicate balancing of the alleged intrusion upon the private life of Gamboa and the relevant state interest involved.  Gamboa v. P/Ssupt. Marlou C. Chan, et al., G.R. No. 193636, July 24, 2012.

Constitutional construction; verba legis non est recedendumOne of the primary and basic rules in statutory construction is that where the words of a statute are clear, plain, and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation.  It is a well-settled principle of constitutional construction that the language employed in the Constitution must be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed.  As much as possible, the words of the Constitution should be understood in the sense they have in common use.  What it says according to the text of the provision to be construed compels acceptance and negates the power of the courts to alter it, based on the postulate that the framers and the people mean what they say.  Verba legis non est recedendum – from the words of a statute there should be no departure.

The raison d’ être for the rule is essentially two-fold: First, because it is assumed that the words in which constitutional provisions are couched express the objective sought to be attained; and second, because the Constitution is not primarily a lawyer’s document but essentially that of the people, in whose consciousness it should ever be present as an important condition for the rule of law to prevail.  Chavez v. Judicial and Bar Council, et al., G.R. No. 202242, July 17, 2012.

Eminent domain; determination of just compensation.  We also declared in National Power Corporation v. Purefoods Corporation [G.R. No. 160725, September 12, 2008] that Section 3A of Republic Act No. 6395, as amended (which provides a fixed formula in the computation of just compensation in cases of acquisition of easements of right of way) is not binding upon this Court.  This is in keeping with the established rule that the determination of “just compensation” in eminent domain cases is a judicial function.  National Power Corporation vs. Sps. Florimon V. Lleto, et al., G.R. Nos. 169957 & 171558, July 11, 2012.

Executive power; emergency or calling-out powers of President.  [I]t has already been established that there is one repository of executive powers, and that is the President of the Republic.  This means that when Section 1, Article VII of the Constitution speaks of executive power, it is granted to the President and no one else.  As emphasized by Justice Jose P. Laurel, in his ponencia in [Villena v. Secretary of the Interior, 67 Phil. 541 (1939)]:  “With reference to the Executive Department of the government, there is one purpose which is crystal-clear and is readily visible without the projection of judicial searchlight, and that is the establishment of a single, not plural, Executive.  The first section of Article VII of the Constitution, dealing with the Executive Department, begins with the enunciation of the principle that ‘The executive power shall be vested in a President of the Philippines.’  This means that the President of the Philippines is the Executive of the Government of the Philippines, and no other.”  Corollarily, it is only the President, as Executive, who is authorized to exercise emergency powers as provided under Section 23, Article VI, of the Constitution, as well as what became known as the calling-out powers under Section 7, Article VII thereof.  Jamar M. Kulayan, et al. vs. Gov. Abdusakur M. Tan etc., et al., G.R. No. 187298, July 3, 2012.

Executive power; civilian police force; authority of local executives over police.  Regarding the country’s police force, Section 6, Article XVI of the Constitution states that: “The State shall establish and maintain one police force, which shall be national in scope and civilian in character, to be administered and controlled by a national police commission.  The authority of local executives over the police units in their jurisdiction shall be provided by law.”  A local chief executive, such as the provincial governor, exercises operational supervision over the police, and may exercise control only in day-to-day operations … In the discussions of the Constitutional Commission regarding the above provision it is clear that the framers never intended for local chief executives to exercise unbridled control over the police in emergency situations.  This is without prejudice to their authority over police units in their jurisdiction as provided by law, and their prerogative to seek assistance from the police in day to day situations, as contemplated by the Constitutional Commission.  But as a civilian agency of the government, the police, through the NAPOLCOM, properly comes within, and is subject to, the exercise by the President of the power of executive control.  Jamar M. Kulayan, et al. vs. Gov. Abdusakur M. Tan etc., et al., G.R. No. 187298, July 3, 2012.

Executive power; emergency or calling-out powers of local executives.  Respondents cannot rely on paragraph 1, subparagraph (vii) of Article 465 [of the Local Government Code], as the said provision expressly refers to calamities and disasters, whether man-made or natural.  The governor, as local chief executive of the province, is certainly empowered to enact and implement emergency measures during these occurrences.  But the kidnapping incident in the case at bar cannot be considered as a calamity or a disaster.  Respondents cannot find any legal mooring under this provision to justify their actions.  Paragraph 2, subparagraph (vi) of the same provision is equally inapplicable for two reasons.  First, the Armed Forces of the Philippines does not fall under the category of a “national law enforcement agency,” to which the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) and its departments belong.  Its mandate is to uphold the sovereignty of the Philippines, support the Constitution, and defend the Republic against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Its aim is also to secure the integrity of the national territory.  Second, there was no evidence or even an allegation on record that the local police forces were inadequate to cope with the situation or apprehend the violators.  If they were inadequate, the recourse of the provincial governor was to ask the assistance of the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, or such other authorized officials, for the assistance of national law enforcement agencies.  Jamar M. Kulayan, et al. vs. Gov. Abdusakur M. Tan etc., et al., G.R. No. 187298, July 3, 2012.

Executive power; power of reorganization.  Section 31 of Executive Order No. 292 (E.O. 292), otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987, vests in the President the continuing authority to reorganize the offices under him in order to achieve simplicity, economy and efficiency…

In the case of Buklod ng Kawaning EIIB v. Zamora [G.R. Nos. 142801-802, July 10, 2001], the Court affirmed that the President’s authority to carry out a reorganization in any branch or agency of the executive department is an express grant by the legislature by virtue of E.O. 292, thus:  “But of course, the list of legal basis authorizing the President to reorganize any department or agency in the executive branch does not have to end here.  We must not lose sight of the very source of the power – that which constitutes an express grant of power.  Under Section 31, Book III of Executive Order No. 292 (otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987), ‘the President, subject to the policy of the Executive Office and in order to achieve simplicity, economy and efficiency, shall have the continuing authority to reorganize the administrative structure of the Office of the President.’  For this purpose, he may transfer the functions of other Departments or Agencies to the Office of the President.”  Pichay, Jr. v. Office of the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs-Investigative and Adjudicatory Division, et al., G.R. No. 196425, July 24, 2012.

Executive power; power of reorganization; rationale.  And in Domingo v. Zamora [G.R. No. 142283, February 6, 2003], the Court gave the rationale behind the President’s continuing authority in this wise:  “The law grants the President this power in recognition of the recurring need of every President to reorganize his office ‘to achieve simplicity, economy and efficiency.’  The Office of the President is the nerve center of the Executive Branch.  To remain effective and efficient, the Office of the President must be capable of being shaped and reshaped by the President in the manner he deems fit to carry out his directives and policies.  After all, the Office of the President is the command post of the President.”  Pichay, Jr. v. Office of the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs-Investigative and Adjudicatory Division, et al., G.R. No. 196425. July 24, 2012.

Executive power; power of reorganization; nature.  Generally, this authority to implement organizational changes is limited to transferring either an office or a function from the Office of the President to another Department or Agency, and the other way around.  Only Section 31(1) [of the Administrative Code] gives the President a virtual freehand in dealing with the internal structure of the Office of the President Proper by allowing him to take actions as extreme as abolition, consolidation or merger of units, apart from the less drastic move of transferring functions and offices from one unit to another.  Again, in Domingo v. Zamora, the Court noted:  “However, the President’s power to reorganize the Office of the President under Section 31 (2) and (3) of EO 292 should be distinguished from his power to reorganize the Office of the President Proper.  Under Section 31 (1) of EO 292, the President can reorganize the Office of the President Proper by abolishing, consolidating or merging units, or by transferring functions from one unit to another.  In contrast, under Section 31 (2) and (3) of EO 292, the President’s power to reorganize offices outside the Office of the President Proper but still within the Office of the President is limited to merely transferring functions or agencies from the Office of the President to Departments or Agencies, and vice versa.”

The distinction between the allowable organizational actions under Section 31(1) on the one hand and Section 31 (2) and (3) on the other is crucial not only as it affects employees’ tenurial security but also insofar as it touches upon the validity of the reorganization, that is, whether the executive actions undertaken fall within the limitations prescribed under E.O. 292.  When the PAGC was created under E.O. 12, it was composed of a Chairman and two (2) Commissioners who held the ranks of Presidential Assistant II and I, respectively, and was placed directly “under the Office of the President.”  On the other hand, the ODESLA, to which the functions of the PAGC have now been transferred, is an office within the Office of the President Proper.  Since both of these offices belong to the Office of the President Proper, the reorganization by way of abolishing the PAGC and transferring its functions to the ODESLA is allowable under Section 31 (1) of E.O. 292.  Pichay, Jr. v. Office of the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs-Investigative and Adjudicatory Division, et al., G.R. No. 196425, July 24, 2012.

Eminent domain; what constitutes “taking.”  The NPC, relying on [Section 3A of Republic Act No. 6395], argues that the CA erred when it ordered the payment of just compensation for the properties in question, given that most of the properties were subject only to an aerial easement of right of way, with the NPC requiring the use of the area above the subject lands for its transmission lines.  We have already established in a number of cases the flaw behind the NPC’s argument.  At the heart of this argument is the mistaken assumption that what are involved are mere liens on the property in the form of aerial easements.  While it may be true that the transmission lines merely pass over the affected properties, the easement imposes the additional limitation that the landowners are prohibited from constructing any improvements or planting any trees that exceed three (3) meters within the aerial right of way area.  This prohibition clearly interferes with the landowners’ right to possess and enjoy their properties…

Apart from interfering with the attributes of ownership, we have articulated in our observation in National Power Corp. v. Sps. Gutierrez [271 Phil. 1 (1991)]that these transmission lines, because of the high-tension current that passes through them, pose a danger to the lives and limbs of those in the surrounding areas, and, thus, serve to limit the activities that can be done on these lands.  National Power Corporation vs. Sps. Florimon V. Lleto, et al., G.R. Nos. 169957 & 171558, July 11, 2012.

Impeachment; nature of.  Impeachment, described as “the most formidable weapon in the arsenal of democracy,” was foreseen as creating divisions, partialities and enmities, or highlighting pre-existing factions with the greatest danger that “the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”  Given their concededly political character, the precise role of the judiciary in impeachment cases is a matter of utmost importance to ensure the effective functioning of the separate branches while preserving the structure of checks and balance in our government.  Moreover, in this jurisdiction, the acts of any branch or instrumentality of the government, including those traditionally entrusted to the political departments, are proper subjects of judicial review if tainted with grave abuse or arbitrariness.

Impeachment refers to the power of Congress to remove a public official for serious crimes or misconduct as provided in the Constitution.  A mechanism designed to check abuse of power, impeachment has its roots in Athens and was adopted in the United States (US) through the influence of English common law on the Framers of the US Constitution.

Our own Constitution’s provisions on impeachment were adopted from the US Constitution…  Corona v. Senate of the Philippines sitting as an Impeachment Court, et al., G.R. No. 200242, July 17, 2012.

Impeachment; power of judicial review.  In the first impeachment case decided by this Court, Francisco, Jr. v. Nagmamalasakit na mga Manananggol ng mga Manggagawang Pilipino, Inc. [G.R. No. 160261, November 10, 2003], we ruled that the power of judicial review in this jurisdiction includes the power of review over justiciable issues in impeachment proceedings.  Subsequently, in Gutierrez v. House of Representatives Committee on Justice [G.R. No. 193459, February 15, 2011], the Court resolved the question of the validity of the simultaneous referral of two impeachment complaints against petitioner Ombudsman which was allegedly a violation of the due process clause and of the one year bar provision …

In the meantime, the impeachment trial had been concluded with the conviction of petitioner by more than the required majority vote of the Senator-Judges.  Petitioner immediately accepted the verdict and without any protest vacated his office.  In fact, the Judicial and Bar Council is already in the process of screening applicants and nominees, and the President of the Philippines is expected to appoint a new Chief Justice within the prescribed 90-day period from among those candidates shortlisted by the JBC.  Unarguably, the constitutional issue raised by petitioner had been mooted by supervening events and his own acts.  Corona v. Senate of the Philippines sitting as an Impeachment Court, et al., G.R. No. 200242, July 17, 2012.

Judicial and Bar Council; composition.  As petitioner correctly posits, the use of the singular letter “a” preceding “representative of Congress” is unequivocal and leaves no room for any other construction.  It is indicative of what the members of the Constitutional Commission had in mind, that is, Congress may designate only one (1) representative to the JBC.  Had it been the intention that more than one (1) representative from the legislature would sit in the JBC, the Framers could have, in no uncertain terms, so provided.  Chavez v. Judicial and Bar Council, et al., G.R. No. 202242, July 17, 2012.

Judicial and Bar Council; composition.  Applying the foregoing principle to this case, it becomes apparent that the word “Congress” used in Article VIII, Section 8(1) of the Constitution is used in its generic sense.  No particular allusion whatsoever is made on whether the Senate or the House of Representatives is being referred to, but that, in either case, only a singular representative may be allowed to sit in the JBC.  The foregoing declaration is but sensible, since, as pointed out by an esteemed former member of the Court and consultant of the JBC in his memorandum, “from the enumeration of the membership of the JBC, it is patent that each category of members pertained to a single individual only.”  Chavez v. Judicial and Bar Council, et al., G.R. No. 202242, July 17, 2012.

Judicial and Bar Council; composition.  More than the reasoning provided in the above discussed rules of constitutional construction, the Court finds the above thesis as the paramount justification of the Court’s conclusion that “Congress,” in the context of JBC representation, should be considered as one body.  It is evident that the definition of “Congress” as a bicameral body refers to its primary function in government – to legislate.  In the passage of laws, the Constitution is explicit in the distinction of the role of each house in the process.  The same holds true in Congress’ non-legislative powers such as, inter alia, the power of appropriation, the declaration of an existence of a state of war, canvassing of electoral returns for the President and Vice-President, and impeachment.  In the exercise of these powers, the Constitution employs precise language in laying down the roles which a particular house plays, regardless of whether the two houses consummate an official act by voting jointly or separately.  An inter-play between the two houses is necessary in the realization of these powers causing a vivid dichotomy that the Court cannot simply discount.  Verily, each house is constitutionally granted with powers and functions peculiar to its nature and with keen consideration to 1) its relationship with the other chamber; and 2) in consonance with the principle of checks and balances, to the other branches of government.

This, however, cannot be said in the case of JBC representation because no liaison between the two houses exists in the workings of the JBC.  No mechanism is required between the Senate and the House of Representatives in the screening and nomination of judicial officers.  Hence, the term “Congress” must be taken to mean the entire legislative department.  A fortiori, a pretext of oversight cannot prevail over the more pragmatic scheme which the Constitution laid with firmness, that is, that the JBC has a seat for a single representative of Congress, as one of the co-equal branches of government.  Chavez v. Judicial and Bar Council, et al., G.R. No. 202242, July 17, 2012.

Public officers

Public officers; authority of city vice-mayor to enter into contracts.  Under [Section 456 of the Local Government Code], there is no inherent authority on the part of the city vice-mayor to enter into contracts on behalf of the local government unit, unlike that provided for the city mayor.  Thus, the authority of the vice-mayor to enter into contracts on behalf of the city was strictly circumscribed by the ordinance granting it.  Ordinance No. 15-2003 specifically authorized Vice-Mayor Yambao to enter into contracts for consultancy services.  As this is not a power or duty given under the law to the Office of the Vice-Mayor, Ordinance No. 15-2003 cannot be construed as a “continuing authority” for any person who enters the Office of the Vice-Mayor to enter into subsequent, albeit similar, contracts.  Arnold D. Vicencio v. Hon. Reynaldo A. Villar, et al., G.R. No. 182069, July 3, 2012.

Public officers; compensation and allowances.  The issuance of Resolution No. 464 by the NHA was without legal basis.  At the time of its issuance in 1982, Section 3 of P.D. 1597 had already expressly repealed all decrees, executive orders, and issuances that authorized the grant of allowances to groups of officials or employees despite the inconsistency of those allowances with the position classification or rates indicated in the National Compensation and Position Classification Plan.

Petitioners’ contention that P.D. 1597 only repealed Section 4 of P.D. 985, but not Section 2 thereof, is without basis.  While Section 2 of P.D. 1597 only mentions Section 4 of P.D. 985, Section 3 of P.D. 1597 specifically refers to all inconsistent laws or issuances.

Thereafter, or in 1989, R.A. 6758 further reinforced this policy by expressly decreeing that all allowances not specifically mentioned therein, or as may be determined by the DBM, shall be deemed included in the standardized salary rates prescribed.

Under Section 12 of R.A. 6758, all kinds of allowances are integrated in the standardized salary rates.  Below are the exceptions:  1. Representation and transportation allowance (RATA); 2. Clothing and laundry allowance; 3. Subsistence allowance of marine officers and crew on board government vessels; 4. Subsistence allowance of hospital personnel; 5. Hazard pay; 6. Allowances of foreign service personnel stationed abroad; and 7. Such other additional compensation not otherwise specified herein as may be determined by the DBM.

Only those additional compensation benefits being received by incumbents as of 1 July 1989, which were not integrated into the standardized salary rates, shall continue to be authorized.

In this case, the incentive allowances granted under Resolution No.464 are clearly not among those enumerated under R.A. 6758.  Neither has there been any allegation that the allowances were specifically determined by the DBM to be an exception to the standardized salary rates.  Hence, such allowances can no longer be granted after the effectivity of R.A. 6758.  Abellanosa, et al. v. Commission on Audit and National Housing Authority, G.R. No. 185806, July 24, 2012.

Public officers; validity of per diems paid to ex-officio members of PEZA.  PEZA’s insistence that there is legal basis in its grant of per diems to the ex officio members of its Board does not hold water.  The constitutional prohibition explained in [Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary, G.R. Nos. 83896 & 83815, February 22, 1991] still stands and this Court finds no reason to revisit the doctrine laid down therein as said interpretation, to this Court’s mind, is in consonance with what our Constitution provides … In Civil Liberties Union, this Court clarified the prohibition under Section 13, Article VII of the Constitution and emphasized that a public official holding an ex officio position as provided by law has no right to receive additional compensation for the ex officio position.  This Court ruled:  “It bears repeating though that in order that such additional duties or functions may not transgress the prohibition embodied in Section 13, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, such additional duties or functions must be required by the primary functions of the official concerned, who is to perform the same in an ex-officio capacity as provided by law, without receiving any additional compensation therefor.  The ex-officio position being actually and in legal contemplation part of the principal office, it follows that the official concerned has no right to receive additional compensation for his services in the said position.  The reason is that these services are already paid for and covered by the compensation attached to his principal office.  It should be obvious that if, say, the Secretary of Finance attends a meeting of the Monetary Board as an ex-officio member thereof, he is actually and in legal contemplation performing the primary function of his principal office in defining policy in monetary and banking matters, which come under the jurisdiction of his department.  For such attendance, therefore, he is not entitled to collect any extra compensation, whether it be in the form of a per diem or an honorarium or an allowance, or some other such euphemism.  By whatever name it is designated, such additional compensation is prohibited by the Constitution.”  Philippine Economic Zone Authority v. Commission on Audit and Reynaldo A. Villar, Chairman, Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 189767, July 3, 2012.

Public officers; liability of public officer executing contract without authority.  Section 103 of P.D. 1445 declares that expenditures of government funds or uses of government property in violation of law or regulations shall be a personal liability of the official or employee found to be directly responsible therefor.  The public official’s personal liability arises only if the expenditure of government funds was made in violation of law.  In this case, petitioner’s act of entering into a contract on behalf of the local government unit without the requisite authority therefor was in violation of the Local Government Code.  While petitioner may have relied on the opinion of the City Legal Officer, such reliance only serves to buttress his good faith.  It does not, however, exculpate him from his personal liability under P.D. 1445.  Arnold D. Vicencio v. Hon. Reynaldo A. Villar, et al., G.R. No. 182069, July 3, 2012.

Public officers; suspension order.  While the suspension of a public officer under [Section 13 or Republic Act No. 3019] is mandatory, the suspension requires a prior hearing to determine “the validity of the information” filed against him, “taking into account the serious and far reaching consequences of a suspension of an elective public official even before his conviction.”  The accused public official’s right to challenge the validity of the information before a suspension order may be issued includes the right to challenge the (i) validity of the criminal proceeding leading to the filing of an information against him, and (ii) propriety of his prosecution on the ground that the acts charged do not constitute a violation of R.A. No. 3019 or of the provisions on bribery of the Revised Penal Code.  Miguel v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 172035, July 4, 2012.

Public officers; suspension order.  The purpose of the law in requiring a pre-suspension hearing is to determine the validity of the information so that the trial court can have a basis to either suspend the accused and proceed with the trial on the merits of the case, withhold the suspension and dismiss the case, or correct any part of the proceedings that impairs its validity.  That hearing is similar to a challenge to the validity of the information by way of a motion to quash.

While a pre-suspension hearing is aimed at securing for the accused fair and adequate opportunity to challenge the validity of the information or the regularity of the proceedings against him, [Luciano v. Mariano (148-B Phil. 178 [1971])]likewise emphasizes that no hard and fast rule exists in regulating its conduct.  With the purpose of a pre-suspension hearing in mind, the absence of an actual hearing alone cannot be determinative of the validity of a suspension order.  Miguel v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 172035, July 4, 2012.

No estoppel against Government.  In Baybay Water District v. Commission on Audit [425 Phil. 326 [2002]), this Court stated that public officers’ erroneous application and enforcement of the law do not estop the government from making a subsequent correction of those errors.  Where there is an express provision of law prohibiting the grant of certain benefits, the law must be enforced even if it prejudices certain parties on account of an error committed by public officials in granting the benefit.  Practice, without more – no matter how long continued – cannot give rise to any vested right if it is contrary to law.  Abellanosa, et al. v. Commission on Audit and National Housing Authority, G.R. No. 185806, July 24, 2012.

Local government

Local autonomy; devolution; reservation in favor of national government.  While [Section 17 of the Local Government Code] charges the LGUs to take on the functions and responsibilities that have already been devolved upon them from the national agencies on the aspect of providing for basic services and facilities in their respective jurisdictions, paragraph (c) of the same provision provides a categorical exception of cases involving nationally-funded projects, facilities, programs and services, thus:  “(c) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (b) hereof, public works and infrastructure projects and other facilities, programs and services funded by the National Government under the annual General Appropriations Act, other special laws, pertinent executive orders, and those wholly or partially funded from foreign sources, are not covered under this Section, except in those cases where the local government unit concerned is duly designated as the implementing agency for such projects, facilities, programs and services.”

The essence of this express reservation of power by the national government is that, unless an LGU is particularly designated as the implementing agency, it has no power over a program for which funding has been provided by the national government under the annual general appropriations act, even if the program involves the delivery of basic services within the jurisdiction of the LGU…

Indeed, a complete relinquishment of central government powers on the matter of providing basic facilities and services cannot be implied as the Local Government Code itself weighs against it.  The national government is, thus, not precluded from taking a direct hand in the formulation and implementation of national development programs especially where it is implemented locally in coordination with the LGUs concerned.  Pimentel, et al. v. Executive Secretary, et al., G.R. No. 195770, July 17, 2012.

Other laws

Agrarian reform; procedure for acquisition.  The procedure for acquisition of private lands under Section 16 (e) of the CARL is that upon receipt by the landowner of the corresponding payment or, in case of rejection or no response from the landowner, upon deposit with an accessible bank designated by the DAR of the compensation in cash or in LBP bonds, the DAR shall take immediate possession of the land and request the proper Register of Deeds to issue a TCT in the name of the Republic of the Philippines.  Thereafter, the DAR shall proceed with the redistribution of the land to the qualified beneficiaries…  Diamond Farms, Inc. v. Diamond Farm Workers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, et al., G.R. No. 192999, July 18, 2012.

Agrarian reform; control and possession of agricultural land.  We, however, agree that petitioner must now turn over possession of the 109-hectare land.  The matter has already been settled in Hacienda Luisita, Incorporated, etc. v. Presidential Agrarian Reform Council, et al. [G.R. No. 171101, April  24, 2012], when we ruled that the Constitution and the CARL intended the farmers, individually or collectively, to have control over agricultural lands, otherwise all rhetoric about agrarian reform will be for naught.  We stressed that under Section 4, Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution and Section 2 of the CARL, the agrarian reform program is founded on the right of farmers and regular farm workers who are landless to own directly or collectively the lands they till.  The policy on agrarian reform is that control over the agricultural land must always be in the hands of the farmers.  Diamond Farms, Inc. v. Diamond Farm Workers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, et al., G.R. No. 192999, July 18, 2012.

Government-owned and -controlled corporations; definition.  From [Sections 2(10) and 2(13) of the Introductory Provisions of the Administrative Code of 1987 (Executive Order No. 292)], it is clear that a GOCC must be “organized as a stock or non-stock corporation” while an instrumentality is vested by law with corporate powers.  Likewise, when the law makes a government instrumentality operationally autonomous, the instrumentality remains part of the National Government machinery although not integrated with the department framework.

When the law vests in a government instrumentality corporate powers, the instrumentality does not necessarily become a corporation.  Unless the government instrumentality is organized as a stock or non-stock corporation, it remains a government instrumentality exercising not only governmental but also corporate powers.

Many government instrumentalities are vested with corporate powers but they do not become stock or non-stock corporations, which is a necessary condition before an agency or instrumentality is deemed a GOCC.  Examples are the Mactan International Airport Authority, the Philippine Ports Authority, the University of the Philippines, and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.  All these government instrumentalities exercise corporate powers but they are not organized as stock or non-stock corporations as required by Section 2(13) of the Introductory Provisions of the Administrative Code.  These government instrumentalities are sometimes loosely called government corporate entities.  They are not, however, GOCCs in the strict sense as understood under the Administrative Code, which is the governing law defining the legal relationship and status of government entities.  Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) vs. City of Parañaque, G.R. No. 191109, July 18, 2012.

Government-owned and -controlled corporations; definition.  In the case at bench, PRA is not a GOCC because it is neither a stock nor a non-stock corporation.  It cannot be considered as a stock corporation because although it has a capital stock divided into no par value shares as provided in Section 74 of P.D. No. 1084, it is not authorized to distribute dividends, surplus allotments or profits to stockholders.  There is no provision whatsoever in P.D. No. 1084 or in any of the subsequent executive issuances pertaining to PRA, particularly, E.O. No. 525, E.O. No. 6546 and EO No. 7987 that authorizes PRA to distribute dividends, surplus allotments or profits to its stockholders.

PRA cannot be considered a non-stock corporation either because it does not have members.  A non-stock corporation must have members.  Moreover, it was not organized for any of the purposes mentioned in Section 88 of the Corporation Code.  Specifically, it was created to manage all government reclamation projects.  Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) vs. City of Parañaque, G.R. No. 191109, July 18, 2012.

Government-owned and -controlled corporations; Constitutional requirements.  Furthermore, there is another reason why the PRA cannot be classified as a GOCC.  Section 16, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution provides as follows:  “Section 16.  The Congress shall not, except by general law, provide for the formation, organization, or regulation of private corporations.  Government-owned or controlled corporations may be created or established by special charters in the interest of the common good and subject to the test of economic viability.”

The fundamental provision above authorizes Congress to create GOCCs through special charters on two conditions: 1) the GOCC must be established for the common good; and 2) the GOCC must meet the test of economic viability.  In this case, PRA may have passed the first condition of common good but failed the second one – economic viability.  Undoubtedly, the purpose behind the creation of PRA was not for economic or commercial activities.  Neither was it created to compete in the market place considering that there were no other competing reclamation companies being operated by the private sector.  As mentioned earlier, PRA was created essentially to perform a public service considering that it was primarily responsible for a

coordinated, economical and efficient reclamation, administration and operation of lands belonging to the government with the object of maximizing their utilization and hastening their development consistent with the public interest.  Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) vs. City of Parañaque, G.R. No. 191109, July 18, 2012.

Government-owned and -controlled corporations; definition.  This Court is convinced that PRA is not a GOCC either under Section 2(3) of the Introductory Provisions of the Administrative Code or under Section 16, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution.  The facts, the evidence on record and jurisprudence on the issue support the position that PRA was not organized either as a stock or a non-stock corporation.  Neither was it created by Congress to operate commercially and compete in the private market.  Instead, PRA is a government instrumentality vested with corporate powers and performing an essential public service pursuant to Section 2(10) of the Introductory Provisions of the Administrative Code.  Being an incorporated government instrumentality, it is exempt from payment of real property tax.  Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) vs. City of Parañaque, G.R. No. 191109, July 18, 2012.

Government contracts; public bidding requirement.  Public bidding, as a method of government procurement, is governed by the principles of transparency, competitiveness, simplicity, and accountability.  By its very nature and characteristic, a competitive public bidding aims to protect the public interest by giving the public the best possible advantages thru open competition and in order to avoid or preclude suspicion of favoritism and anomalies in the execution of public contracts.  Except only in cases in which alternative methods of procurement are allowed, all government procurement shall be done by competitive bidding.  In the case of Agan, Jr. v. Philippine International Air Terminals Co, Inc. [G.R. Nos. 155001, 155547 & 155661, May 5, 2003], the Court held:  “Competition must be legitimate, fair and honest.  In the field of government contract law, competition requires, not only bidding upon a common standard, a common basis, upon the same thing, the same subject matter, the same undertaking, but also that it be legitimate, fair and honest; and not designed to injure of defraud the government.”  It has been held that the three principles in bidding are the offer to the public, opportunity for competition, and a basis for the exact comparison of bids.  A regulation of the matter which excludes any of these factors destroys the distinctive character of the system and thwarts the purpose of its adoption.  Philippine Sports Commission, et al. v. Dear John Services, Inc., G.R. No. 183260, July 4, 2012.

Government contracts; public bidding requirement; approved budget of contract must be disclosed.  Under the law, the PSC-BAC is mandated to disclose not only the description of the items to be procured, and the eligibility requirements, among others, but also the approved budget of the project.  Competitive bidding is an essential element of a public bidding.  Thus, it should be conducted fairly and openly with full and free opportunity for competition among bidders.  It has been held in a long line of cases that a contract granted without the competitive bidding required by law is void and the party to whom it is awarded cannot benefit from it … Consequently, the provision in the “Instruction to Bidders” stating that no award of the contract shall be made to a bidder whose bid price is lower than the allowable government estimate (AGE) or AAE is not valid.  The rule on the matter is clear.  The PSC-BAC is obliged to observe and enforce the same in the procurement of goods and services for the project.  The law on public bidding is not an empty formality.  A strict adherence to the principles, rules and regulations on public bidding must be sustained if only to preserve the integrity and the faith of the general public on the procedure.  Philippine Sports Commission, et al. v. Dear John Services, Inc., G.R. No. 183260, July 4, 2012.