January 2014 Philippine Supreme Court Rulings on Political Law

Here are select January 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law:

Absence of motion of reconsideration; effect of. The omission of the filing of a motion for reconsideration poses no obstacle for the Court’s review of its ruling on the whole case since a serious constitutional question has been raised and is one of the underlying bases for the validity or invalidity of the presidential action. If the President does not have any constitutional authority to discipline a Deputy Ombudsman and/or a Special Prosecutor in the first place, then any ruling on the legal correctness of the OP’s decision on the merits will be an empty one. In other words, since the validity of the OP’s decision on the merits of the dismissal is inextricably anchored on the final and correct ruling on the constitutional issue, the whole case – including the constitutional issue – remains alive for the Court’s consideration on motion for reconsideration. Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Congress; power to determine modes of removal from office of public officers; must be consistent with the core constitutional principle of independence of the Office of the Ombudsman. The intent of the framers of the Constitution in providing that “all other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment” in the second sentence of Section 2, Article XI is to prevent Congress from extending the more stringent rule of “removal only by impeachment” to favoured public officers. Contrary to the implied view of the minority, in no way can this provision be regarded as blanket authority for Congress to provide for any ground of removal it deems fit. While the manner and cause of removal are left to congressional determination, this must still be consistent with constitutional guarantees and principles, namely: the right to procedural and substantive due process; the constitutional guarantee of security of tenure; the principle of separation of powers; and the principle of checks and balances. The authority granted by the Constitution to Congress to provide for the manner and cause of removal of all other public officers and employees does not mean that Congress can ignore the basic principles and precepts established by the       Constitution. Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Constitutional bodies; concept of independence. The independence enjoyed by the Office of the Ombudsman and by the Constitutional Commissions shares certain characteristics – they do not owe their existence to any act of Congress, but are created by the Constitution itself; additionally, they all enjoy fiscal autonomy. In general terms, the framers of the Constitution intended that these “independent” bodies be insulated from political pressure to the extent that the absence of “independence” would result in the impairment of their core functions. The deliberative considerations abundantly show that the independent constitutional commissions have been consistently intended by the framers to be independent from executive control or supervision or any form of political influence. At least insofar as these bodies are concerned, jurisprudence is not scarce on how the “independence” granted to these bodies prevents presidential interference. Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Gross negligence; concept of; not present when Deputy Ombudsman reviews a case for nine days. Gross negligence refers to negligence characterized by the want of even the slightest care, acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but wilfully and intentionally, with a conscious indifference to consequences insofar as other persons may be affected. In case of public officials, there is gross negligence when a breach of duty is flagrant and palpable. The Deputy Ombudsman cannot be guilty of gross neglect of duty and/or inefficiency since he acted on the case forwarded to him within nine days. The OP’s ruling that Gonzales had been grossly negligent for taking nine days, instead of five days as required for Hearing Officers, is totally baseless.Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Impeachment; concept of. Impeachment is the most difficult and cumbersome mode of removing a public officer from office. It is, by nature, a sui generis politico-legal process that signals the need for a judicious and careful handling as shown by the process required to initiate the proceeding; the one-year limitation or bar for its initiation; the limited grounds for impeachment; the defined instrumentality given the power to try impeachment cases; and the number of votes required for a finding of guilt. Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Judicial power; issuance of protection orders is in  pursuance of the Court’s authority to settle justiciable controversies or disputes involving rights that are enforceable and demandable before the courts of justice or the redress of wrongs for violations of such rights.  The provision in R.A. 9262 allowing the issuance of protection orders is not an invalid delegation of legislative power to the court and to barangay officials to issue protection orders. Section 2 of Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution provides that “the Congress shall have the power to define, prescribe, and apportion the jurisdiction of the various courts but may not deprive the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction over cases enumerated in Section 5 hereof.” Hence, the primary judge of the necessity, adequacy, wisdom, reasonableness and expediency of any law is primarily the function of the legislature. The act of Congress entrusting us with the issuance of protection orders is in pursuance of our authority to settle justiciable controversies or disputes involving rights that are enforceable and demandable before the courts of justice or the redress of wrongs for violations of such rights. Ralph P. Tua v. Hon. Cesar A. Mangrobang, Presiding Judge, Branch 22, RTC, Imus, Cavite; and Rossan Honrado-Tua, G.R. No. 170701. January 22, 2014.

Just compensation; determination of just compensation is fundamentally a judicial function. In the exercise of the Court’s essentially judicial function of determining just compensation, the RTC-SACs are not granted unlimited discretion and must consider and apply the enumerated factors in R.A. No. 6657 and the DAR formula (in AO 5-98) that reflect these factors. These factors and formula provide the uniform framework or structure for the computation of the just compensation for a property subject to agrarian reform.  When acting within the parameters set by the law itself, the RTC-SACs, however, are not strictly bound to apply the DAR formula to its minute detail, particularly when faced with situations that do not warrant the formula’s strict application; they may, in the exercise of their discretion, relax the formula’s application to fit the factual situations before them. They must, however, clearly explain the reason for any deviation from the factors and formula that the law and the rules have provided.Land Bank of the Philippines v. Yatco Agricultural Enterprises, G.R. No. 172551, January 15, 2014.

Just compensation; fair market value of the expropriated property is determined as of the time of taking.  The “time of taking” refers to that time when the State deprived the landowner of the use and benefit of his property, as when the State acquires title to the property or as of the filing of the complaint, per Section 4, Rule 67 of the Rules of Court. Land Bank of the Philippines v. Yatco Agricultural Enterprises, G.R. No. 172551, January 15, 2014.

Justiciable question; definition of. A justiciable question is one which is inherently susceptible of being decided on grounds recognized by law, as where the court finds that there are constitutionally-imposed limits on the exercise of the powers conferred on a political branch of the government. Our inquiry is limited to whether such statutory grant of disciplinary authority to the President violates the Constitution, particularly the core constitutional principle of the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman. Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Ombudsman; investigative and disciplinary powers; scope. The Ombudsman’s broad investigative and disciplinary powers include all acts of malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance of all public officials, including Members of the Cabinet and key Executive officers, during their tenure. To support these broad powers, the Constitution saw it fit to insulate the Office of the Ombudsman from the pressures and influences of officialdom and partisan politics and from fear of external reprisal by making it an “independent” office. Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Ombudsman; powers and functions.  Under Section 12, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, the Office of the Ombudsman is envisioned to be the “protector of the people” against the inept, abusive, and corrupt in the Government, to function essentially as a complaints and action bureau. This constitutional vision of a Philippine Ombudsman practically intends to make the Ombudsman an authority to directly check and guard against the ills, abuses, and excesses of the bureaucracy. As the Ombudsman is expected to be an ”activist watchman”, the Court has upheld its actions, although not squarely falling under the broad powers granted it by the Constitution and by R.A. No. 6770, if these actions are reasonably in line with its official function and consistent with the law and the Constitution. Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Private lands acquired for agrarian reform; primary jurisdiction.  The Land Bank of the Philippines is primarily charged with determining land valuation and compensation for all private lands acquired for agrarian reform purposes. But this determination is only preliminary. The landowner may still take the matter of just compensation to the court for final adjudication. Thus, we clarify and reiterate: the original and exclusive jurisdiction over all petitions for the determination of just compensation under R.A. No. 6657 rests with the RTC-SAC. But, in its determination, the RTC-SAC must take into consideration the factors laid down by law and the pertinent DAR regulations. Land Bank of the Philippines v. Yatco Agricultural Enterprises, G.R. No. 172551, January 15, 2014.

Public officer; discourtesy in the performance of official duties. As a public officer and trustee for the public, it is the ever existing responsibility of respondent sheriff to demonstrate courtesy and civility in his official actuations with the public. Based on the transcript of the altercation, it is readily apparent that respondent has indeed been remiss in the duty of observing courtesy in serving the public. He should have exercised restraint in dealing with the complainant, instead of allowing the quarrel to escalate into a hostile encounter. The balm of a clean conscience should have been sufficient to relieve any hurt or harm respondent felt from complainant’s criticisms in the performance of his duties. On the contrary, respondent’s demeanor tarnished the image not only of his office but that of the judiciary as a whole, exposing him to disciplinary measure. Atty. Virgillo P. Alconera v. Alfredo T. Pallanan, A.M. No. P-12-3069, January 20, 2014.

Public officer; making untruthful statements. The charge of making untruthful statements must fail. While the statements mentioned in respondent’s complaint-affidavit were not reflected in the transcript submitted by the complainant, this actuality is not conclusive evidence that such event did not take place. As claimed by respondent, complainant’s clerk was only able to record a part of the argument. We cannot then discount the probability that there is more to the argument than what was caught on video and there remains the possibility that what respondent narrated and what complainant recorded both actually transpired. Atty. Virgillo P. Alconera v. Alfredo T. Pallanan, A.M. No. P-12-3069, January 20, 2014.

Section 8(2) of RA 6770; constitutional;  the Office of the Special Prosecutor is not constitutionally within the Office of the Ombudsman; not entitled to the independence the Office of the Ombudsman enjoys under the Constitution. The Court resolved to maintain the validity of Section 8(2) of R.A. No. 6770 insofar as the Special Prosecutor is concerned. The Court does not consider the Office of the Special Prosecutor to be constitutionally within the Office of the Ombudsman and is, hence, not entitled to the independence the latter enjoys under the Constitution. Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Section 8(2) of RA No. 6770; unconstitutional; vesting of disciplinary authority in the President over the Deputy Ombudsman; violation of the independence of the Ombudsman. In more concrete terms, we rule that subjecting the Deputy Ombudsman to discipline and removal by the President, whose own alter egos and officials in the Executive department are subject to the Ombudsman’s disciplinary authority, cannot but seriously place at risk the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman itself. Section 8(2) of R.A. No. 6770 intruded upon the constitutionally-granted independence of the Office of the Ombudsman. By so doing, the law directly collided not only with the independence that the Constitution guarantees to the Office of the Ombudsman, but inevitably with the principle of checks and balances that the creation of an Ombudsman office seeks to revitalize. What is true for the Ombudsman must equally and necessarily be true for her Deputies who act as agents of the Ombudsman in the performance of their duties. The Ombudsman can hardly be expected to place her complete trust in her subordinate officials who are not as independent as she is, if only because they are subject to pressures and controls external to her Office. This need for complete trust is true in an ideal setting and truer still in a young democracy like the Philippines where graft and corruption is still a major problem for the government. For these reasons, Section 8(2) of R.A. No. 6770, providing that the President may remove a Deputy Ombudsman, should be declared void.  Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

Special Prosecutor; structural relationship with the Ombudsman; the Special Prosecutor is by no means an ordinary subordinate but one who effectively and directly aids the Ombudsman in the exercise of his/her duties, which include investigation and prosecution of officials in the Executive Department.  Congress recognized the importance of the Special Prosecutor as a necessary adjunct of the Ombudsman, aside from his or her deputies, by making the Office of the Special Prosecutor and organic component of the Office of the Ombudsman and by granting the Ombudsman control and supervision over that office. This power of control and supervision includes vesting the Office of the Ombudsman with the power to assign duties to the Special Prosecutor as he or she may deem fit. Even if the Office of the Special Prosecutor is not expressly made part of the composition of the Office of the Ombudsman, the role it performs as an organic component of that Office militates against a differential treatment between the Ombudsman’s Deputies, on one hand, and the Special Prosecutor himself, on the other. What is true for the Ombudsman must be equally true, not only for her Deputies but, also for other lesser officials of that Office who act directly as agents of the Ombudsman herself in the performance of her duties. Emilio A. Gonzales III v. Office of the President, etc., et al./Wendell Bareras-Sulit v. Atty. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 196231/G.R. No. 196232, January 28, 2014.

The invaluable help of Roshni V. Balani in the preparation of this post is gratefully acknowledged.

Advertisements