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.

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August 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional law

Bill of rights; due process.  Due process, as a constitutional precept, does not always and in all situations require a trial-type proceeding.  It is satisfied when a person is notified of the charge against him and given an opportunity to explain or defend himself.  In administrative proceedings, the filing of charges and giving reasonable opportunity for the person so charged to answer the accusations against him constitute the minimum requirements of due process.  More often, this opportunity is conferred through written pleadings that the parties submit to present their charges and defenses.  But as long as a party is given the opportunity to defend his or her interests in due course, said party is not denied due process.  …  Since petitioner was given the opportunity to defend himself from the charges against him, as in fact he submitted a Counter-Affidavit with the PAGC, though he failed to comply with the order for the submission of position paper, he cannot complain of denial of due process.  Dr. Fernando A. Melendres M.D., Executive Director of the Lung Center of the Philippines [LCP] vs. President Anti-Graft Commission, et al., G.R. No. 163859, August 15, 2012.

Bill of rights; unreasonable searches; exclusionary rule Section 2, Article III of the Constitution mandates that a search and seizure must be carried out through or on the strength of a judicial warrant predicated upon the existence of probable cause, absent which such search and seizure becomes “unreasonable” within the meaning of said constitutional provision.  Evidence obtained and confiscated on the occasion of such an unreasonable search and seizure is tainted and should be excluded for being the proverbial fruit of a poisonous tree.  In the language of the fundamental law, it shall be inadmissible in evidence for any purpose in any proceeding.  Margarita Ambre Y Cayuni v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 191532, August 15, 2012.

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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…

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Vacancy in the Senate

On 14 July 2007, the Commission on Elections declared Juan Miguel Zubiri the 12th elected senatorial candidate in the 2007 elections, narrowly prevailing over rival candidate Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel by a margin of 19,292 votes.  The other day, on 3 August 2011 (more than four years after his proclamation), Mr. Zubiri resigned from the Senate amidst renewed allegations of cheating during the 2007 polls.

Questions on the validity of the 2007 electoral results had resurfaced in the wake of disclosures made last month by Zaldy Ampatuan (former Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, who is currently facing charges relating to the massacre of 58 persons in late 2009, during preparations for the 2010 national election).  According to Mr. Ampatuan, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the rigging of the 2007 senatorial elections.  Mr. Ampatuan claims that the former President  ordered his father, then-Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., to transfer all votes cast for senatorial candidates Panfilo Lacson, Alan Peter Cayetano and Benigno Aquino III (who was subsequently elected President in 2010) to the candidates belonging to then-President Arroyo’s senatorial slate (which included Mr. Zubiri).  These allegations were corroborated several days later when former Maguindanao Election Supervisor Lintang Bedol reappeared after four years in hiding.  According to Mr. Bedol, he was instructed by the senior Ampatuan to rig the 2007 elections in favor of administration candidates.

Unfortunately for Mr. Pimentel, however, Mr. Zubiri’s resignation will not automatically elevate Mr. Pimentel to the Senate.  Unless the official results of the 2007 senatorial elections are reviewed and overturned, Mr. Pimentel will continue to be viewed as having received the 13th most votes in those elections and therefore, not entitled to a Senate seat.

How are Senate vacancies filled?  Under Article VI, Section 9 of the 1987 Constitution, in the case of a vacancy in the Senate, a special election may be called to fill the vacancy “in the manner prescribed by law,” provided that the Senator thus elected will serve only for the unexpired term.  This is operationalized by Section 4 of Republic Act No. 7166 (1991), which provides:

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Same sex marriage

On 24 June 2011, the New York legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage.  Following suit, on 26 June, the Metropolitan Community Church of Metro Baguio hosted a mass same-sex marriage ceremony, preceding the 5th Baguio Lesbian, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender Pride Parade.  The National Statistics Office has announced, however, that the Baguio marriages celebrated on 26 June in Baguio City have “no legal binding effect” and cannot be registered in the NSO.

Previously, in 2006, Senator Rodolfo Biazon  and his son, Representative Rozano Biazon, filed bills to amend the Philippine Family Code to explicitly provide that a “marriage” must take place between  a natural-born male and a natural-born female.  Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago also filed a bill which seeks to expressly bar local recognition of same-sex marriages celebrated abroad.

As is the case in several other jurisdictions, the Philippine legal framework does not recognize marriages between persons of the same gender.  The Family Code defines marriage as a “special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal and family life.”  (Emphasis supplied.)  In Silverio vs. Republic (G.R. No. 174689,  19 October 2007), a man who had undergone sex reassignment surgery (i.e., a “male-to-female post-operative transsexual,” as described by the Supreme Court) sought to change his name and gender  in his birth certificate to reflect what (s)he believed was his(her) true sexual identity.  Through Justice Renato Corona, the Supreme Court denied the petition, and held—

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Investors await issuance of FIT rates

Several governments around the world have adopted policies aimed at promoting the development of renewable energy sources and reducing their dependence on traditional sources of energy (e.g., fossil fuels).  One of these policies is the adoption of a feed-in tariff (or FIT).

The Philippines is no exception.  The Philippine Renewable Energy Act (RE Act) provides for the establishment of a feed-in tariff (FIT) system.  Under the envisioned system, electricity produced from wind, solar, ocean, run-of-river hydroelectric and biomass energy resources, as well as RE components of hybrid systems, is entitled to priority connection to the Philippine electric grid and to priority purchase, transmission and payment at a fixed price.

The Philippine FIT system has been in the news several times over the past few months.  The specific FIT rates for each type of technology (e.g., for wind and solar) were supposed to have been issued on 31 March 2011.  However, the Department of Energy announced that they would need more time to complete a study on how to feed energy from the various RE technologies into the Philippines’ energy grid without creating problems.  In the meantime, alliances of interested investors in wind and solar technologies have been concentrating their efforts on having favorable rates approved.  The new rates are now targeted to be issued by 15 May 2011.

But how is the FIT system envisioned to work?

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In the News: Selective Prosecution

One of the issues highlighted by the recent charges of corruption leveled against former AFP Chief of Staff and Cabinet Secretary Angelo T. Reyes (following which he chose to end his life by his own hand) is the risk of being subjected to selective and malicious prosecution by one’s political enemies.  Some quarters have taken the view that it was manifestly unfair for Secretary Reyes to have been subjected to intense and hostile questioning by his political opponents before the Senate (with full media coverage or “trial by publicity”).  Based on what are reported to be some of Secretary Reyes’ final words on this issue (see link to a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism here), it appears that the assailed systems and “traditions” within the AFP were extant at the time he joined the service.  Some have theorized that there are other, more powerful persons behind the scenes who are far more deserving of punishment, but have managed to evade prosecution due to their political connections.

Is selective prosecution a valid defense under Philippine law?

The case of Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 119322, 4 June 1996) is of some guidance.  In that case, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue filed a complaint against Fortune Tobacco Corporation and several of its officers for tax evasion.  One of the defenses raised was that the accused were being singled out for criminal prosecution in a discriminatory fashion, thus violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

The Court found that the prosecutors had excluded certain evidence that would have shown that other tobacco companies had paid the taxes on the same basis and in the same manner as had Fortune (and yet, according to the accused, were not similarly charged with tax evasion).  According to the Court, this indicated that only Fortune was singled out for prosecution.  However, the Court stopped short of making a categorical statement that selective prosecution is a valid defense, as there were other grounds on which the Court based its acquittal of Fortune and the other accused.

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