Changing Rules on the Party List System

Much like a swinging pendulum, the decision of the Supreme Court on which parties compose the party list system swings from one side to the other. Previously, the Supreme Court limited the party list system to representatives of marginalized and underprivileged sectors. In Atong Paglaum v. COMELEC (G.R. Nos. 203766, et al., April 2, 2013), the latest in the series of party list cases, the pendulum now points to the opposite side.

The New Ruling

Atong Paglaum involved 54 Petitions for Certiorari and Petitions for Certiorari and Prohibition filed by 52 party-list groups against COMELEC for disqualifying them from participating in the May 13, 2013 party-list elections. One of the main reasons for the disqualification was their failure to represent the marginalized and underrepresented.

Two issues were presented:

(1)          Whether COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion in disqualifying the petitioners from participating in the May 2013 elections; and

(2)          Whether the criteria for participating in the party-list system laid down in Ang Bagong Bayani v. COMELEC (ABB) and BANAT v. COMELEC (BANAT) should be applied by the COMELEC in the coming May 2013 elections.

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New Law Aims to Strengthen Anti-Money Laundering Regulations

Last February 15, 2013, the President signed into law Republic Act No. 10365 or the “Act Further Strengthening the Anti-Money Laundering Law.” True to its name, the third amending law to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (“AMLA”) gave it more teeth and strengthened the government’s ability to prevent and prosecute money laundering. The following discusses the new amendments to the AMLA.

Sections 1, 2 and 3

The first section of the amending law added the following to the list of covered persons under the AMLA. The amendment reads:

“Section 3(a). ‘Covered persons’, natural or juridical, refer to:

(4) jewelry dealers in precious metals, who, as a business, trade in precious metals, for transactions in excess of One million pesos (P1,000,000.00);

(5) jewelry dealers in precious stones, who, as a business, trade in precious stones, for transactions in excess of One million pesos (P1,000,000.00);

(6) company service providers which, as a business, provide any of the following services to third parties:

(i) acting as a formation agent of juridical persons;

(ii) acting as (or arranging for another person to act as) a director or corporate secretary of a company, a partner of a partnership, or a similar position in relation to other juridical persons;

(iii) providing a registered office, business address or accommodation, correspondence or administrative address for a company, a partnership or any other legal person or arrangement; and (iv) acting as (or arranging for another person to act as) a nominee shareholder for another person; and

(7) persons who provide any of the following services:

(i) managing of client money, securities or other assets;

(ii) management of bank, savings or securities accounts;

(iii) organization of contributions for the creation, operation or management of companies; and

(iv) creation, operation or management of juridical persons or arrangements, and buying and selling business entities.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the term ‘covered persons’ shall exclude lawyers and accountants acting as independent legal professionals in relation to information concerning their clients or where disclosure of information would compromise client confidences or the attorney-client relationship: Provided, That these lawyers and accountants are authorized to practice in the Philippines and shall continue to be subject to the provisions of their respective codes of conduct and/or professional responsibility or any of its amendments.”

It is noteworthy that the amendment excluded lawyers and accountants acting as independent legal professionals with respect to information concerning their clients and privileged communication.

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The RH Law: The Debate Continues

It took thirteen years, four months, and five days of heated debates and passionate protests before the country’s first reproductive health law was passed. Four days shy of Christmas last year, President Aquino finally signed the 24-page bill into law. It is now Republic Act No. 10354 or The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RH Law).

The passing of the RH Law, however, does by no means close this chapter of Philippine history. In fact, the legal ramifications plaguing the law are more prevalent than ever since the provisions thereof now have force and effect. The following discusses the significant provisions of the law and the issues surrounding them.

Reproductive Health Services

Section 7 of the RH Law provides that health care facilities, either public or private, are required to offer modern family planning methods to patients:

SEC. 7. Access to Family Planning. – All accredited public health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods…Provided, That family planning services shall likewise be extended by private health facilities to paying patients with the option to grant free care and services to indigents, except in the case of non-maternity specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group…Provided, finally, That the person is not in an emergency condition or serious case as defined in Republic Act No. 8344. (emphasis supplied)

The law used the term “shall” to express the mandatory nature of the provision. The Supreme Court in the case of Tan v. Link (G.R. No. 172849, December 10, 2008) ruled that “the term ‘shall’ is a word of command, one which has always been or which must be given a compulsory meaning, and it is generally imperative or mandatory.”

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February 2012 Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected February 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law.

Constitutional Law

Autonomous Region; plebiscite requirement. Section 18, Article X of the Constitution provides that “the creation of the autonomous region shall be effective when approved by majority of the votes cast by the constituent units in a plebiscite called for the purpose.”  The Supreme Court interpreted this to mean that only amendments to, or revisions of, the Organic Act constitutionally-essential to the creation of autonomous regions – i.e., those aspects specifically mentioned in the Constitution which Congress must provide for in the Organic Act– require ratification through a plebiscite.   While it agrees with the petitioners’ underlying premise that sovereignty ultimately resides with the people, it disagrees that this legal reality necessitates compliance with the plebiscite requirement for all amendments to RA No. 9054. For if we were to go by the petitioners’ interpretation of Section 18, Article X of the Constitution that all amendments to the Organic Act have to undergo the plebiscite requirement before becoming effective, this would lead to impractical and illogical results – hampering the ARMM’s progress by impeding Congress from enacting laws that timely address problems as they arise in the region, as well as weighing down the ARMM government with the costs that unavoidably follow the holding of a plebiscite. Also, Sec. 3 of R.A. No. 10153 cannot be seen as changing the basic structure of the ARMM regional government. On the contrary, this provision clearly preserves the basic structure of the ARMM regional government when it recognizes the offices of the ARMM regional government and directs the OICs who shall temporarily assume these offices to “perform the functions pertaining to the said offices.” Datu Michael Abas Kida, etc., et al. vs. Senate of the Phil., etc., et al./Basari D. Mapupuno vs. Sixto Brillantes, etc., et al./Rep. Edcel C. Lagman vs. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., etc., et al./Almarin Centi Tillah, et al. vs. The Commission on Elections, etc., et al./Atty. Romulo B. Macalintal vs. Commission on Elections, et al./Luis “Barok” Biraogo, G.R. No. 196271, February 28, 2012.

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January 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected January 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law.

Constitutional Law

Bill of Rights; right to speedy trial versus right to speedy disposition of cases. The right to a speedy trial is available only to an accused and is a peculiarly criminal law concept, while the broader right to a speedy disposition of cases may be tapped in any proceedings conducted by state agencies. In this case, the appropriate right involved is the right to a speedy disposition of cases, the recovery of ill-gotten wealth being a civil suit. An examination of the petitioners’ arguments and the cited indicia of delay would reveal the absence of any allegation that petitioners moved before the Sandiganbayan for the dismissal of the case on account of vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays that attended the proceedings. Petitioners are deemed to have waived their right to a speedy disposition of the case. Moreover, delays, if any, prejudiced the Republic as well. What is more, the alleged breach of the right in question was not raised below. As a matter of settled jurisprudence, but subject to equally settled exception, an issue not raised before the trial court cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. Philippine Coconut Producers Federation, Inc. (COCOFED), et al. vs. Republic of the Philippines; Wigberto E. Tanada, et al., intervenors; Danilo S. Ursua vs. Republic of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 177857-58 & G.R. No. 178193, January 24, 2012.

Constitutionality of PD 755, 961, 1468. This case cannot be resolved without going into the constitutionality of P.D. Nos. 755, 961 and 1468 in particular. For petitioners predicate their claim over the sequestered shares and necessarily their cause on laws and martial law issuances assailed by the respondent on constitutional grounds. This case is for the recovery of shares grounded on the invalidity of certain enactments, which in turn is rooted in the shares being public in character, purchased as they were by funds raised by the taxing and/or a mix of taxing and police powers of the state. As may be recalled, P.D. No. 755, under the policy-declaring provision, authorized the distribution of UCPB shares of stock free to coconut farmers. On the other hand, Section 2 of P.D. No. 755 authorized the PCA to utilize portions of the CCSF to pay the financial commitment of the farmers to acquire UCPB and to deposit portions of the CCSF levies with UCPB interest free. The CCSF, CIDF and like levies that Philippine Coconut Authority is authorized to collect shall be considered as non-special or fiduciary funds to be transferred to the general fund of the Government, meaning they shall be deemed private funds.

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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.

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October 2011 Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

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

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

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