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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Dissension in the Court: July 2013

In a decision penned by Justice Peralta and promulgated last July 1, 2013, the Third Division of the Supreme Court ruled that just compensation for property taken by the government in 1940 should be Php0.70/sqm, its fair market value (FMV) at the time of taking, and not Php10,000/sqm, its FMV at the time of filing of the claim for just compensation by the landowners in 1995, nor Php1,500/sqm, its reasonable value as determined by the Provincial Appraisal Committee (PAC) appointed by the lower court in 1999 to determine just compensation.

Private respondents owned land in Bulacan that was taken by the DPWH in 1940 and used for the construction of the MacArthur Highway, without the owners’ consent and without the necessary expropriation proceedings.  In 1994, respondents demanded payment of the FMV of the land but petitioner DPWH District Engineer Contreras offered to pay Php0.70/sqm per resolution of the PAC of Bulacan.  Unsatisfied with the offer, respondents demanded the return of their property or the payment of compensation at current FMV.  As their demand remained unheeded, respondents filed a Complaint on March 1995 for recovery of possession with damages against petitioners DPWH Secretary and DPWH District Engineer.

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Dissension in the Court: June 2013

By a vote of seven justices, with three inhibiting, one absent, and four dissenting, the Supreme Court – in a decision penned by J. Perez and promulgated last June 25, 2013 – dismissed this petition for certiorari assailing the earlier Resolutions of public respondent COMELEC which ordered the cancellation of petitioner’s Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) for the position of Representative of the lone district of Marinduque.

This case stemmed from a petition to deny due course or to cancel petitioner Reyes’s CoC filed on October 2012 by private respondent Tan with the COMELEC alleging that Reyes misrepresented in her CoC that (a) she is single and a resident of Marinduque, when she is married to Rep. Mandanas of Bauan, Batangas and a resident of that town (and also of Quezon City as admitted in the Directory of Congressional Spouses of the House of Representatives), and (b) she is a Filipino citizen and not a permanent resident of another country, when she is an American citizen and a permanent resident of the United States.

In her answer, Reyes averred that (a) she is not legally married to Rep. Mandanas, thus his residence cannot be attributed to her, and (b) the evidence presented by Tan does not support the allegation that she is a permanent resident or citizen of the United States.

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SEC Guidelines on Compliance with Filipino-Foreign Ownership Requirements

The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued Memorandum Circular No. 8-2013 on May 20, 2013. The Circular sets out the guidelines to determine compliance with the required percentage of Filipino-foreign ownership in corporations engaged in nationalized and partly-nationalized activities.

Nationalized activities refer to those areas of investments which are completely or partly reserved to Philippine nationals pursuant to the 1987 Constitution, the Foreign Investments Act, as amended (“FIA”), and other existing laws such as the Retail Trade Liberalization Act.

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Dissension in the Court: April 2013

The 1987 Constitution allows only one (1) member of a bicameral Congress to sit in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). This, according to the Supreme Court in a majority decision penned by J. Mendoza and promulgated last April 16, 2013, was the intention of the framers of the Constitution who conceived of the JBC as an independent body representative of all the stakeholders in the judicial appointment process to recommend nominees to the President in order to rid such process of partisan political activities, and carefully worded Section 8, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution in this wise:

Section 8. (1) A Judicial and Bar Council is hereby created under the supervision of the Supreme Court composed of the Chief Justice as ex officio Chairman, the Secretary of Justice, and a representative of the Congress as ex officio Members, a representative of the Integrated Bar, a professor of law, retired Member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector.

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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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