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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July 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected July 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law.

Constitutional Law

Court proceedings; denial of due process.  The SC here ruled that the Energy Regulatory Commission did not deprive petitioners of their right to be heard.  Where opportunity to be heard either through oral arguments or through pleadings is granted, there is no denial of due process. In this case, prior to the issuance of the assailed ERC Decision approving Meralco’s application for rate increase, petitioners were given several opportunities to attend the hearings and to present all their pleadings and evidence.  Petitioners voluntarily failed to appear in most of those hearings.  Although the ERC erred in prematurely issuing its Decision (as the same was issued prior to the lapse of the period for petitioners to file their comment on the application), its subsequent act of ordering petitioners to file their comments on another party’s motion for reconsideration cured this defect. Even though petitioners never filed their own motion for reconsideration, the fact that they were still given notice of the other motion and the opportunity to file their comments renders immaterial ERC’s failure to admit their comment on the rate application.  National Association of Electricity Consumers of reforms, Inc. [Nasecore], et al. vs. Energy Regulator Commission (ERC), et al., G.R. No. 190795. July 6, 2011.

Value added tax on toll fees; non-impairment clause.  Petitioners argue that since VAT was never factored into the formula for computing toll fees under the Toll Operation Agreements, its imposition would violate the non-impairment of contract clause of the constitution.  The SC held that Petitioner Timbol has no personality to invoke the non-impairment clause on behalf of private investors in the tollway projects.  She will neither be prejudiced nor affected by the alleged diminution in return of investments that may result from the VAT imposition.  She has no interest in the profits to be earned under the TOAs. The interest in and right to recover investments belongs solely to the private tollway investors. Renato V. Diaz and Aurora Ma. F. Timbol vs. The Secretary of Finance and the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, G.R. No. 193007. July 19, 2011.

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May 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected May 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law.

Constitutional Law

Declaration of unconstitutionality; doctrine of operative fact.  An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office; it is inoperative as if it has not been passed at all.  The doctrine of operative fact is an exception this rule.  It applies as a matter of equity and fair play, and nullifies the effects of an unconstitutional law by recognizing that the existence of a statute prior to a determination of unconstitutionality is an operative fact and may have consequences that cannot always be ignored. It applies when a declaration of unconstitutionality will impose an undue burden on those who have relied on the invalid law.  The doctrine cannot be applied to this case, as to hold otherwise would be iniquitous to petitioner who was illegally dismissed from employment and would allow his employer to profit from a violation of an unconstitutional provision of law.  Claudio S. Yap v. Thenamaris Ship’s Management and Intermare Maritime Agencies, Inc., G.R. No. 179532. May 30, 2011.

Judicial review; review of executive policy.  Petitioner here seeks judicial review of a question of Executive policy, which the Court ruled is outside its jurisdiction.  Despite the definition of judicial power under Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution, the determination of where, as between two possible routes, to construct a road extension is not within the province of courts.  Such determination belongs exclusively to the Executive branch.  Barangay Captain Beda Torrecampo v. Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, et al., G.R. No. 188296. May 30, 2011.

Administrative Law; Public Officers

Administrative cases; due process.  Petitioners argue that they were denied due process because their order of dismissal was not accompanied by any justification from the Board of Directors of Philippine Estates Authority, which merely relied on the findings of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission.  The Court dismissed this argument on the basis that petitioners were given the opportunity to be heard in the course of PAGC’s investigation.  The essence of due process in administrative proceedings is the opportunity to explain one’s side or seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of, and to submit any evidence a party may have in support of his defense. The demands of due process are sufficiently met when the parties are given the opportunity to be heard before judgment is rendered.  Petitioners here actively participated in the proceedings before PAGC where they were afforded the opportunity to explain their actions through their memoranda.  The essence of due process is the right to be heard and this evidently was afforded to them.  Theron V. Lacson v. The Hon. Executive Secretary, et al./Jaime R. Millan and Bernardo T. Viray v. The Hon. Executive Secretary, et al., G.R. No. 165399 & 165475/G.R. No. 165404 & 165489. May 30, 2011.

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February 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected February 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law.

Constitutional Law

Administrative cases; right to be presumed innocent. The trial court was correct in declaring that respondents had the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. This means that an employee who has a pending administrative case filed against him is given the benefit of the doubt and is considered innocent until the contrary is proven. In this case, respondents were placed under preventive suspension for 90 days from 23 May 2002 to 21 August 2002. After serving the period of their preventive suspension and without the administrative case being finally resolved, respondents should have been reinstated and entitled to the grant of step increment. The Board of Trustees of the Government Service Insurance System, et al. v. Albert M. Velasco, et al. G.R. No. 170463, February 2, 2011.

Equal Protection; valid classification. Petitioners argue that there is no substantial distinction between municipalities with pending cityhood bills in the 11th Congress and municipalities that did not have pending bills, such that the mere pendency of a cityhood bill in the 11th Congress is not a material difference to distinguish one municipality from another for the purpose of the income requirement. The SC held that the purpose of the enactment of R.A. No 9009 was merely to stop the “mad rush of municipalities wanting to be converted into cities” and the apprehension that before long the country will be a country of cities and without municipalities. It found that the imposition of the P100 million average annual income requirement for the creation of component cities was arbitrarily made as there was no evidence or empirical data, such as inflation rates, to support the choice of this amount.  The imposition of a very high income requirement of P100 million, increased from P20 million, was simply to make it extremely difficult for municipalities to become component cities. The SC also found that substantial distinction lies in the capacity and viability of respondent municipalities to become component cities of their respective provinces.  Congress, by enacting the Cityhood Laws, recognized this capacity and viability of respondent municipalities to become the State’s partners in accelerating economic growth and development in the provincial regions, which is the very thrust of the LGC, manifested by the pendency of their cityhood bills during the 11th Congress and their relentless pursuit for cityhood up to the present. League of Cities of the Phil. etc., et al. v. COMELEC, et al./League of Cities of the Phil. etc., et al. v. COMELEC, et al./League of Cities of the Phil. etc., et al. v. COMELEC, et al. G.R. No. 176951/G.R. No. 177499/G.R. No. 178056, February 15, 2011.

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January 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Bill of Rights; Rights under custodial investigation. As found by the Court of Appeals, (1) there is no evidence of compulsion or duress or violence on the person of Nagares; (2) Nagares did not complain to the officers administering the oath during the taking of his sworn statement; (3) he did not file any criminal or administrative complaint against his alleged malefactors for maltreatment; (4) no marks of violence were observed on his body; and (5) he did not have himself examined by a physician to support his claim. Moreover, appellant’s confession is replete with details, which, according to the SC, made it highly improbable that it was not voluntarily given. Further, the records show that Nagares was duly assisted by an effective and independent counsel during the custodial investigation in the NBI. As found by the Court of Appeals, after Nagares was informed of his constitutional rights, he was asked by Atty. Esmeralda E. Galang whether he accepts her as counsel. During the trial, Atty. Galang testified on the extent of her assistance. According to her, she thoroughly explained to Nagares his constitutional rights, advised him not to answer matters he did not know, and if he did not want to answer any question, he may inform Atty. Galang who would be the one to relay his refusal to the NBI agents. She was also present during the entire investigation. Thus, the SC held that there was no duress or violence imposed on the person of Nagares during the custodial investigation and that Nagares was duly assisted by an independent counsel during such investigation in the NBI. People of the Philippines vs. Rodolfo Capitle and Arutor Nagares, G.R. No. 175330, January 12, 2010.

Bill of Rights; Double jeopardy. As a rule, a judgment of acquittal cannot be reconsidered because it places the accused under double jeopardy. On occasions, however, a motion for reconsideration after an acquittal is possible.  But the grounds are exceptional and narrow as when the court that absolved the accused gravely abused its discretion, resulting in loss of jurisdiction, or when a mistrial has occurred. In any of such cases, the State may assail the decision by special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65. Here, although complainant Vizconde invoked the exceptions, he was not able to bring his pleas for reconsideration under such exceptions. Complainant Vizconde cited the decision in Galman v. Sandiganbayan as authority that the Court can set aside the acquittal of the accused in the present case.  But the Court observed that the government proved in Galman that the prosecution was deprived of due process since the judgment of acquittal in that case was “dictated, coerced and scripted.”  It was a sham trial.  In this case, however, Vizconde does not allege that the Court held a sham review of the decision of the CA.  He has made out no case that the Court held a phony deliberation such that the seven Justices who voted to acquit the accused, the four who dissented, and the four who inhibited themselves did not really go through the process. Antonio Lejano vs. People of the Philippines / People of the Philippines vs. Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, et al., G.R. No. 176389/G.R. No. 176864. January 18, 2011.

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December 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected December 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law.

Emancipation patent; issuance. Following are the steps in transferring land to a tenant-tiller under Presidential Decree No. 27: (a) identification of tenant, landowner, and the land covered; (b) land survey and sketching of portion actually cultivated by the tenant to determine parcel size, boundaries, and possible land use; (c) issuance of Certificate of Land Transfer; (d) valuation of the land for purposes of computing the amortization; (e) amortization payments of the tenant-tiller over a 15-year period; and (f) issuance of Emancipation Patent.  In this case, there is no evidence that these steps were followed. There are several supporting documents that the tenant-farmer must submit before he can receive the Emancipation Patent. The Supreme Court found that majority of these supporting documents is lacking. Hence, it was improper for the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board to order the issuance of the Emancipation Patent in favor of respondent. There was also no sufficient evidence to prove that respondent has fully paid the value of the land. Full payment of just compensation is required prior to issuance of Emancipation Patents. Renato Reyes, represented by Ramon Reyes vs Leopoldo Barrios, G.R. No. 172841, December 15, 2010.

Equal protection clause; concept.  The Court here struck down Executive Order No. 1 (which created the Truth Commission) for violating the equal protection clause.  The clear mandate of the Truth Commission is to investigate and find out the truth “concerning the reported cases of graft and corruption during the previous administrationonly. The intent to single out the previous administration was plain, patent and manifest.  According to the Court, the Arroyo administration is a member of a class, that is, the class of past administrations.  It is not a class of its own. Not to include in the Commission’s mandate past administrations similarly situated constitutes arbitrariness, which the equal protection clause cannot sanction.  Although Section 17 gives the President discretion to expand the scope of investigations of the Commission so as to include acts of graft and corruption committed in other past administrations, it does not guarantee that they would be covered in the future.  This expanded mandate of the Commission will still depend on the discretion of the President.  If he decides not to include them, the provision would be meaningless. Louis “Barok” C. Biraogo vs. The Philippine Truth Commission of 2010 / Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, et al. vs. Exec. Sec. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 192935 & G.R. No. 19303, December 7, 2010.

Judicial review; requisites. Judicial review requires the following: (1) an actual case or controversy calling for the exercise of judicial power; (2) the person challenging the act must have the standing to question the validity of the act or issuance; (3) the question of constitutionality must be raised at the earliest opportunity; and (4) the issue of constitutionality must be the very subject matter of the case. As to standing, the Court here held that petitioners, who are legislators, met the requirement as they are questioning the constitutionality of Executive Order No. 1 creating the Truth Commission on the basis that the latter’s mandate constitutes usurpation of the power of the Congress.  However, with regard to the petitioner who is questioning EO No. 1 as a taxpayer, the Court held that he had no standing since he has not shown that he sustained, or is in danger of sustaining, any personal and direct injury attributable to the implementation of that EO.  The Court took cognizance of the case as the matter involved was of transcendental importance.  Louis “Barok” C. Biraogo vs. The Philippine Truth Commission of 2010 / Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, et al. vs. Exec. Sec. Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 192935 & G.R. No. 19303, December 7, 2010.

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September 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected September 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law:

Constitutional Law

Constitutionality; Presidential Proclamation 310; inalienable lands.  The Court declared as unconstitutional Presidential Proclamation 310, which took 670 hectares from petitioner’s registered lands for distribution to indigenous peoples and cultural communities, on the basis that such lands are inalienable, being part of the functions of an educational institution.  It did not matter that it was President Arroyo who, in this case, attempted by proclamation to appropriate the lands for distribution to indigenous peoples and cultural communities.  The lands by their character have become inalienable from the moment President Garcia dedicated them for petitioner’s use in scientific and technological research in the field of agriculture.  They have ceased to be alienable public lands.  Central Mindanao University, etc. vs. The Hon. Executive Secretary, et al. G.R. No. 184869, September 21, 2010.

Constitutionality; Retail Trade Liberalization Act of 2000.  The Court dismissed petitioners’ argument that Republic Act No. 8762, known as the Retail Trade Liberalization Act of 200, violates the mandate of the 1987 Constitution for the State to develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos.  The provisions of Article II of the 1987 Constitution, the declarations of principles and state policies, are not self-executing.  Legislative failure to pursue such policies cannot give rise to a cause of action in the courts.  Further, while Section 19, Article II of the 1987 Constitution requires the development of a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipino entrepreneurs, it does not impose a policy of Filipino monopoly of the economic environment.  The objective is simply to prohibit foreign powers or interests from maneuvering our economic policies and ensure that Filipinos are given preference in all areas of development.  The 1987 Constitution takes into account the realities of the outside world as it requires the pursuit of a trade policy that serves the general welfare and utilizes all forms and arrangements of exchange on the basis of equality and reciprocity; and speaks of industries which are competitive in both domestic and foreign markets as well as of the protection of Filipino enterprises against unfair foreign competition and trade practices.  Thus, while the Constitution mandates a bias in favor of Filipino goods, services, labor and enterprises, it also recognizes the need for business exchange with the rest of the world on the bases of equality and reciprocity and limits protection of Filipino enterprises only against foreign competition and trade practices that are unfair.  In other words, the 1987 Constitution does not rule out the entry of foreign investments, goods, and services. While it does not encourage their unlimited entry into the country, it does not prohibit them either.  In fact, it allows an exchange on the basis of equality and reciprocity, frowning only on foreign competition that is unfair. The key, as in all economies in the world, is to strike a balance between protecting local businesses and allowing the entry of foreign investments and services.  More important, Section 10, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution gives Congress the discretion to reserve to Filipinos certain areas of investments upon the recommendation of the National Economic and Development Authority and when the national interest requires.  Thus, Congress can determine what policy to pass and when to pass it depending on the economic exigencies.  It can enact laws allowing the entry of foreigners into certain industries not reserved by the Constitution to Filipino citizens.  In this case, Congress has decided to open certain areas of the retail trade business to foreign investments instead of reserving them exclusively to Filipino citizens.

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