Dissension in the Court: April 2010

The following are selected decisions promulgated by the High Court in April 2010 where at least one Justice felt compelled to express his or her dissent from the decision penned by the ponente.  In this episode, we have three main events—the last of which was an awaited rematch—that coincidentally, and quite timely, all somehow relate to elections.

Once again, let’s get ready to rumble.

1.              Legislative Redistricting (Perez vs. Carpio and Carpio-Morales)

The provisions of the Constitution that are at issue in Aquino III (aka, “Noynoy” or the uncle of Baby James) and Robredo vs. Comelec are:

ARTICLE VI

The Legislative Department

x     x     x

SECTION 5. (1) The House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than two hundred and fifty members, unless otherwise fixed by law, who shall be elected from legislative districts apportioned among the provinces, cities, and the Metropolitan Manila area in accordance with the number of their respective inhabitants, and on the basis of a uniform and progressive ratio, and those who, as provided by law, shall be elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.

(2) The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.

(3) Each legislative district shall comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact and adjacent territory. Each city with a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand, or each province, shall have at least one representative.

(4) Within three years following the return of every census, the Congress shall make a reapportionment of legislative districts based on the standards provided in this section. (underscoring supplied)

Prior to the enactment of Republic Act 9716 (RA 9716), Camarines Sur was divided into 4 legislative districts with each district having an estimated population of more than 250,000 people.  RA 9716 reconfigured the legislative districts in Camarines Sur so that there became 5 legislative districts with one of such districts having a population of less than 250,000.

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April 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

COA; powers. The 1987 Constitution has made the COA the guardian of public funds, vesting it with broad powers over all accounts pertaining to government revenue and expenditures and the uses of public funds and property including the exclusive authority to define the scope of its audit and examination, establish the techniques and methods for such review, and promulgate accounting and auditing rules and regulations.  Section 11, Chapter 4, Subtitle B, Title I, Book V of the Administrative Code of 1987 echoes this constitutional mandate given to COA.

In light of these express provisions of law granting respondent COA its power and authority, we have previously ruled that its exercise of its general audit power is among the constitutional mechanisms that give life to the check and balance system inherent in our form of government. Furthermore, we have also declared that COA is endowed with enough latitude to determine, prevent and disallow irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant or unconscionable expenditures of government funds.

Based on the foregoing discussion and due to the lack or absence of any law or jurisprudence saying otherwise, we rule that, in resolving cases brought before it on appeal, respondent COA is not required to limit its review only to the grounds relied upon by a government agency’s auditor with respect to disallowing certain disbursements of public funds.  In consonance with its general audit power, respondent COA is not merely legally permitted, but is also duty-bound to make its own assessment of the merits of the disallowed disbursement and not simply restrict itself to reviewing the validity of the ground relied upon by the auditor of the government agency concerned.  To hold otherwise would render COA’s vital constitutional power unduly limited and thereby useless and ineffective.  Ramon R. Yap vs. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 158562, April 23, 2010.

Freedom of expression; LGBT group.  Under our system of laws, every group has the right to promote its agenda and attempt to persuade society of the validity of its position through normal democratic means. It is in the public square that deeply held convictions and differing opinions should be distilled and deliberated upon.

The OSG argues that since there has been neither prior restraint nor subsequent punishment imposed on Ang Ladlad, and its members have not been deprived of their right to voluntarily associate, then there has been no restriction on their freedom of expression or association.

The OSG fails to recall that petitioner has, in fact, established its qualifications to participate in the party-list system, and – as advanced by the OSG itself – the moral objection offered by the COMELEC was not a limitation imposed by law. To the extent, therefore, that the petitioner has been precluded, because of COMELEC’s action, from publicly expressing its views as a political party and participating on an equal basis in the political process with other equally-qualified party-list candidates, we find that there has, indeed, been a transgression of petitioner’s fundamental rights. Ang Ladlad LGBT Party vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 190582, April 8, 2010.

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March 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Constitutionality; justiciable controversy. Courts will not assume jurisdiction over a constitutional question unless the following requisites are satisfied: (1) there must be an actual case calling for the exercise of judicial review; (2) the question before the court must be ripe for adjudication; (3) the person challenging the validity of the act must have standing to do so; (4) the question of constitutionality must have been raised at the earliest opportunity and (5) the issue of constitutionality must be the very lis mota of the case.

Respondents aver that the first three requisites are absent in this case. According to them, there is no actual case calling for the exercise of judicial power and it is not yet ripe for adjudication.

An actual case or controversy involves a conflict of legal rights or an assertion of opposite legal claims which is susceptible of judicial resolution as distinguished from a hypothetical or abstract difference or dispute. On the other hand, a question is considered ripe for adjudication when the act being challenged has a direct adverse effect on the individual challenging it.

Contrary to respondents’ assertion, we do not have to wait until petitioner’s members have shut down their operations as a result of the MCIT or CWT. The assailed provisions are already being implemented. As we stated in Didipio Earth-Savers’ Multi-Purpose Association, Incorporated (DESAMA) v. Gozun: “By the mere enactment of the questioned law or the approval of the challenged act, the dispute is said to have ripened into a judicial controversy even without any other overt act. Indeed, even a singular violation of the Constitution and/or the law is enough to awaken judicial duty.”

If the assailed provisions are indeed unconstitutional, there is no better time than the present to settle such question once and for all.  Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Associations, Inc. Vs. The Hon. Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, et al., G.R. No. 160756, March 9, 2010.

Constitutionality; justiciable controversy. We hold that the petitions set forth an actual case or controversy that is ripe for judicial determination. The reality is that the JBC already commenced the proceedings for the selection of the nominees to be included in a short list to be submitted to the President for consideration of which of them will succeed Chief Justice Puno as the next Chief Justice. Although the position is not yet vacant, the fact that the JBC began the process of nomination pursuant to its rules and practices, although it has yet to decide whether to submit the list of nominees to the incumbent outgoing President or to the next President, makes the situation ripe for judicial determination, because the next steps are the public interview of the candidates, the preparation of the short list of candidates, and the “interview of constitutional experts, as may be needed.”

A part of the question to be reviewed by the Court is whether the JBC properly initiated the process, there being an insistence from some of the oppositors-intervenors that the JBC could only do so once the vacancy has occurred (that is, after May 17, 2010). Another part is, of course, whether the JBC may resume its process until the short list is prepared, in view of the provision of Section 4(1), Article VIII, which unqualifiedly requires the President to appoint one from the short list to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court (be it the Chief Justice or an Associate Justice) within 90 days from the occurrence of the vacancy.

The ripeness of the controversy for judicial determination may not be doubted. The challenges to the authority of the JBC to open the process of nomination and to continue the process until the submission of the list of nominees; the insistence of some of the petitioners to compel the JBC through mandamus to submit the short list to the incumbent President; the counter-insistence of the intervenors to prohibit the JBC from submitting the short list to the incumbent President on the ground that said list should be submitted instead to the next President; the strong position that the incumbent President is already prohibited under Section 15, Article VII from making any appointments, including those to the Judiciary, starting on May 10, 2010 until June 30, 2010; and the contrary position that the incumbent President is not so prohibited are only some of the real issues for determination. All such issues establish the ripeness of the controversy, considering that for some the short list must be submitted before the vacancy actually occurs by May 17, 2010. The outcome will not be an abstraction, or a merely hypothetical exercise. The resolution of the controversy will surely settle – with finality – the nagging questions that are preventing the JBC from moving on with the process that it already began, or that are reasons persuading the JBC to desist from the rest of the process.   Arturo M. De Castro vs. Judicial and Bar Council, et al., G.R. No. 191002, G.R. No. 191032, G.R. No. 191057, A.M. No. 10-2-5-SC, G.R. No. 191149, G.R. No. 191342, March 17, 2010.

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Dissension in the Court: March 2010

Every so often, the members of the Supreme Court, whether sitting in division or En Banc, are unable to arrive at a unanimous position. In those cases, as it is in a boxing match, the Honorable Justices have sometimes been forced to come in from different corners to slug it out.

The following are selected decisions promulgated by the High Court in March 2010 where at least one Justice felt compelled to express his or her dissent from the decision penned by the ponente and the summaries below highlight some issues involved in those cases where the Justices differed in their opinions. Let’s get ready to rumble.

THE UNDERCARDS

1. Mutuality and Conventional Compensation (Peralta vs. Carpio)

In conventional compensation, is it required that the parties be mutual creditors and debtors of each other?

The essential facts in United Planters Sugar Milling Company, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals that are relevant to that query are as follows:

(a)      United Planters Sugar Milling Company, Inc. (UPSUMCO) obtained several loans from Philippine National Bank (PNB).

(b)     To secure UPSUMCO’s obligations to PNB, among other things, UPSUMCO granted PNB contractual rights to set-off against UPSUMCO’s outstanding obligations, moneys of UPSUMCO on deposit with PNB.

(c)     PNB subsequently assigned to the Asset Privatization Trust (APT) all of its “rights, title and interest over UPSUMCO.”

(d)     Following UPSUMCO’s default, moneys in UPSUMCO’s deposit accounts with PNB were applied, without UPSUMCO’s knowledge, against UPSUMCO’s outstanding obligations under the takeoff loans and the operational loans.

As ponente for the majority decision, in denying UPSUMCO’s Motion for Reconsideration, Justice Diosdado Peralta affirmed the earlier decision of the Supreme Court where it upheld the set-off against the UPSUMCO deposit accounts held by PNB to satisfy obligations owed to APT:

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