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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In the News: Trendsetting

Traditionally, the results of Philippine national and local elections were not available until several weeks after the day of the election.  While the votes were being counted manually, candidates exchanged charges of vote-padding and vote-shaving (dagdag-bawas) and other forms of cheating, marring the credibility of our elections.

The 2010 elections saw the implementation of an automated election system.  New precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that would count votes electronically were heralded as the solution to the Philippines’ election woes. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) even declared that the election results would be available only several hours after the voting, thereby minimizing the risk of election cheating.

True enough, the COMELEC began publishing the results as early as the evening immediately following the election.  The polls closed at 7:00 p.m. of May 10, and by 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. of the same day, tallies showing that millions of votes had been counted were published by the COMELEC through the media.  Although the tallies were labeled as “partial, unofficial, uncanvassed” election results, the release of this information contributed greatly to the perception that the 2010 Philippine elections were generally clean and honest, and helped boost an uptick in the local markets.

Despite its earlier declaration that the results would be available within several hours, however, the release of the “unofficial” results slowed markedly in the days that followed.  Eventually, the COMELEC ceased to publish the results of its internal tally altogether, reportedly after having been put on notice by various candidates that such publication constituted a violation of applicable laws.  Some candidates alleged that by releasing “unofficial” results, the COMELEC was engaged in “trending,” or conditioning the public to believe that a particular candidate or set of candidates was winning.

Philippine law does not specifically define “trending,” but it is generally understood to mean “to turn in a specified direction.”  In the context of an election, “trending” can mean the phenomenon where the release of partial election results, or worse, selected election results  (showing that one candidate is leading), influences other voters who have not yet cast their votes.  Although theoretically, this could happen in the Philippines (e.g., where exit poll results are released in the middle of the day of the election), trending might be more relevant in countries that span more than one time zone, in cases where poll results are made available from one electoral district when another electoral district has not yet opened for voting.

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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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August 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are selected August 2009 Philippine Supreme Court decisions on political law:

Constitutional law

Congress; legislative immunity.  The immunity Senator Santiago claims is rooted primarily on the provision of Article VI, Section 11 of the Constitution.

As American jurisprudence puts it, this legislative privilege is founded upon long experience and arises as a means of perpetuating inviolate the functioning process of the legislative department. Without parliamentary immunity, parliament, or its equivalent, would degenerate into a polite and ineffective debating forum. Legislators are immune from deterrents to the uninhibited discharge of their legislative duties, not for their private indulgence, but for the public good. The privilege would be of little value if they could be subjected to the cost and inconvenience and distractions of a trial upon a conclusion of the pleader, or to the hazard of a judgment against them based upon a judge’s speculation as to the motives.

This Court is aware of the need and has in fact been in the forefront in upholding the institution of parliamentary immunity and promotion of free speech. Neither has the Court lost sight of the importance of the legislative and oversight functions of the Congress that enable this representative body to look diligently into every affair of government, investigate and denounce anomalies, and talk about how the country and its citizens are being served. Courts do not interfere with the legislature or its members in the manner they perform their functions in the legislative floor or in committee rooms. Any claim of an unworthy purpose or of the falsity and mala fides of the statement uttered by the member of the Congress does not destroy the privilege. The disciplinary authority of the assembly and the voters, not the courts, can properly discourage or correct such abuses committed in the name of parliamentary immunity.

For the above reasons, the plea of Senator Santiago for the dismissal of the complaint for disbarment or disciplinary action is well taken. Indeed, her privilege speech is not actionable criminally or in a disciplinary proceeding under the Rules of Court. It is felt, however, that this could not be the last word on the matter. Antero J. Pobre vs. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, A.C. No. 7399. August 25, 2009.

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Legalese 2009 (Week 30)

Lexicon

Regular session – the session of Congress that begins from from the time it convenes on the fourth Monday of July, and which session continues for such number of days as Congress may determine until 30 days before the opening of the next regular session.

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