Dissension in the Court: October 2010

The following are decisions promulgated by the High Court in October 2010 where at least one Justice felt compelled to express his or her dissent from the decision penned by the ponente.

When is a case really final?  When can the High Court review a lower tribunal’s findings of fact? To some extent, each of the cases cited below deal with a long-standing rule and its’ exceptions that are, at the end of the day, really very broad.  The wide expanse of these exceptions is a fertile ground upon which Justices may disagree.  So with this background, and in the wake of the forthcoming Pacquiao-Margarito bout, it is timely to once again declare, “Let’s get ready to rumble!

1.            Interest and Immutability (Brion v. Bersamin)

The decision and dissent in the case of Apo Fruits Corporation and Hijo Plantation, Inc. vs. Land Bank of the Philippines promulgated on October 12, 2010 essentially involved a divergence of positions on: (a) the conditions in which a 12% legal interest may be imposed in the payment of just compensation, and (b) the principle of immutability of judgments.

A.   Legal Interest

In the main decision, Justice Arturo D. Brion ruled that the obligation of the State to make just compensation payments effectively constitutes a forbearance on the part of Government upon which interest should become due.

According to the ponente, “[a]part from the requirement that compensation for expropriated land must be fair and reasonable, compensation, to be ‘just,’ must also be made without delay. Without prompt payment, compensation cannot be considered ‘just’ if the property is immediately taken as the property owner suffers the immediate deprivation of both his land and its fruits or income.”

Justice Brion added: “[t]his is the principle at the core of the present case where the petitioners were made to wait for more than a decade after the taking of their property before they actually received the full amount of the principal of the just compensation due them. What they have not received to date is the income of their landholdings corresponding to what they would have received had no uncompensated taking of these lands been immediately made. This income, in terms of the interest on the unpaid principal, is the subject of the current litigation.”

Accordingly, Justice Brion finds that in the instant case, when the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) took the petitioners’ lands without the corresponding full payment, LBP became liable for the income the landholdings would have earned had they not immediately been taken from Apo Fruits Corporation and Hijo Plantation, Inc. (the “Petitioners”).

For the majority then, in just compensation cases, the unpaid amount of just compensation should earn interest at the legal rate of 12% per annum from the date the properties are taken up to the time of full payment.

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April 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Remedial Law

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

Civil Procedure

Actions; action for injunction.  As a rule, actions for injunction and damages lie within the jurisdiction of the RTC pursuant to Section 19 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 (BP 129), otherwise known as the “Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980,” as amended by Republic Act (RA) No. 7691.  An action for injunction is a suit which has for its purpose the enjoinment of the defendant, perpetually or for a particular time, from the commission or continuance of a specific act, or his compulsion to continue performance of a particular act.  It has an independent existence, and is distinct from the ancillary remedy of preliminary injunction which cannot exist except only as a part or an incident of an independent action or proceeding.  In an action for injunction, the auxiliary remedy of preliminary injunction, prohibitory or mandatory, may issue.  Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority vs. Merlino E.  Rodriguez, et al., G.R. No.  160270, April 23, 2010.

Appeal; argument raised for first time on appeal.  Petitioner had, of course, endeavored to establish that respondent’s predecessors-in-interest had served him a demand to vacate the subject parcel as early as 31 July 1996.  Correctly brushed aside by the Court of Appeals on the ground, among others, that respondent had no participation in its preparation, we find said demand letter of little or no use to petitioner’s cause in view of its non-presentation before the MeTC.  However, much as it may now be expedient for petitioner to anchor his cause thereon, said demand letter was first introduced in the record only as an attachment to his reply to respondent’s comment to the motion for reconsideration of the 14 July 2005 order issued by the RTC.  The rule is settled, however, that points of law, theories, issues and arguments not brought to the attention of the trial court will not be and ought not to be considered by a reviewing court, as these cannot be raised for the first time on appeal.  Basic consideration of due process impels this rule.  Hubert Nuñez vs. SLTEAS Phoenix Solutions, Inc., G.R. No. 180542, April 12, 2010.

Appeal; computation of period where last day is Sunday or legal holiday.  Petitioner’s petition for review (under Rule 42) and motion for reconsideration before the appellate court were filed well within the reglementary period for the filing thereof.  It must be noted that petitioner received her copy of the RTC decision on April 13, 2007. Following the Rules of Court, she had 15 days or until April 28, 2007 to file her petition for review before the CA. Section 1 of Rule 42 provides:

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February 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Equal protection;  requisites. The equal protection clause does not require the universal application of the laws to all persons or things without distinction. What it simply requires is equality among equals as determined according to a valid classification. The test developed by jurisprudence here and yonder is that of reasonableness, which has four requisites:

(1) The classification rests on substantial distinctions;

(2) It is germane to the purposes of the law;

(3) It is not limited to existing conditions only; and

(4) It applies equally to all members of the same class.

The assailed Decision readily acknowledged that these deemed-resigned provisions satisfy the first, third and fourth requisites of reasonableness. It, however, proffers the dubious conclusion that the differential treatment of appointive officials vis-à-vis elected officials is not germane to the purpose of the law.  Eleazar P. Quinto and Gerino A. Tolentino, Jr. vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 189698, February 22, 2010.

Expropriation;  private use.  It is well settled that the taking of private property by the Government’s power of eminent domain is subject to two mandatory requirements: (1) that it is for a particular public purpose; and (2) that just compensation be paid to the property owner. These requirements partake of the nature of implied conditions that should be complied with to enable the condemnor to keep the property expropriated.

More particularly, with respect to the element of public use, the expropriator should commit to use the property pursuant to the purpose stated in the petition for expropriation filed, failing which, it should file another petition for the new purpose. If not, it is then incumbent upon the expropriator to return the said property to its private owner, if the latter desires to reacquire the same. Otherwise, the judgment of expropriation suffers an intrinsic flaw, as it would lack one indispensable element for the proper exercise of the power of eminent domain, namely, the particular public purpose for which the property will be devoted. Accordingly, the private property owner would be denied due process of law, and the judgment would violate the property owner’s right to justice, fairness, and equity.

In light of these premises, we now expressly hold that the taking of private property, consequent to the Government’s exercise of its power of eminent domain, is always subject to the condition that the property be devoted to the specific public purpose for which it was taken. Corollarily, if this particular purpose or intent is not initiated or not at all pursued, and is peremptorily abandoned, then the former owners, if they so desire, may seek the reversion of the property, subject to the return of the amount of just compensation received. In such a case, the exercise of the power of eminent domain has become improper for lack of the required factual justification.  Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) and Air Transportation Office (ATO) vs. Bernardo Lozada, et al., G.R. No. 176625, February 25, 2010.

Gerrymandering; meaning. “Gerrymandering” is a term employed to describe an apportionment of representative districts so contrived as to give an unfair advantage to the party in power. Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, defined “gerrymandering” as the formation of one legislative district out of separate territories for the purpose of favoring a candidate or a party. The Constitution proscribes gerrymandering, as it mandates each legislative district to comprise, as far as practicable, a contiguous, compact and adjacent territory.

As stated by the Office of the Solicitor General, the Province of Dinagat Islands consists of one island and about 47 islets closely situated together, without the inclusion of separate territories. It is an unsubstantiated allegation that the province was created to favor Congresswoman Glenda Ecleo-Villaroman.  Rodolfo G. Navarro, et al. vs. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, et al., G.R. No. 180050, February 10, 2010.

House of Representative Electoral Tribunal (HRET);  jurisdiction. The HRET has jurisdiction over the question of qualifications of petitioners Abayon and Palparan as nominees of Aangat Tayo and Bantay party-list organizations, respectively, who took the seats at the House of Representatives that such organizations won in the 2007 elections.

Section 17, Article VI of the Constitution provides that the HRET shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to, among other things, the qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives. Since party-list nominees are “elected members” of the House of Representatives no less than the district representatives are, the HRET has jurisdiction to hear and pass upon their qualifications. By analogy with the cases of district representatives, once the party or organization of the party-list nominee has been proclaimed and the nominee has taken his oath and assumed office as member of the House of Representatives, the COMELEC’s jurisdiction over election contests relating to his qualifications ends and the HRET’s own jurisdiction begins.  Electoral Tribunal, et al. /Congressman Jovito S. Palparan, Jr. vs. House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), et al., G.R. No. 189466/G.R. No. 189506,. February 11, 2010.

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January 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Remedial Law

Here are selected January 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on remedial law:

Civil Procedure

Appeal; factual findings of administrative agencies. We stress the settled rule that the findings of fact of administrative bodies, such as the SEC, will not be interfered with by the courts in the absence of grave abuse of discretion on the part of said agencies, or unless the aforementioned findings are not supported by substantial evidence.  These factual findings carry even more weight when affirmed by the CA.  They are accorded not only great respect but even finality, and are binding upon this Court, unless it is shown that the administrative body had arbitrarily disregarded or misapprehended evidence before it to such an extent as to compel a contrary conclusion had such evidence been properly appreciated.  By reason of the special knowledge and expertise of administrative agencies over matters falling under their jurisdiction, they are in a better position to pass judgment thereon. A review of the petition does not show any reversible error committed by the appellate court; hence, the petition must be denied.  Petitioner failed to present any argument that would convince the Court that the SEC and the CA made any misappreciation of the facts and the applicable laws such that their decisions should be overturned. Catmon Sales International Corporation vs. Atty. Manuel D. Yngson, Jr. as Liquidator of Catmon Sales International Corporation, G.R. No. 179761, January 15, 2010.

Appeal; factual findings of administrative agencies. No matter how hard it tries to learn the technical intricacies of certain highly regulated human activities, the Supreme Court will always be inadequately equipped to identify the facts that matter when resolving issues involving such activities.  Invariably, the Court must respect the factual findings of administrative agencies which have expertise on matters that fall within their jurisdiction.  Here, since the HLURB has the expertise in applying zonal classifications on specific properties and since petitioner GEA fails to make out a clear case that it has erred, the Court must rely on its finding that respondent EGI’s land site does not, for the purpose of applying height restrictions, adjoin an R-1 zone. Greenhills East Association, Inc. vs. E. Ganzon, Inc., G.R. No. 169741, January 22, 2010.

Appeal; factual findings of lower courts. In the case at bench, the issues raised by the petitioners are essentially factual matters, the determination of which are best left to the courts below.  Well-settled is the rule that the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts.  Factual findings of the lower courts are entitled to great weight and respect on appeal, and in fact accorded finality when supported by substantial evidence on the record. Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence.  It is that amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds, equally reasonable, might conceivably opine otherwise.  But to erase any doubt on the correctness of the assailed ruling, we have carefully perused the records and, nonetheless, arrived at the same conclusion.  We find that there is substantial evidence on record to support the Court of Appeals and trial court’s conclusion that the signatures of Julian and Guillerma in the Deed of Absolute Sale were forged. Spouses Patricio and Myrna Bernales vs. Heirs of Julian Sambaan, et al., G.R. No. 163271, January 15, 2010.

Appeal; factual findings of lower courts. Conclusions and findings of fact by the trial court are entitled to great weight on appeal and should not be disturbed unless for strong and cogent reasons because the trial court is in a better position to examine real evidence, as well as to observe the demeanor of the witnesses while testifying in the case.  The fact that the CA adopted the findings of fact of the trial court makes the same binding upon this court.  In Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, we held that factual findings of the CA which are supported by substantial evidence are binding, final and conclusive upon the Supreme Court.  A departure from this rule may be warranted where the findings of fact of the CA are contrary to the findings and conclusions of the trial court, or when the same is unsupported by the evidence on record.  There is no ground to apply the exception in the instant case, however, because the findings and conclusions of the CA are in full accord with those of the trial court. Spouses Patricio and Myrna Bernales v. Heirs of Julian Sambaan, et al., G.R. No. 163271, January 15, 2010.

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January 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Eminent domain;  prompt payment of just compensation. The concept of just compensation contemplates  just and timely payment; it embraces not only the correct determination of the amount to be paid to the landowner, but also the payment of the land within a reasonable time from its taking. Without prompt payment, compensation cannot, as Land Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals instructs, be considered “just,” for the owner is made to suffer the consequence of being immediately deprived of his land while being made to wait for years before actually receiving the amount necessary to cope with his loss.  Land Bank of the Philippines vs. Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board and Heirs of Vicente Adaza, Heirs of Romeo Adaza, Heirs of Cesar Adaza, represented by Russel Adaza, G.R. No. 183279, January 25, 2010.

Judicial review; creation of city. On the OSG’s contention that Congress’ choice of means to comply with the population requirement in the creation of a legislative district is non-justiciable, suffice it to say that questions calling for judicial determination of compliance with constitutional standards by other branches of the government are fundamentally justiciable. The resolution of such questions falls within the checking function of this Court under the 1987 Constitution to determine whether there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.

Even under the 1935 Constitution, this Court had already ruled, “The overwhelming weight of authority is that district apportionment laws are subject to review by the courts.” Compliance with constitutional standards on the creation of legislative districts is important because the “aim of legislative apportionment is ‘to equalize population and voting power among districts.’”  Victorino Aldaba, et al. vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 188078, January 25, 2010.

Local government;  creation of city. RA 9591 is unconstitutional for being violative of Section 5(3), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and Section 3 of the Ordinance appended to the 1987 Constitution.

The 1987 Constitution requires that for a city to have a legislative district, the city must have “a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand.” The only issue here is whether the City of Malolos has a population of at least 250,000, whether actual or projected, for the purpose of creating a legislative district for the City of Malolos in time for the 10 May 2010 elections. If not, then RA 9591 creating a legislative district in the City of Malolos is unconstitutional.

There is no official record that the population of the City of Malolos will be at least 250,000, actual or projected, prior to the 10 May 2010 elections, the immediately following election after the supposed attainment of such population. Thus, the City of Malolos is not qualified to have a legislative district of its own under Section 5(3), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and Section 3 of the Ordinance appended to the 1987 Constitution.  Victorino Aldaba, et al. vs. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 188078, January 25, 2010.
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November 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Civil Service Commission; jurisdiction. TThe Civil Service Commission (CSC) Caraga has jurisdiction to conduct the preliminary investigation of a possible administrative case of dishonesty against PO1 Capablanca for alleged CSP examination irregularity.

The CSC, as the central personnel agency of the Government, is mandated to establish a career service, to strengthen the merit and rewards system, and to adopt measures to promote morale, efficiency and integrity in the civil service. The civil service embraces all branches, subdivisions, instrumentalities, and agencies of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters. Specifically, Section 91 of Republic Act (RA) No. 6975 (1990) or the “Department of Interior and Local Government Act of 1990” provides that the “Civil Service Law and its implementing rules and regulations shall apply to all personnel of the Department,” to which herein petitioner belongs.

Section 12 of Executive Order (EO) No. 292 or the “Administrative Code of 1987,” enumerates the powers and functions of the CSC. In addition, Section 28, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations specifically confers upon the CSC the authority to take cognizance over any irregularities or anomalies connected with the examinations. To carry out this mandate, the CSC issued Resolution No. 991936, or the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, empowering its Regional Offices to take cognizance of cases involving CSC examination anomalies.

Based on the foregoing, it is clear that the CSC acted within its jurisdiction when it initiated the conduct of a preliminary investigation on the alleged civil service examination irregularity committed by the petitioner. Eugenio S. Capablanca vs. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 179370, November 18, 2009.

Civil Service Commission; jurisdiction. It has already been settled in Cruz v. Civil Service Commission that the appellate power of the CSC will only apply when the subject of the administrative cases filed against erring employees is in connection with the duties and functions of their office, and not in cases where the acts of complainant arose from cheating in the civil service examinations.  Eugenio S. Capablanca vs. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 179370, November 18, 2009.

Constitutionality;  equal protection. The equal protection guarantee under the Constitution is found under its Section 2, Article III, which provides: “Nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” Essentially, the equality guaranteed under this clause is equality under the same conditions and among persons similarly situated. It is equality among equals, not similarity of treatment of persons who are different from one another on the basis of substantial distinctions related to the objective of the law; when things or persons are different in facts or circumstances, they may be treated differently in law.

Appreciation of how the constitutional equality provision applies inevitably leads to the conclusion that no basis exists in the present case for an equal protection challenge. The law can treat barangay officials differently from other local elective officials because the Constitution itself provides a significant distinction between these elective officials with respect to length of term and term limitation. The clear distinction, expressed in the Constitution itself, is that while the Constitution provides for a three-year term and three-term limit for local elective officials, it left the length of term and the application of the three-term limit or any form of term limitation for determination by Congress through legislation. Not only does this disparate treatment recognize substantial distinctions, it recognizes as well that the Constitution itself allows a non-uniform treatment. No equal protection violation can exist under these conditions.

From another perspective, we see no reason to apply the equal protection clause as a standard because the challenged proviso did not result in any differential treatment between barangay officials and all other elective officials. This conclusion proceeds from our ruling on the retroactivity issue that the challenged proviso does not involve any retroactive application.  Commission on Elections vs. Conrado Cruz, et al., G.R. No. 186616, November 20, 2009.

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July 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Double positions. The office of the Chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross is not a government office or an office in a government-owned or controlled corporation for purposes of the prohibition in Section 13, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, which provides: “No Senator or Member of the House of Representatives may hold any other office or employment in the Government, or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries, during his term without forfeiting his seat. Neither shall he be appointed to any office which may have been created or the emoluments thereof increased during the term for which he was elected.”  Dante Liban, et al. vs. Richard J. Gordon, G.R. No. 175352, July 15, 2009.

Illegal search. Even assuming that petitioner or any lawful occupant of the house was not present when the search was conducted, the search was done in the presence of at least two witnesses of sufficient age and discretion residing in the same locality. Manalo was the barangay chairman of the place while Velasco was petitioner’s employee. Petitioner herself signed the certification of orderly search when she arrived at her residence. Clearly, the requirements of Section 8, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court were complied with by the police authorities who conducted the search. Further, petitioner failed to substantiate her allegation that she was just forced to sign the search warrant, inventory receipt, and the certificate of orderly search. In fact, the records show that she signed these documents together with three other persons, including the barangay chairman who could have duly noted if petitioner was really forced to sign the documents against her will.

Articles which are the product of unreasonable searches and seizures are inadmissible as evidence pursuant to Article III, Section 3(2) of the Constitution. However, in this case, the Supreme Court sustained the validity of the search conducted in petitioner’s residence and, thus, the articles seized during the search are admissible in evidence against petitioner.  Rosario Panuncio  vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 165678, July 17, 2009.

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