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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August 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Civil Service Commission; jurisdiction. The civil service encompasses all branches and agencies of the Government, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters, like the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), or those created by special law. Thus, GSIS employees are part of the civil service system and are subject to the law and to the circulars, rules and regulations issued by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) on discipline, attendance and general terms and conditions of employment. The CSC has jurisdiction to hear and decide disciplinary cases against erring employees. Winston F. Garcia vs. Mario I. Molina, et al./Winston F. Garcia vs. Mario I. Molina, et al., G.R. No. 157383/G.R. No. 174137, August 18, 2010.

Double compensation. Section 8, Article IX-B of the Constitution provides that no elective or appointive public officer or employee shall receive additional, double or indirect compensation, unless specifically authorized by law, nor accept without the consent of the Congress, any present emolument, office or title of any kind from any foreign government.  Pensions and gratuities shall not be considered as additional, double or indirect compensation. This provision, however, does not apply to the present case as there was no double compensation to the petitioners. The questioned resolutions of the Monetary Board are valid corporate acts of petitioners that became the bases for granting them additional monthly representation and transportation allowance (RATA), as members of the Board of Directors of Philippine International Convention Center Inc. (PICCI), a government corporation whose sole stockholder is the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). RATA is distinct from salary as a form of compensation.  Unlike salary which is paid for services rendered, RATA is a form of allowance intended to defray expenses deemed unavoidable in the discharge of office.  Hence, RATA is paid only to certain officials who, by the nature of their offices, incur representation and transportation expenses.  Indeed, aside from the RATA that they have been receiving from the BSP, the grant of RATA to each of the petitioners for every board meeting they attended, in their capacity as members of the Board of Directors of PICCI, in addition to their per diem, does not violate the constitutional proscription against double compensation. Gabriel C. Singson, et al. vs. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 159355, August 9, 2010.

Eminent domain; voluntary agreement by landowner. Where the landowner agrees voluntarily to the taking of his property by the government for public use, he thereby waives his right to the institution of a formal expropriation proceeding covering such property. Failure for a long time of the owner to question the lack of expropriation proceedings covering a property that the government had taken constitutes a waiver of his right to gain back possession. The landowner’s remedy in such case is an action for the payment of just compensation, not ejectment. Here, the Court of Appeals erred in ordering the eviction of petitioner from the property that it has held as government school site for more than 50 years. The evidence on record shows that the respondents intended to cede the property to the City Government of Lipa permanently. In fact, they allowed the city to declare the property in its name for tax purposes. And when they sought to have the bigger lot subdivided, the respondents earmarked a specific portion for the City Government of Lipa. Under the circumstances, it may be assumed that the respondents had agreed to transfer ownership of the land to the government, whether to the City Government of Lipa or to the Republic of the Philippines, but the parties never formalized and documented such transfer. Consequently, petitioner should be deemed entitled to possession pending the respondents’ formal transfer of ownership to it upon payment of just compensation. Republic of the Philippines vs. Primo Mendoza and Maria Lucero, G.R. No. 185091, August 8, 2010.

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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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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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September 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

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

Constitutional Law

Citizenship;  election.  Com. Act No. 625 which was enacted pursuant to Section 1(4), Article IV of the 1935 Constitution, prescribes the procedure that should be followed in order to make a valid election of Philippine citizenship. Under Section 1 thereof, legitimate children born of Filipino mothers may elect Philippine citizenship by expressing such intention “in a statement to be signed and sworn to by the party concerned before any officer authorized to administer oaths, and shall be filed with the nearest civil registry. The said party shall accompany the aforesaid statement with the oath of allegiance to the Constitution and the Government of the Philippines.”

However, the 1935 Constitution and Com. Act No. 625 did not prescribe a time period within which the election of Philippine citizenship should be made. The 1935 Charter only provides that the election should be made “upon reaching the age of majority.” The age of majority then commenced upon reaching 21 years. In the opinions of the then Secretary of Justice on cases involving the validity of election of Philippine citizenship, this dilemma was resolved by basing the time period on the decisions of the Supreme Court prior to the effectivity of the 1935 Constitution. In these decisions, the proper period for electing Philippine citizenship was, in turn, based on the pronouncements of the Department of State of the United States Government to the effect that the election should be made within a “reasonable time” after attaining the age of majority. The phrase “reasonable time” has been interpreted to mean that the election should be made within three (3) years from reaching the age of majority.

It is true that we said that the 3-year period for electing Philippine citizenship may be extended as when the person has always regarded himself as a Filipino. In hits case, not a single circumstance was sufficiently shown meriting the extension of the 3-year period. The fact that Carlos exercised his right of suffrage in 1952 and 1955 does not demonstrate such belief, considering that the acts were done after he elected Philippine citizenship. On the other hand, the mere fact that he was able to vote does not validate his irregular election of Philippine citizenship. At most, his registration as a voter indicates his desire to exercise a right appertaining exclusively to Filipino citizens but does not alter his real citizenship, which, in this jurisdiction, is determined by blood (jus sanguinis). The exercise of the rights and privileges granted only to Filipinos is not conclusive proof of citizenship, because a person may misrepresent himself to be a Filipino and thus enjoy the rights and privileges of citizens of this country.

It is incumbent upon one who claims Philippine citizenship to prove to the satisfaction of the court that he is really a Filipino. No presumption can be indulged in favor of the claimant of Philippine citizenship, and any doubt regarding citizenship must be resolved in favor of the state.  Carlos T. Go., Sr., vs. Luis T. Ramos/Jimmy T. Go vs. Luis T. Ramos/Hon. Alipio F. Fernandez, etc., et al. vs. Jimmy T. Go a.k.a. Jaime T. Gaisano,  G.R. No. 167569/G.R. No. 167570/G.R. No. 171946, September 4, 2009.

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Private Sector Representative as Public Officer

Various laws provide for the appointment of a private sector representative in governmental bodies. For example, the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 creates the National Renewable Energy Board and provides for the appointment of private sector representatives to the board.

Is a private sector representative to the board a public officer?

In Carolina R. Javier vs. Sandiganbayan, et al., G.R. Nos. 147026-27, September 11, 2009, Javier was charged with malversation of public funds. Javier was the private sector representative in the National Book Development Board (NBDB), which was created by Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8047, otherwise known as the “Book Publishing Industry Development Act”. R.A. No. 8047 provided for the creation of the NBDB, which was placed under the administration and supervision of the Office of the President. The NBDB is composed of eleven (11) members who are appointed by the President, five (5) of whom come from the government, while the remaining six (6) are chosen from the nominees of organizations of private book publishers, printers, writers, book industry related activities, students and the private education sector.

The Ombudsman found probable cause to indict Javier for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and recommended the filing of the corresponding information. In an Information dated February 18, 2000, Javier was charged with violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Sandiganbayan.

The Commission on Audit also charged Javier with malversation of public funds, as defined and penalized under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code. Thus, an Information dated February 29, 2000 was filed before the Sandiganbayan.

On October 10, 2000, Javier filed a Motion to Quash Information, averring that the Sandiganbayan has no jurisdiction to hear the case as the information did not allege that she is a public official who is classified as Grade “27” or higher. Neither did the information charge her as a co-principal, accomplice or accessory to a public officer committing an offense under the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction. She also averred that she is not a public officer or employee and that she belongs to the NBDB only as a private sector representative under R.A. No. 8047, hence, she may not be charged under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act before the Sandiganbayan or under any statute which covers public officials. Moreover, she claimed that she does not perform public functions and is without any administrative or political power to speak of – that she is serving the private book publishing industry by advancing their interest as participant in the government’s book development policy.

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Forfeiture of Senate seat for holding another government office

In Dante Liban, et al. vs. Richard J. Gordon,  G.R. No. 175352,  July 15, 2009, the petitioners filed with the Supreme Court a “Petition to Declare Richard J. Gordon as Having Forfeited His Seat in the Senate.”

During Gordon’s incumbency as a member of the Senate of the Philippines, he was elected Chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) during the 23 February 2006 meeting of the PNRC Board of Governors. Petitioners allege that by accepting the chairmanship of the PNRC Board of Governors, respondent has ceased to be a member of the Senate as provided in Section 13, Article VI of the Constitution, which reads:

SEC. 13. 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.

Petitioners cite Camporedondo vs. NLRC, which held that the PNRC is a government-owned or controlled corporation. Petitioners claim that in accepting and holding the position of Chairman of the PNRC Board of Governors, respondent automatically forfeited his seat in the Senate, pursuant to Flores vs. Drilon, which held that incumbent national legislators lose their elective posts upon their appointment to another government office.

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