Endless Litigation: SC Says Cityhood Laws Constitutional

MANILA, Philippines - For the third time, the Supreme Court (SC) has reversed itself on the constitutionality of laws passed by the 11th Congress that paved the way for the conversion into cities of 16 municipalities.

The Court reverted back to its second ruling issued in December 2009, which declared the cityhood laws constitutional and reversed a supposed final ruling in November 2008.

In its fourth ruling so far on the case, the SC said that Republic Acts 9389, 9390, 9391, 9392, 9393, 9394, 9398, 9404, 9405, 9407, 9408, 9409, 9434, 9435, 9436, and 9491 (cityhood laws) did not violate Article X Section 10, and the equal protection clause under Article III Section 1 of the Constitution.

The constitutional provision states that “no province, city, municipality or barangay shall be created, divided, merged, abolished or its boundary substantially altered, except in accordance with the criteria established in the Local Government Code and subject to approval by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite in the political units directly affected.”

It granted the motion filed by respondent municipalities seeking reconsideration of the Court’s resolution issued in August last year.

SC spokesman Midas Marquez admitted that this case is rather unusual.

“It’s the fourth ruling on this case and the third reversal by the Court. It’s not very surprising because the voting on this case has always been tight,” he told a press conference yesterday.

“You also have to understand that this case is very divisive even among members of Congress,” he added.

He stressed that there is nothing wrong with the new reversal made by the Court since it was not a ruling on a second motion for reconsideration, which is generally considered a prohibited pleading.

The new reversal was a result of the change in vote cast by Associate Justice Jose Mendoza, which led to a 7-6 voting.

In its ruling last year, seven justices voted to declare as unconstitutional the cityhood laws on the petition of the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) that opposed the “wholesale conversion” of municipalities into cities, which would reduce the share of existing cities in the Internal Revenue Allotment.

Mendoza was one of them. The six others were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Martin Villarama Jr. and Maria Lourdes Sereno.

All seven justices believed the conversion into cities of the 16 municipalities violated Article X Section 10 of the Constitution.

They also said that the cityhood laws violated RA 9009, which took effect in June 2001 or six years before the cityhood laws were passed, that amended Section 450 of the Local Government Code by increasing the annual income requirement for conversion of a municipality into a city from P20 million to P100 million.

Also, the assailed ruling explained that while all the criteria for the creation of cities must be embodied exclusively in the Local Government Code, the assailed cityhood laws provided an exemption from the increased income requirement for the creation of cities under Section 450 of the LGC.

But Justice Mendoza changed his opinion and now voted with the other six justices who approved of the legality of the cityhood laws. These justices were Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad and Jose Portugal Perez.

It was the second time the magistrate appointed in January last year, to have voted in this case.

Out of the 24 municipalities, only 16 expressed intention to be converted into cities: Baybay (Leyte); Bogo (Cebu); Catbalogan (Samar); Tandag (Surigao del Sur); Borongan (Eastern Samar); Tayabas (Quezon province); Lamitan (Basilan); Tabuk (Kalinga); Bayugan (Agusan del Sur); Batac (Ilocos Norte); Mati (Davao Oriental); Guihulngan (Negros Oriental); Cabadbaran (Agusan del Norte); Carcar (Cebu); El Salvador (Misamis Oriental); and Naga (Cebu).

The House and the Senate later approved the cityhood bills, which lapsed into law on various dates from March to July 2007. - From The Philippine Star by Edu  Punay

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