The Supreme Court has shown some rare sensitivity when it took cognizance of a petition characterized as parochial. (Parochial indeed because in Quezon Province the local dioceses, that of Gumaca and Lucena had joined forces harnessing their clergies and parishes to go all out campaigning for a Yes Vote on the division of the province into Quezon del Norte and Quezon del Sur. With their pulpits and Sunday masses parishioners, the affirmative proponents have gone way ahead in the persuasion department).
By all indications, the High Court has acquired the reputation of touching controversies of national interest only. Seldom does it involve itself with issues too distant from what it perceives to be of far reaching importance. It has developed what it called cases with “transcendental import”. With the spate however of mindless creations of new local government units meriting space in reputable broadsheet columns through the likes of Manuel Quezon III and Juan Mercado, they validate the observation of Speaker Tip O’Neil that indeed, “all politics is local”.
Manolo Quezon has been observing the events unfolding in the province named after his illustrious grandfather. Manolo took interest in the genesis of RA 9495 creating the Province of Quezon del Sur. Mercado, on the other hand, has consistently sniped at the local politicians in his home province Cebu who openly floated the proposal of chopping Cebu into four separate provinces. Mercado has since then raised hell with the suggestion calling the proponents of “lilliputian minds.”
Senator Nene Pimentel the vaunted father of RA 7160, (this law has been ingrained into the mind of all local officials, approximating that of the Bible when it comes to the religious, that there is no need anymore to indicate its title as the Local Government Code) has already raised the alarum about the slew of bills from the Lower House creating new cities and provinces. His unmistakable sentiment was that these local leaders are laying the predicate for extended office once their original term limits expire. Not only that, they are gifting their heirs with territorial protection.
There were two cases in recent memory where the Supreme Court has put its foot down already in the LGU-creation craze.
Shariff Kabunsuan Experience
One was that of the birthing of Shariff Kabunsuan where the High Tribunal snapped the law creating it as “undelegated power”. It turned out that the new province was a creature of the ARMM, an autonomous region. The High Court said that only Congress has the power to do so.
Only Congress can create provinces and cities because the creation of provinces and cities necessarily includes the creation of legislative districts, a power only Congress can exercise under Section 5, Article VI of the Constitution and Section 3 of the Ordinance appended to the Constitution. The ARMM Regional Assembly cannot create a province without a legislative district because the Constitution mandates that every province shall have a legislative district. Moreover, the ARMM Regional Assembly cannot enact a law creating a national office like the office of a district representative of Congress because the legislative powers of the ARMM Regional Assembly operate only within its territorial jurisdiction as provided in Section 20, Article X of the Constitution. Thus, we rule that MMA Act 201, enacted by the ARMM Regional Assembly and creating the Province of Shariff Kabunsuan, is void. BAI SANDRA S. A. SEMA vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and DIDAGEN DILANGALEN, G.R. No. 177597, July 16, 2008.
During oral arguments in that seminal case of Sema, it is worth noting the following exchange between Justice Tony Carpio and Sema’s counsel, one Atty. Vistan II:
So, you mean to say [a] Local Government can create legislative district[s] and pack Congress with their own representatives [?]
Yes, Your Honor, because the Constitution allows that.
So, [the] Regional Assembly of [the] ARMM can create and create x x x provinces x x x and, therefore, they can have thirty-five (35) new representatives in the House of Representatives without Congress agreeing to it, is that what you are saying? That can be done, under your theory [?]
Atty. Vistan II:
Yes, Your Honor, under the correct factual circumstances.
Under your theory, the ARMM legislature can create thirty-five (35) new provinces, there may be x x x [only] one hundred thousand (100,000) [population], x x x, and they will each have one representative x x x to Congress without any national law, is that what you are saying?
Atty. Vistan II:
Without law passed by Congress, yes, Your Honor, that is what we are saying.
x x x x
So, they can also create one thousand (1000) new provinces, sen[d] one thousand (1000) representatives to the House of Representatives without a national law[,] that is legally possible, correct?
Atty. Vistan II:
Where this power of the ARMM is confirmed, we awaken one fine morning that there are now a thousand more LGUs ready the devour the dwindling IRA or what’s left of it.
This is the other side of Congress running amuck, and borrowing the words of Justice Carpio, with “disastrous consequences” on the creation of LGUs.
The Demotion of Tayabas City
The other was the demotion again of 16 cities to municipalities. Think about the 16 Republic Acts that went thru the grinder that is the legislative mill. This indeed is testament to the growing reputation of the mediocrity of our Legislature and the cost that went with it that should have been channeled somewhere else. Incidentally, one of these cities is close to our heart, Tayabas. Truth to tell, nobody ever lifted a finger in Quezon questioning the propriety of the law that transformed the town into a city. Because their interest is at stake, the League of Cities took the cudgels and went to the High Court protesting the unconstitutionality of the laws creating the 16 cities. Again, the Supreme Court lent a sympathetic ear to the League by saying, among other grounds:
Congress Must Prescribe in the Local Government Code All Criteria
Section 10, Article X of the 1987 Constitution provides:
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. (Emphasis supplied)
The Constitution is clear. The creation of local government units must follow the criteria established in the Local Government Code and not in any other law. There is only one Local Government Code. The Constitution requires Congress to stipulate in the Local Government Code all the criteria necessary for the creation of a city, including the conversion of a municipality into a city. Congress cannot write such criteria in any other law, like the Cityhood Laws.
The criteria prescribed in the Local Government Code govern exclusively the creation of a city. No other law, not even the charter of the city, can govern such creation. The clear intent of the Constitution is to insure that the creation of cities and other political units must follow the same uniform, non-discriminatory criteria found solely in the Local Government Code. Any derogation or deviation from the criteria prescribed in the Local Government Code violates Section 10, Article X of the Constitution. (LEAGUE OF CITIES OF THE PHILIPPINES (LCP) represented by LCP National President JERRY P. TREÑAS, CITY OF ILOILO represented by MAYOR JERRY P. TREÑAS, CITY OF CALBAYOG represented by MAYOR MEL SENEN S. SARMIENTO, and JERRY P. TREÑAS in his personal capacity as taxpayer, vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS; MUNICIPALITY OF BAYBAY, PROVINCE OF LEYTE;MUNICIPALITY OF BOGO, PROVINCE OF CEBU; MUNICIPALITY OF CATBALOGAN, PROVINCE OF WESTERN SAMAR; MUNICIPALITY OF TANDAG, PROVINCE OF SURIGAO DEL SUR; MUNICIPALITY OF BORONGAN, PROVINCE OF EASTERN SAMAR; and MUNICIPALITY OF TAYABAS, PROVINCE OF QUEZON, G.R. No. 176951, November 18, 2008)
The League in effect was saying that by creating new cities we put a strain on the internal revenue allotment. New LGUs don’t have the reputation of being creative in their revenue generation. Most of them don’t craft a Local Tax Code or Business Incentive Programs for the benelfit of outside or homegrown entrepreneurs. They without fail rely on the automatic sharing of the IRA. Since the IRA is constant, the more divisors, while the dividend is fixed, the quotient naturally dwindles. The net effect therefore is less efficient use of scant resources. With new LGUs, the tail is wagging the dog.
Lending a sympathetic ear, the Supreme Court struck down the enabling laws as contrary to the Charter (equal protection clause) and the standards laid down in the LGC, among which, were the arbitrary suspension on minimum requirements on income per annum.
Legislative Power for Personal Ends
It is under this milieu when Save Quezon Province Movement declared its opposition to the law creating Quezon del Sur. It feels that the dismemberment of the old Quezon Province has more than the economic rhetoric in it. Its passage was just about after the local elections when the Suarezes were licking their wounds from what was touted to be the most expensive gubernatorial election hereabouts. Somebody simply could not move on. The motive of creating for a new republic is all over right after their ignominious defeat.
Using legislative power for personal ends was not a first impression in Quezon politics.
Ironically, prior to the 1992 elections when the bicameral committee was fine tuning the provisions of the Local Government Code, the late Congressman Benny Marquez was already on track for the governorship of Quezon. He already had a falling out with his erstwhile ally, Eddie Rodriguez, the sitting governor then loomed as an insurmountable obstacle to Benny’s ambition. When the Oversight Committee was into the provision on disqualification of local officials, Marquez proposed that “fugitives from justice, here or abroad” be included. There were of course vigorous exchange at that stage of polishing the law. But what prevailed of course was the spirit of “old boys’ club”. This was not lost to the Supreme Court when it tackled that disqualification case:
In turn, (Rodriguez) would have the Court respect the conclusions of the Oversight Committee which, conformably with Section 533 of R.A. 7160, was convened by the President to “formulate and issue the appropriate rules and regulations necessary for the efficient and effective implementation of any and all provisions of the Code to ensure compliance with the principles of Local Autonomy.
Here are some excerpts from the committee’s deliberations:
CHAIRMAN MERCADO. Session is resumed.
So, we are in agreement to retain Line 12, Page 36, as is. So next, Page 39.
CHAIRMAN DE PEDRO. Kay Benny Marquez.
REP. CUENCO: What does he want?
CHAIRMAN DE PEDRO. Kung puwede i-retain lang iyan. Bahala na kung kuwestiyunin ang constitutionality nito before the Supreme Court later on.
REP. CUENCO. Anong nakalagay diyan?
CHAIRMAN DE PEDRO. Iyong disqualification to run for public office.
Any person who is a fugitive from justice in criminal or nonpolitical cases here or abroad.
Mabigat yung abroad. One who is facing criminal charges with the warrant of arrest pending, unserved. . .
HONORABLE SAGUISAG. I think that is even a good point, ano what is a fugitive? It is not defined. We have loose understanding. . .
CHAIRMAN DE PEDRO. So isingit na rin sa definition of terms iyong fugitive.
Si Benny umalis na, with the understanding na okay na sa atin ito.
THE CHAIRMAN. Whether we have this rule or not she can run. She is not a fugitive from justice. Mrs. Marcos can run at this point and I have held that for a long time ago. So can. . .
MS. DOCTOR. Mr. Chairman. . .
THE CHAIRMAN. Yes.
MS. DOCTOR. Let’s move to. . .
THE CHAIRMAN. Wait, wait, wait. Can we just agree on the wording, this is very important. Manny, can you come up?
MR. REYES. Let’s use the word conviction by final judgment.
THE CHAIRMAN. Fugitive means somebody who is convicted by final judgment. Okay,. Fugitive means somebody who is convicted by final judgment. Insert that on Line 43 after the semi-colon. Is that approved? No objection, approved (TSN, Oversight Committee, 07 May 1991).
xxx xxx xxx
THE CHAIRMAN. Andy, saan ba naman itong amendment on page 2? Sino ba ang gumawa nito? Okay, on page 2, lines 43 and 44, “fugitive from justice”. What “fugitive”? Sino ba ang gumawa nito, ha?
MR. SANCHEZ. Yes, I think, well, last time, Mr. Chairman, we agree to clarify the word “fugitive”.
THE CHAIRMAN. “Fugitive from justice means a person” ba ito, ha?
MR. SANCHEZ. Means a person…
THE CHAIRMAN. Ha?
HON. REYES. A person who has been convicted.
THE CHAIRMAN; Yes, fugitive from justice, oo. Fugitive from justice shall mean or means one who has been convicted by final judgment. It means one who has been convicted by final judgment.
HON. DE PEDRO. Kulang pa rin ang ibig sabihin niyan.
THE CHAIRMAN. Ano? Sige, tingnan natin.
HON. DE PEDRO. Kung nasa loob ng presuhan, fugitive pa rin siya?
THE CHAIRMAN. O, tama na yan, fugitive from justice. He has been convicted by final judgment, meaning that if he is simply in jail and because he put up, post bail, but the case is still being reviewed, that is not yet conviction by final judgment.
The Oversight Committee evidently entertained serious apprehensions on the possible constitutional infirmity of Section 40(e) of Republic Act No. 7160 if the disqualification therein meant were to be so taken as to embrace those who merely were facing criminal charges. A similar concern was expressed by Senator R. A. V. Saguisag who, during the bicameral conference committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives, made this reservation:
. . . de ipa-refine lang natin ‘yung language especially ‘yung, the scope of fugitive. Medyo bothered ako doon, a.
The Oversight Committee finally came out with Article 73 of the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Local Government Code of 1991. It provided:
Art. 73. Disqualifications. The following persons shall be disqualified from running for any elective local position:
(a) . . .
(e) Fugitives from justice in criminal or non-political cases here or abroad. Fugitive from justice refers to a person who has been convicted by final judgment. (BIENVENIDO O. MARQUEZ, JR., vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS and EDUARDO T. RODRIGUEZ G.R. No. 112889 April 18, 1995)
The amendment, without being introduced or discussed in plenary or deliberation on second reading, was inserted. The anomaly was not questioned before the Supreme Court. RA 7160 was signed into law by President Cory Aquino with no less than Senator Pimentel proclaiming its paternity. But the sleight-of-hand never escaped notice. The law or its implementing rules and regulations never defined the context of what a “fugitive from justice” means. Before the May 11, 1992 elections, armed with the novel proviso never tried in Philippine jurisprudence before, Marquez filed a petition for cancellation of Rodriguez’ certificate of candidacy for governor, on the ground of disqualification under Section 40(e) of the Local Government Code before the Comelec that Rodriguez is a “fugitive from justice”. The case was dismissed and Marquez elevated his case before the Supreme Court on quo warranto proceedings. It was only on July 24, 1996, enriching our sparse jurisprudence, when by judicial fiat the phrase was defined, thus:
the term “fugitive from justice” as a ground for the disqualification or ineligibility of a person seeking to run for any elective local petition under Section 40(e) of the Local Government Code, should be understood according to the definition given in the MARQUEZ Decision, to wit:
A “fugitive from justice” includes not only those who flee after conviction to avoid punishment but likewise those who, after being charged, flee to avoid prosecution. (Emphasis ours.)
Intent to evade on the part of a candidate must therefore be established by proof that there has already been a conviction or at least, a charge has already been filed, at the time of flight. Not being a “fugitive from justice” under this definition, Rodriguez cannot be denied the Quezon Province gubernatorial post (EDUARDO T. RODRIGUEZ vs. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, BIENVENIDO O. MARQUEZ, JR G.R. No. 120099 July 24, 1996)
Finding Marquez’ petition unmeritorious, the Supreme Court reinstalled Rodriguez as Quezon governor.
RA 9495 was Courtesy from Friends
When it was the turn of RA 9495, the same camaraderie prevailed. Bringing the bill before the Joint Committees on Local Governments, Congressman Erin Tanada shepherded it in no time at all.
“REP. EDUARDO V. ROQUERO, M.D. Mr. Chairman.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER. The Honorable Roquero
REP. ROQUERO. Thank you.
Maari din po ba nating malaman kung ano po ang pleasure o stand ng provincial board, the governor?
REP. TAÑADA. Yeah, Mr. Chairman, the resolution signed by the Board Members are comprised by Board Member Roderick Magbuhos, Board Member Gerald Ortiz, Board Member Icias Ubana and Board Member Rommel Edaño. This has not yet been voted upon by the Provincial Board, so it is hard for me to speculate on how the Provincial Board will vote on the matter but there is a resolution that was filed.
REP. VIRADOR. Just a follow-up on that, Mr. Chairman.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER. The Honorable Virador.
REP. VIRADOR. I noticed that the Governor is not mentioned in this resolution. What is really his stand on this proposal Mr. Chairman?
REP. TAÑADA. Again, Mr. Chairman, this would be mere speculation on my part, but when this bill has been filed (sic) as early as the 11th Congress, this was sponsored then by my father, the former Senator Bobby Tañada,and Congressman Raffy Nantes. It passed the House in the 11th Congress but due to the impeachment case of then President Erap Estrada in 2001, it was not tackled in the Senate.
The position of Governor Enverga the (sic) time was to let the people decide. So I am not sure if the Governor would still maintain the same position today. In the 12th Congress, this bill creating the Province of Quezon del Sur was, again, filed by Congressman Nantes and former Congresswoman Aleta Suarez, but this was not passed in the Committee nor in the Plenary of the House. So this will be the third attempt. Hopefully, we will see the light of day and get it pass through the Senate.
xxx xxx xxx
REP. VIRADOR. Mr. Chairman, while I recognize that the approval of the governor or other members of the sangguiniang panlalawigan is not necessary for the creation of a new province, I just want to manifest that, maybe, I can interpret this that this is also the sentiment of other governors that they don’t want that their allocation, their IRA will be divided. I hope that is not the reason. But at any rate, Mr. Chairman, I do support this bill for the betterment of the lives of the people from Quezon.
REP. TAÑADA. Mr. Chairman.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER. Okay. The Honorable Tañada.
REP. TAÑADA. Yeah, just to clarify what Congressman Virador mentioned. It is not stated in Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code that the approval of the governor or the sangguniang panlalawigan is a condition precedent for this Committee to tackle House Bill 2861….”(Transcript of the public hearing conducted by the Committee on Local Government)
The Novaliches Lesson
Dante Liban, in his prime, was an undefeated political leader of Quezon City. He started out as a city councilor representing Novaliches, his undoubted bailiwick. His voters’ appeal was daunting such that when he ran for congressman, again and again, his district comprising the giant Novaliches returned him to Congress. And then one fine day when he woke up his term limit was staring right up his face. Running for mayor was not an option because of the formidable Mel Mathay, an undefeated local leader as well.
As a third term congressman, he authored a bill creating the City of Novaliches which later on was signed into law by FVR as RA 8535. Being a Lakas stalwart, smoothed the passage of his pet bill. The Supreme Court, with FVR’s kindred souls, found nothing wrong with the law and dismissed a certiorari petition by one QC councilor. This was the peak of local autonomy.
When the issue was brought for approval by the entire QC electorate in a plebiscite called for the purpose on October 23, 1999, it was resoundingly rejected. The rejection was expected as the intelligent QC voters smelled a too personal agenda of Liban. He ran for Mayor in 2001 and failed. He tried to reclaim his old congressional seat in 2004 and was repulsed by millionaire Anne Marie Susano. In 2007, he again opposed Susano in the congressional contest and was bitterly repulsed.
While he bench warmed at Tesda and Philippine Red Cross, he was hounded by charges of corruption. It was the beginning of the end of his political career.
Ipagpaliban muna natin yan si Dante Liban, said Senator Richard J. Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, in response to former Congressman Dante Libans threat to have Gordon removed from the Senate.
I find it so strange that Liban is threatening to sue me for sitting in the Senate while serving through Red Cross. Wasnt he Chairman of the Quezon City Chapter and a member of the National Board when he was himself a Congressman?
Dante Liban has been kicked out of Red Cross by unanimous vote of the National Board because he violated fundamental policies and procedures. He did not follow orders of the Secretary General. He did not follow the National Board. The Court of Appeals has upheld the actions of the National Red Cross Board. He has not turned over more than 10 million pesos of Red Cross funds. He continues to use Red Cross property as if it were his own despite reprimands, despite his expulsion. We have criminal cases of robbery and estafa pending against him. All that you are hearing from former Congressman Liban are the whinings of a man who has been disgraced for breaking the law (RED CROSS FOCUSED ON DISASTERS, NOT LIBANS CASES Office of Senator Dick Gordon Press Release December 12, 2006)
This was not the first time Dick Gordon had differences with a congressman of similar stripe with that of Liban. He had a similar tiff with Quezon’s Danilo Suarez. Incidentally, Suarez was one of the authors of RA 9495. The Philippine Center for Investigative journalism reported in its website:
OF COURSE, other legislative prerogatives, such as the power to initiate investigations, have been used to further the business interests of some congressmen. One of the most memorable examples was three-term Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, a defense contractor and entrepreneur who also has considerable interests in trading and agribusiness. Suarez stirred a hornet’s nest in the 10th and 11th House when his colleagues accused him of using his position to wangle contracts for his firms.
In the 10th House, Suarez called for an investigation of the purchase of radar systems by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). Suarez’s company supplies radar systems, and during the investigation, the irked SBMA chief, Richard Gordon, pointed out that this could be the reason the inquiry was taking place at all. Congressmen also accused him of requesting the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) to reopen the bidding for the P600-million Nationwide Airport Navigation Facilities Modernization program so that his company could make a bid for airport radar.
Another Suarez company has the contract to operating three parking lots at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). The congressman also owns the Kayumanggi Restaurant at the airport. In 1998, he filed a resolution asking the House to investigate the awarding of a contract to a single corporation to run all the concession areas at the NAIA Terminal II, allegedly because his company was eying some of the concession areas at the terminal.
Suarez was banned from running for a fourth term in 2001 so his wife Aleta took his place in the House. Meanwhile, the former congressman, who was a staunch supporter of ousted President Joseph Estrada, was named by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as the vice chair of the National Road Board, which looks into how the tax imposed on motor vehicles is spent.
As chair of the ways and means committee in the 11th Congress, Suarez was instrumental in the drafting of a law, passed in 2000, that imposed the same tax. It is not surprising that he has interests in road construction and road-safety businesses as well (Open for Business, i-site.ph)
INITIAL MORAL AND LEGAL VICTORY
Exactly eight days after SQPM filed its certiorari petition on November 17, 2008 before the Supreme Court, its application for temporary restraining order was granted. But we are not gloating. It is still a long and exhausting fight. As Juan Manuel Marquez said after his surprise defeat via split decision with The Pacman, “Boxing contest is not about the first round. It is a 12-round fight.”
The TRO however turned out not what everybody was expecting it to be. What was restrained was not the conduct of the plebiscite on December 13, 2008 but the proclamation of the results of the votes. In other words, the plebiscite proceeds as fixed, all registered voters of Quezon are enjoined to vote. The caveat is that, while the Comelec keeps with the process, it stops right after the canvassing. No one is allowed to disclose or proclaim the results of the voting “until further orders”. The results shall only be made public once the Supreme Court declares RA 9495 as valid and constitutional. Otherwise, the results of the plebiscite are meaningless and moot.
Without missing a beat, SQPM promptly filed a reconsideration request citing the expense involved and the attendant confusion the tenor of the TRO created upon the electorate of Quezon. The media was even discordant in their reporting of the Court’s disposition of the application for injunction abetting futher puzzlement. This was not lost to the Supreme Court. And in due time, with resolute deliberation, hopefully it will issue the corresponding clarification on the restraining directive. The P38M budget for the plebiscite should be set aside for more salutary electoral purposes, the long overdue poll automation, for one.