From 27 provinces, 33 cities, Mindanao is now back to 25 provinces and 27 cities

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 August) – From 27 provinces and 33 cities in 2008, Mindanao is back to having only 25 provinces and 27 cities with the Supreme Court reiterating its November 18, 2008 decision declaring unconstitutional the cityhood laws converting 16 towns into cities, six of them in Mindanao.

Earlier, the creation of two provinces in Mindanao was also declared unconstitutional.

In January 2009, the Supreme Court ruled with finality a July 2008 decision that the creation of  Shariff Kabunsuan province (from Maguindanao) by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Regional Legislative Assembly was unconstitutional as only Congress has the power to create provinces.

In May 2010, the Supreme Court affirmed its February 2010 decision declaring unconstitutional Republic Act No. 9355 which created the province of Dinagat Island (from Surigao del Norte), for having failed to meet the required land area and population under the Local Government Code (LGC).

A press statement posted on the Supreme Court website on August 27 said that by a vote of seven-six, with two justices taking no part, the Supreme Court granted the motions for reconsideration of the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP), et al. and reinstated its November 18, 2008 decision “declaring unconstitutional the Cityhood Laws or Republic Acts (RAs) converting 16 municipalities into cities.”

Declared as unconstitutional were Mindanao cities created under Republic Acts 9392 (Tandag City in Surigao del Sur),  9393 (Lamitan City in Basilan), 9405 (Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur), 9408 (Mati City in Davao Oriental), 9434 (Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte),  and 9435 (El Salvador City in Misamis Oriental).

Also declared unconstitutional were Visayas cities created under Republic Acts 9436 (Carcar City in Cebu), and 9491 (Naga City in Cebu), 9389 (Baybay City in Leyte), 9390 (Bogo City in Cebu), 9391 (Catbalogan City in Samar), 9394 (Borongan City in Samar), 9409 (Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental) and Luzon cities created under Republic Acts 9398 (Tayabas City in Quezon), 9404 (Tabuk City in Kalinga), and 9407 (Batac City in Ilocos Norte).

In the latest resolution, the Court decision, penned by Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, reiterated its November 18, 2008 ruling that the Cityhood Laws violate section 10, Art. X of the Constitution.

Section 10 provides that “No province, city, municipality, or barangay may 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.”

The decision stressed 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 sec. 450 of the LGC.”

Section 450 of the Local Government Code, provides that a municipality or a cluster of barangays may be converted into a component city if it has an average annual income, as certified by the Department of Finance, of at least Twenty million pesos (P20,000,000.00) for the last two (2) consecutive years based on 1991 constant prices, and if it has either of the following requisites: a contiguous territory of at least one hundred (100) square kilometers, as certified by the Lands Management Bureau; or, a population of not less than one hundred fifty thousand (150,000) inhabitants, as certified by the National Statistics Office: Provided, That, the creation thereof shall not reduce the land area, population, and income of the original unit or units at the time of said creation to less than the minimum requirements prescribed herein.”

The same section also provides that “the territorial jurisdiction of a newly-created city shall be properly identified by metes and bounds. The requirement on land area shall not apply where the city proposed to be created is composed of one (1) or more islands. The territory need not be contiguous if it comprises two (2) or more islands” and that “the average annual income shall include the income accruing to the general fund, exclusive of special funds, transfers, and non-recurring income.”

In February 2001, Congress passed RA 9009, amending Section 450 of the LGC, increasing the income requirement for a town to be converted into city “if it has a locally generated average annual income, as certified by the Department of Finance, of at least One hundred million pesos (P100,000,000.00) for the last two (2) consecutive years based on 2000 constant prices.”

The cityhood laws were passed after the passage of RA 9009.

The League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) questioned before the Supreme Court the conversion of the 16 towns into cities claiming they did not comply with the requirements of the law. The conversion had also caused the reduction of  the Internal Revenue Allotments of the older cities.

None of the 16 municipalities, however, met the P100-million income requirement at the time their cityhood laws were passed.

In the latest resolution, the Court stressed 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 sec. 450 of the LGC.

“The unconstitutionality of the Cityhood Laws lies in the fact that Congress provided an exemption contrary to the express language of the Constitution….[C]ongress exceeded and abused its law-making power, rendering the challenged Cityhood Laws void for being violative of the Constitution,” the Court ruled.

The Court further held that “limiting the exemption only to the 16 municipalities violates the requirement that the classification must apply to all similarly situated. Municipalities with the same income as the 16 respondent municipalities cannot convert into cities, while the 16 respondent municipalities can. Clearly, as worded the exemption provision found in the Cityhood Laws, even if it were written in Section 450 of the Local Government Code, would still be unconstitutional for violation of the equal protection clause.”

Joining Justice Carpio are Justices Conchita Carpio Morales, Arturo D. Brion, Diosdado M. Peralta, Martin S. Villarama, Jr., Jose C. Mendoza, and Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno.

Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. who penned the assailed December 21, 2009 ruling, wrote a dissenting opinion. He was joined in his dissent by Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and Justices Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas P. Bersamin, Roberto A. Abad, and Jose Portugal Perez.

Justices Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura and Mariano C. Del Castillo took no part. (MindaNews)

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