SC reversal on 16 cityhood laws confusing, says Mayor Lobregat

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/18 Feb)  — From town to city, to town again, to city again.

The latest Supreme Court ruling reversing its earlier decision on the 16 cityhood laws– is confusing, Mayor Celso Lobregat said, referring to the February 15 decision of the Supreme Court declaring constitutional the controversial 16 cityhood laws it earlier declared as unconstitutional.

“Indeed this is a very unusual situation wherein the Supreme Court flip-flopped again,”  Lobregat told reporters

“We are surprised. I thought we’d heard the end of this,” he added.

Lobregat said the Supreme Court’s reversal set a bad precedent, noting that when there is a change in the composition of the High Court, decisions on various cases are changed.

“So meaning, you can reopen cases that have long been decided and settled by the Supreme so when will there be a finality?” he asked

He said the League of Cities, now under the leadership of Mayor Oscar Rodriguez of San Fernando City, Pampanga will definitely file another motion for reconsideration, citing the effects of the decision on the internal revenue allotment of the existing 122 cities.

“We cannot just take it sitting down because it is really unusual,” he said.

He stressed it has been the League’s position that municipalities that meet the requirements are most welcome to become cities. But converting municipalities without passing the requirements is grossly unfair to the others that had to do it the hard way, Lobregat said.

Lobregat said the criteria for conversion of municipalities into cities is set in the Local Government Code and thus, should be implemented equally on all municipalities that seek to be converted into cities.

Otherwise, he said, the Local Government Code should be amended to change the rules.

“We are welcoming municipalities to become cities as long as they comply with the requirements of the Local Government Code. Any municipality which has the qualification to become a city is welcome,” he added.

Initial computations made when the cityhood laws were passed showed that Zamboanga City will lose more or less a hundred million pesos in IRA share per year, Lobregat said.

In 2008, Zamboanga City joined the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP in protest actions to show opposition to what the league termed as unconstitutional conversion of municipalities in the case of the 16 supposedly new cities.

Unconstitutional

Voting 7-5, the Supreme Court on November 18, 2008 granted the petition of the League of Cities of the Philippines,seeking to declare the cityhood laws as unconstitutional.

Sixteen cities, six of them in Mindanao (Tandag, Surigao del Sur; Bayugan, Agusan del Sur; Mati, Davao Oriental; Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte, Lamitan, Basilan; and El Salvador, Misamis Oriental),  reverted to their status as municipalities when the Supreme Court voided their cityhood status for failing to comply with the requirements of the law.

Then Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. said the SC decision would bring back “order and sanity to the practice of elevating local government units to higher levels.”

“The Supreme Court ruling invalidating their conversion from municipalities into cities is good for the rule of law,” he said.

“We legislators should carefully adhere to the requirements of the law,” he said.

The high court said the laws which created these cities could not claim to be exempted from Republic Act 9009, which took effect in June, 2001, amending section 450 of the Local Government Code to increase the annual income requirement for a municipality to become a city from P20 million to P100 million.

Pimentel, principal author of the Code, said the municipalities misinterpreted the statutory requirement on income when they added their share of the Internal Revenue Allotment in the computation of their annual income to qualify for cityhood.

He clarified that the minimum income required to qualify for cityhood “should be determined on the basis of locally generated funds, that is without adding on it the incoming funds allocated by the Code as internal revenue share.”

“As a result of that erroneous interpretation, bills creating cities literally flew, like a plague of locusts in the Old Testament, into the calendar of the Senate from the House of Representatives,” he said.

The senator said municipalities aspire to become cities to enable them to get a bigger share of the IRA. But he said this would reduce the total amount of IRA that is divided among the existing cities.

“The number of cities had dramatically risen to more than 140 last year. Before the enactment of the Local Government Code in 1991, there were only 50 cities,” he said in a statement on November 19, 2008.

League of 16

The League of 16, referring to the 16 towns converted into cities, filed a motion for reconsideration which the Supreme Court denied on March 31, 2009.  It then sought permission to file a second motion for reconsideration, with the Supreme Court ruling on April 28, 2009 with a vote of 6-6.

On December 21, 2009, the Supreme Court, voting 6-4, granted the second motion for reconsideration filed by the League of 16 to declare as valid and constitutional the 16 cityhood laws, saying the “inconclusive 6-6 tie vote reflected in the April 28, 2009, resolution was the last vote on the issue of whether or not the cityhood laws infringe the Constitution” and that “in light of the 6-6 vote (the issue) should be deliberated anew until the required concurrence on the issue of the validity or invalidity of the laws in question is, on the merits, secured.”

On August 27, 2010, the Supreme Court in a press statement said that by a vote of  7-6 with two justices taking no part, it granted the motions for reconsideration of the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) and reinstated its November 18, 2008 decision “declaring unconstitutional the Cityhood Laws.”

Declared as unconstitutional were Republic Acts 9392 (creating 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 Republic Acts 9436 (creating Carcar City in Cebu),  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).

But last Monday, the Supreme Court again reversed its ruling

Unusual

Lobregat noted that even Court administrator and SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez has described the latest decision by saying “this is really a very unusual case. I have yet to hear another case which has gone this way.”

Among the justices who voted to declare the cityhood laws constitutional were Chief Justice Renato Corona, Associate Justices Pesbitero Velasco, Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez and Jose Mendoza.

Associate justices Antonio Carpio, Martin Villarama Jr., Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion and Diosdado Peralta maintained the position that the cityhood laws are unconstitutional while Associate jusices Mariano del Castillo and Antonio Eduardo Nachura did not participate in the resolution of the case anew.

Atty. Quirino Esguerra, Jr., the legal counsel for Lamitan, Basilan, said the latest Supreme Court ruling “will have a very good impact on Lamitan” citing it will increase the town’s budget from P90 million to P210 million as a city.

Esguerra said Lamitan can now continue the implementation of the infrastructure projects that were suspended when its status reverted to a municipality. (MindaNews)

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