The Supreme Court (SC) has made another 360-degree turn on the conversion of 16 municipalities into cities by reverting to its earlier ruling that struck down as unconstitutional their respective “cityhood” laws.
In a close 7-6 vote, with two justices taking no part, the High Court reversed its December 21, 2009 resolution upholding the constitutionality of 16 laws that upgraded the status of several local governments.
The Court granted the motion for reconsideration filed by the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) and reinstated its November 18, 2008 decision declaring the conversion unconstitutional for failure of the towns to comply with a law that requires municipalities to have an annual income of P100 million to vie for cityhood.
The December 21, 2009 resolution was in fact a reversal of the November 18, 2008 decision, which became final on March 31, 2009 when the Court denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the 16 towns.
Less than a month later, or on April 28, 2009, the High Tribunal, voting 6-6, denied the second motion for reconsideration filed by the towns.
Subsequently, the November 18, 2008 ruling became final and executory and was recorded in the Book of Entries of Judgments on May 21, 2009.
However, shortly thereafter, it was realized that there were still pending unresolved motions. Hence, in the resolution of the pending motions, the SC, on December 21, 2009, reversed its November 18, 2008 decision.
The SC then granted the second motion for reconsideration, which cited the split voting it made on March 31, 2009.
But in its latest resolution penned by Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio, the SC en banc ruled that there could be no reversal of the November 18, 2008 decision “for a tie-vote cannot result in any court order or directive,” noting that the Court was evenly divided when it subsequently voted on the second motion for reconsideration.
It further ruled that a tie-vote is a non-majority which cannot overrule a prior affirmative action, which in this case the November 18, 2008 decision striking down the cityhood laws.
“Undeniably, the 6-6 vote did not overrule the prior majority en banc decision of 18 November 2008, as well as the prior majority en banc resolution of 31 March 2009 denying reconsideration. The tie-vote on the second motion for reconsideration is not the same as a tie-vote on the main decision where there is no prior decision,” the SC explained.
In reinstating its 2008 ruling, the SC reiterated that the 16 cityhood laws violate Section 10, Article X of the Constitution, which provides that “no city shall be created except in accordance with the criteria established in the Local Government Code.”
It 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 P100-million income requirement for the creation of cities under Section 450 of the Code.
“The unconstitutionality of the Cityhood Laws lies in the fact that Congress provided an exemption contrary to the express language of the Constitution…Congress exceeded and abused its law-making power, rendering the challenged cityhood laws void for being violative of the Constitution,” the Court said.
The 16 towns converted into cities under various Republic Acts are Baybay in Leyte; Bogo in Cebu; Catbalogan in Samar; Tandag in Surigao del Sur; Borongan in Eastern Samar; Tayabas in Quezon; Lamitan in Basilan; Tabuk in Kalinga; Bayugan in Agusan del Sur; Batac in Ilocos Norte; Mati in Davao Oriental; Guihulngan in Negros Oriental; Cabadbaran in Agusan del Norte; Carcar in Cebu; El Salvador in Misamis Oriental; and Naga in Cebu.
The SC said that limiting the exemption only to the 16 towns “violates the requirement that the classification must apply to all (those) similarly situated.”
“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,” the Court said in the Carpio decision.
Joining Carpio are Associate Justices Conchita Carpio Morales, Arturo D. Brion, Diosdado M. Peralta, Martin S. Villarama Jr., Jose C. Mendoza, and Maria Lourdes A. Sereno.
Associate 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 Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Lucas P. Bersamin, Roberto A. Abad, and Jose P. Perez.
Associate Justices Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura and Mariano C. del Castillo took no part.