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SC reverses self, upholds creation of 16 cities
By Benjamin B. Pulta
The Supreme Court (SC) has reversed its ruling last year on the so-called cityhood laws or Republic Acts (RAs) converting 16 municipalities into cities.
In a 35-page decision penned by Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the SC granted the second motion for reconsideration of the court’s Nov. 18, 2008 decision, which had ruled that the cityhood laws violated Sections 6 and 10, Article 10 of the Constitution.
Declared as valid and constitutional are RA 9389, which had the municipality of Baybay in Leyte province converted into a city; RA 9390, which had the municipality of Bogo in Cebu province converted into a city; RA 9391, which had the municipality of Catbalogan in Samar province converted into a city; RA 9392, which had the municipality of Tandag in Surigao del Sur province converted into a city;
RA 9393, which had the municipality of Lamitan in Basilan province converted into a city; RA 9394, which had the municipality of Borongan in Samar province converted into a city; RA 9398, which had the municipality of Tayabas in Quezon province converted into a city; RA 9404, which had the municipality of Tabuk in Kalinga province converted into a city;
RA 9405, which had the municipality of Bayugan in Agusan del Sur province converted into a city; RA 9407, which had the municipality of Batac in Ilocos Norte province converted into a city; RA 9408, which had the municipality of Mati in Davao Oriental province converted into a city;
RA 9409, which had the municipality of Guihulngan in Negros Oriental province converted into a city; 9434 (Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte province), RA 9435, which had the municipality of El Salvador in Misamis Oriental province converted into a city; RA 9436, which had the municipality of Carcar in Cebu province converted into a city; and RA 9491, which had the municipality of Naga, also in Cebu province, converted into a city.
In its latest ruling, the SC said all cityhood laws, enacted after the effectivity of RA 9009, increasing the income requirement for cityhood from P20 million to P100 million in Section 450 of the Local Government Code (LGC), explicitly exempt the abovementioned municipalities from the said increased income requirement.
The court held that consistent with its plenary legislative power on the matter, Congress can, via either a consolidated set of laws or a much simpler, single-subject enactment, impose the said verifiable criteria of viability.
These criteria need not be embodied in the LGC, albeit it is the ideal repository to ensure, as much as possible, the element of uniformity, the high court said. It further said that after making a codification, Congress can even enact an amendatory law adding to the existing layers of indicators earlier codified, just as efficaciously as it may reduce the same. As in this case, the amendatory RA 9009 upped the already codified income requirement from P20 million to P100 million.
The SC said that at the end of the day, the passage of the amendatory law is no different from the enactment of a law, i.e., the cityhood laws specifically exempting a particular political subdivision from the criteria earlier mentioned. Congress, in enacting the exempting law/s, effectively decreased the already codified indicators, it said.
The high tribunal said based on Congress’ deliberations and clear legislative intent was that the then pending cityhood bills would be outside the pale of the minimum income requirement of P100 million that Senate Bill 2159 proposes; and RA 9009 would not have any retroactive effect insofar as the cityhood bills are concerned.
The high court held that petitioner League of Cities of the Philippines and intervenors cannot plausibly invoke the equal protection clause precisely because no deprivation of property results by virtue of the enactment of the cityhood laws. The conversion of a municipality into a city will only affect its status as a political unit, but not its property as such, it stressed.
The SC moreover said as a matter of settled legal principle, “the fundamental right of equal protection does not require absolute equality. It is enough that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated alike, both as to rights or privileges conferred and responsibilities or obligations imposed. The equal protection clause does not preclude the state from recognizing and acting upon factual differences between individuals and classes.”
Furthermore, the high court held that the favorable treatment accorded the 16 municipalities by the cityhood laws rests on substantial distinction. It noted that respondent local government units (LGUs) had pending cityhood bills before the passage of RA 9009 and the year before the amendatory RA 9009, respondent LGUs had already met the income criterion exacted for cityhood under the LGC of 1991.
Associate Justices Renato Corona, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad and Martin Villarama Jr. concurred with Velasco’s decision.
Justice Antonio Carpio wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Conchita Carpio Morales, Arturo Brion and Diosdado Peralta.
Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Mariano Del Castillo did not take part in the rendering of the decision.