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‘Joke of the century’ (2)

JUSTICE CONCHITA Carpio-Morales whacked  a Supreme Court decision that blinked at Eduardo Cojuangco pocketing 16.2 million San Miguel Corp. shares by dipping into levies squeezed from indigent coconut farmers. “The  biggest joke to hit the century,” she wrote before retiring.

Did the same Court crack the “second biggest joke to hit the century?” Voting 7-6-2, the tribunal ruled  “with finality” that the creation of 16 new cities didn’t  fracture the Constitution.  All 16  flunked the tax collection criterion of  P100 million average for two consecutive years set by the Local Government Code (LGC). The Court  cart-wheeled  repeatedly, within three years,   over a “final decision” that had  become, in its own words, “executory.”  “Oh no! Not again!” the Inquirer  headlined February’s flip-flop.

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“Justices call the 16 cities’ case one of the most contentious issues the Supreme Court  has ruled on,” the Sun Star noted. The Court changed its mind three times after ruling on Nov. 18, 2008 that the 16 didn’t meet constitutional criteria. The Court reversed itself  on  Dec. 31, 2009, saying  the  16 cityhood laws were  constitutional.  No, they are not,  the Court said in a ruling handed down on Aug. 24, 2010. And on Feb. 15, 2011, it somersaulted  and said  the laws were constitutional.

By  then, vertigo afflicted  everybody. That  includes the  League of  Cities. Its 120 members  protested the 16 “upstarts”  siphoning  their Internal Revenue Allotments.

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“League of 16” members were also strapped to this  “judicial yoyo.” The 16  include  Baybay, Leyte; Naga, Bogo and Carcar in Cebu; Catbalogan, Samar; Borongan, Eastern Samar; Tandag, Surigao del Sur; and Lamitan, Basilan. The others are: Tayabas, Quezon; Tabuk, Kalinga; Bayugan, Agusan del Sur; Batac, Ilocos Norte; Mati, Davao Oriental; Guihulngan, Negros Oriental; Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte; and El Salvador, Misamis Oriental.

The line-up of those who backed the 16  was  predictable:  Chief Justice Renato Corona, Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez,  Jose Mendoza switched vote this time around.

“This Court made history with its repeated flip-flopping in this case,” Justice Antonio Carpio led  in his dissenting opinion.  He had written the original ponencia that  “defrocked” the 16.

Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales also dissented. So did Justices  Martin Villarama Jr., Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Arturo Brion and Diosdado Peralta.

“There is absolutely nothing in the [16] Cityhood Laws to support the majority decision that [they] amended the Local Government Code,” Carpio wrote. Thus, the 16 must  generate P100 million income, not merely P20 million. And the  “Separability Clause” in each cityhood  bill  provides that the LGC prevails in case  of inconsistency.

The majority committed a  “glaring error” by claiming the P100-million minimum income  standard  was “arbitrarily made” or “extremely difficult” to comply with.  San Juan, Navotas, Sta. Rosa (Laguna), Dasmariñas (Cavite) and Biñan (Laguna) “were created in full compliance with the P100 million income criterion.”

There are, in fact,  21 towns in Luzon  that  generate P100 million incomes. The League of Cities  endorsed their cityhood applications. The qualified towns are: Cabuyao and San Pedro in Laguna; Cainta, Taytay and Binangonan in Rizal; Bacoor, General Trias, Imus, Carmona, and Silang in Cavite; San Pedro, Laguna; Pantabangan in  Nueva Ecija; Calaca, Sto. Tomas, Bauan and Nasugbu in Batangas; Mauban in Quezon; Marilao, Sta. Maria and Norzagaray in Bulacan; and Limay in Bataan.

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“The majority does not state that the P100 million income requirement is unconstitutional,” Carpio pointed out.  They simply refused to apply the prevailing law. Instead, they  applied  a repealed law. “There is neither law nor logic in the majority decision.”

The  16  “stick out like a sore thumb … as  distinctly privileged cities with only P20-million  annual income.”  This  discriminates against  cities  that  meet the law’s criteria.  More basic, this bias   “violates the equal protection clause” of the Constitution.

The Majority in the Court  also  made short shrift  of  the League of Cities complaint, saying it “all boils down to money.” No, Carpio  wrote.  “It boils down to equity and fairness… and faithful compliance with an express mandatory provision of the Constitution.”

Internal Revenue Allotments of  League of Cities members  would be sapped to meet the claims of 16 additional  cities.  “For  every peso that each Davaoeño receives, his counterpart in the respondent municipality [one of the 16] will receive more than two pesos.”

“The majority gravely loses sight of the fact that ‘the members of petitioner League of Cities are also in need of the same resources’.”  These resources  were meant “for almost 40 million Filipinos, as compared to only 1.3 million Filipinos in the [16] respondent municipalities.”

In his concurring opinion for the majority,  Justice Roberto A. Abad claimed the Court substantially complied  with the Constitution. That’s not enough, Carpio snapped.  “There must be strict, not only substantial, compliance with the constitutional requirement.”

The economic lifeline of existing cities may be seriously affected, he warned. There is an P80-million gap between what the 16 earn and what the law requires.

To deem that as “substantial compliance”   is like saying that those who obtain a general average of 20 percent in the bar examinations are in “substantial compliance” with requirements for admission to the bar where the highest possible score is 100 percent.

So, are we all the butt of  the “second biggest joke to hit the century?”

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TAGS: cityhood laws, conchita carpio-morales, Eduardo Cojuangco, local governments, opinion, San Miguel Corp, Supreme Court
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