POSTSCRIPT / March 1, 2011 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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What prompted SC’s flip on cityhood issue?

SECRET WEAPON: Miracle worker Estelito Mendoza may want to share with his countless admirers what divine powers he wielded to prompt the Supreme Court to resurrect a case where it had rendered and reiterated a final ruling — and then reverse its decision on it.

And if they do not mind, the magistrates of the High Court may also want to explain, for our edification, the tantalizing arguments that Mendoza threw at them to make them perform such a tricky judicial somersault.

This refers to the latest flip-flop of the Supreme Court – its decision last Feb. 17 reversing a previous final verdict that struck down as unconstitutional the laws converting 16 municipalities into cities.

Voting 7-6, it was the nth time the SC has ruled on the issue, and the third reversal. The court first declared the laws unconstitutional in November 2008 then reversed itself in December 2009. In August 2010, the SC declared them illegal, but in its latest decision, it again upheld their constitutionality.

Will there be another somersault coming?

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LCP OBJECTIONS: The 180-degree turnaround shocked many observers, especially members of the League of Cities of the Philippines, over what they said was an irregular undoing of a done deal.

Among other things, the LCP led by Mayor Oscar Rodriguez of San Fernando City (Pampanga) is demanding a full disclosure of the letters that Mendoza reportedly sent to the Court that led to the reopening of the supposedly closed case.

Rodriguez said it was unseemly that on the basis of these letters, sent outside the regular judicial process, the Court reopened and reversed its decision that has become final and executory.

He added that the decision was deemed executed with the Department of Budget and Management’s final IRA allocation in 2008 and the resolution of the Commission on Elections. Towns have only eight councilors, but those involved in the dispute elected 10 in the last elections, perhaps in anticipation of city status.

Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza, LCP secretary-general, said they were thinking of filing a motion for reconsideration or, in a worst scenario, initiate impeachment proceedings against the SC justices.

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DIVIDING IRA CAKE: Under the criteria set by the Local Government Code (RA 9009), a town may qualify for cityhood if it meets the minimum requirement for land area of 100 square kilometers, a population of 150,000, and an average locally-generated annual income of P100 million for two consecutive years.

Big money appears to be the biggest factor driving the debate, pro and con. Cities share a common pie called IRA (Internal Revenue Allotments) that local governments receive yearly from the national collection.

Under present policy, 23 percent of internal revenue collected nationwide is divided among 122 cities (as of September 2010, excluding the 16 new ones), and 30 percent of it among some 1,400 towns.

This mathematical fact alone, according to Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo – who used to be mayor of Naga City — may explain the boiling issue over towns scrambling to convert into cities and for cities to keep blocking them.

In its latest ruling, the SC said the laws creating these 16 new cities were consistent with the Constitution:

Baybay City in Leyte (RA 9389), Bogo City in Cebu (RA 9390 ), Catbalogan City in Samar (RA 9391), Tandag City in Surigao del Sur (RA 9392), Lamitan City in Basilan (RA 9393), Borongan City in Samar (RA 9394), Tayabas City in Quezon (RA 9398), Tabuk City in Kalinga (RA 9404), Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur (RA 9405), Batac City in Ilocos Norte (RA 9407), Mati City in Davao Oriental (RA 9408), Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental (RA 9409), Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte (RA 9434), El Salvador City in Misamis Oriental (RA 9435), Carcar City in Cebu (RA 9436) and Naga City in Cebu (RA 9491).

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LOCAL INCOME: The LCP has said that the SC reversing itself to favor the creation of 16 new cities would have “a significant impact on the growth, viability and development of cities already in existence.”

This means that league members are worried that there would be 16 more recipients sharing their IRA pie for cities, thereby shrinking their individual slices.

Rodriguez pointed out that RA 9009 intended the municipalities aspiring for cityhood to prove that they will be capable of internally generating enough income for their sustenance. He said some of the aspiring cities have failed to do this.

Towns generally get smaller IRA shares than cities. He said the law frowns on their conversion to cities based on their substantially increasing their income from a bigger IRA share after becoming cities.

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DISCLOSE LETTERS: Lawyer Joseph Morigomen of the LCP said that two communications bearing the letterhead of Estelito Mendoza’s law firm were received by the Supreme Court on Jan. 19, 2009, on the constitutionality issue. They should be made public, he said.

But Mayor Michelle Rabat of Mati City in Davao Oriental said the letters were just requests for then Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura to cast their votes, instead of abstaining, on the issue of constitutionality.

Rabat said this was a valid request made after the Supreme Court ended on a deadlock 6-6 vote on the issue. She said, “All he (Mendoza) said was since it’s an issue on constitutionality the tie should be broken thus the request for the two abstaining justices to vote.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 1, 2011)

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