OpinionsViewpointOnce More, with Feeling

Once More, with Feeling

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juanlmercado@gmail.com

CEBU CITY– That’s the title of a Broadway 2001 musical on vampires, of all things. Did the neon lights also t this Supreme Court ‘s ip-op-ips on 16 towns that masqueraded as cities?

In a 7-6 decision, the Court this month whacked 16 cities back into towns. That reversed its December 2009 decision authorizing the 16 to fund city halls . But then that overturned a November 2008 ruling which declared the 16 cityhood laws unconstitutional.

Got that? No? Hindi ka nagi-isa. Consider this judicial zig-zag one “zag” at a time. Start with the latest “zig”, as Inquirer reported: “SC: It’s a nal no to 16 new cities.”

“With two justices abstaining, the Supreme Court reversed itself anew in the controversial case of 16 cityhood laws. This time, (the Court) reinstated its 2008 decision that declared these laws unconstitutional.”

Antonio Carpio is arguably the best Supreme Court chief justice we never had. The Constitution “expressly provides that no city shall be created except in accordance with the criteria established in the local government code,” Justice Carpio writes in this new decision.

“Clearly, the cityhood laws contravene the letter and intent of … the Constitution,” it adds. Congress, in fact, “exceeded and abused its law-making power.”

Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Martin Villarama Jr. and Jose Mendoza concurred. So did mint-new justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

The clobbered 16 are: Baybay, Leyte; Bogo, Naga and Carcar in Cebu; Catbalogan, Samar; Tandag, Surigao del Sur; Lamitan, Basilan; Borongan, Samar; Tayabas, Quezon; Tabuk, Kalinga; Bayugan, Agusan del Sur; Batac, Ilocos Norte; Mati in Davao Oriental, plus Guihulngan in Negros Oriental.

The 16 opted for palusot. They badgered the 14th Congress to exempt them from a task borne by others, i.e. to generate P100 million in local income. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo winked at this cushy shortcut via exemptions by letting the 16 bills lapse into law.

The Court shredded a motion for reconsideration by the 16. By a 7-5 vote in March 2009, the Court slammed the door shut “with finality for lack of merit”. Following Entry of Judgment , the Court added: “No further pleadings shall be entertained.”

“We are not  nal because we are infallible,” Justice Robert Jackson wrote of the US Supreme Court. “But(we are) infallible only because we are nal.”

In the Arroyo Court, alas, “‘final’ does not mean denitive, decisive, conclusive, unchangeable or unappealable,” Sun Star noted. It can also mean “changeable, inconclusive or revocable.”

Thus, the Court made a U-turn on Dec. 21 last year. Prohibited pleadings were entertained. And what lacked merit morphed into the meritorious. Read Justice Presbitero Velasco’s reversal ponencia.

A whiff of scandal surfaced. Inquirer’s editorial Dear Justice revealed that the 16 “cities” counsel Estelito Mendoza wrote a “For-Your-Eyes-Only” letter” to justices. In January 2009, Mendoza asked: Justices who didn’t participate in deliberations be allowed to vote anyway. “Mendoza did not deny the existence of the letters,” Inquirer added. “It is clear… they tried to pull a fast one over us.”

“Unethical”, erupted League of Cities vice chair Paulino Salvador Leachon. “This is completely against the law–to write the court seeking a favorable decision,” the Calapan mayor added…”We were not provided with those secret documents.”

Today, the 16 must paint over city hall signs and shed new hire. They must yank their hands out from Internal Revenue Allotment of 121 other cities.

That “sweat-free” cash spurred the stampede to clone cities. In 1991, there were 60 cities. Many were of dubious viability. The total soared to 131 in June 2007.

Shell cities “strained national government’s ability to finance these units,” World and Asian Development Banks warned as early as 2000. “The small size of LGUs prevent them from generating their own revenues .”

Justice Velasco Jr. dissented — as expected. He found the decision “rather startling“. Returning the Court to constitutional moorings is indeed startling. Now, will the Court start breaking free of the Sysiphus syndrome: “A perpetual circuit of never nal litigations.”?

In the realm of the dead, Sisyphus was sentenced to roll a huge stone up a steep hill, Greek mythology tells us. There was an eternal handcuff. On reaching the summit, the stone would skid to the bottom.

The Carpio ponencia may have ended that syndrome insofar as the cities issue is concerned. What about equally jolting ip-ops, as in the Flight Attendants vs Philippine Airlines, to cite just one.

The new decision, meanwhile, scuttled plans of congressmen to send 27 more towns hurtling down ‘Exemption Highway” to become cities. It reinforces the Court decision to scrub Dinagat Island as the 81st province.

After a plebiscite, Dinagat had been proclaimed and ofcials appointed, then Gov. Geraldine Ecleo-Villaroman argued. The island’s failure to meet criteria of land area, population, and income “was irrelevant”.

This proposition is “fraught with mischief … and creates a dangerous precedent,” snapped Justice Peralta. The Court would “not passively accept a fait accompli for an illegal province…. The error should not provide the very excuse for perpetuation of such wrong…The Court should interpret and indicate what the law is and should be.”

Say that again, Your Honors please. Just “once more — with feeling”.

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