CEBU CITY -- A justice of the Supreme Court (SC) has noted a flaw in the tribunal's recent decision turning three Cebu towns and 13 other municipalities elsewhere back into cities.

The flaw is something that the League of Cities, which has objected to the newly-created towns since the beginning, can use in court.

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But beyond the question of whether Carcar, Bogo, and Naga as well as the 13 other areas are indeed cities, Justice Antonio Carpio foresees a "catastrophe on the nation" if the SC sustains its Dec. 21 decision to reverse itself. He warned of Charter change coming back to life.

"Such an unprecedented ruling would resurrect contentious political issues long ago settled, such as the Pirma initiative in Santiago and the people's initiative in Lambino," he said in a five-point dissenting opinion on the Dec. 21 ruling.

"(It) would destabilize not only this Court, but also the executive and legislative branches of government," he said.

The League of Cities filed their motion for reconsideration against the Dec. 21 ruling in Manila last Wednesday but mainly bickered about the money.

In their motion and interview with the media, League of Cities legal counsel Joseph Mari reiterated that the "wholesale conversion of municipalities into cities" reduces the share all old cities get from the National Government's tax collections.

Carpio, on the other hand, saw a Supreme Court violating its own rules and the consequences of doing so.

The SC, in ruling on the main case last Nov. 18, 2008, stripped the new cities of their title, siding with the League of Cities in saying the individual laws that granted the new cities their charter were unconstitutional.

Exemption

Voting 6-5, the SC said the cityhood laws "hide behind an exemption not found in the text of the Local Government Code, as amended." It was Carpio who translated the vote into text and rendered that judgment.

The new cities, later calling themselves the League of 16, filed a motion for reconsideration, with former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza urging SC justices who inhibited themselves during the Nov. 18, 2008 deliberations to now cast their votes.

The SC decided on the matter against last June 2, 2009.

Voting 7-5 this time, it still rendered the charters of the new cities void. The Supreme Court's information office even issued a press release entitled "SC writes finis to the 16 cityhood bills."

The League of 16, last March 31, 2009, then filed a motion seeking permission to file a second motion for reconsideration, which the High Court, on April 28, 2009, ruled on with a vote of 6-6.

Noting the swing vote, the League of 16 filed a motion to amend the April 28 ruling and to declare instead that their March 31, 2009 motion for reconsideration was unresolved and subject to further proceedings.

In the Dec. 21 ruling, which was penned by Justice Presbitero Velasco, the SC said the 6-6 vote betrays an "evenly divided Court" and that, at the end of the day, "the vote that really counts really turn on the constitutionality of the cityhood laws."

Velasco then cited the need to determine the legislative intent of Congress when it amended the Local Government Code and, through Republic Act 9009, increased the annual income required of a town that wants to become a city.

He noted how the assailed cityhood laws were enacted five years after RA 9009, and that the framers of RA 9009 were already in agreement that those municipalities already passed bills before the amendment was even proposed.

Carpio however stressed that the 6-6 vote over the motion to amend the April 28, 2009 killed it and did not give it life, citing Administrative Matter 99-1-09-SC.

Deadlock

"Significantly, a deadlock vote on an original action is not novel to the Court. In fact, the Court had experienced such a deadlock in Cruz v. Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Badoy, Jr. versus Comelec, Antonio, Jr. versus Comelec, Agudo versus Comelec, and People versus Lopez," he said.

In these cases, Carpio said, the SC "clearly demonstrated" its consistency in applying the rule on tie votes.

But Carpio is seeing a bigger threat.

By going against Administrative Matter 99-1-09-SC in the ruling involving the new cities, Carpio said the SC is also poised to "unleash a catastrophe on the nation" - the revival of Charter change.

He noted how the Supreme Court, in declaring the People's Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action (Pirma) unconstitutional via its ruling in Santiago versus Comelec, voted 8-5 in favor of permanently barring the Commission on Elections from taking cognizance of any petition for initiatives to amend the Constitution.

Then acting on the motion for reconsideration that was subsequently filed, the SC ruled, voting 7-7 with one abstention, to deny reconsideration.

Pirma

The Pirma initiative was a move by supporters of former president Fidel Ramos who wanted amendments to the 1987 constitution so that he could extend his term in office.

He also cited a second incident, resolved by the SC in Lambino vs. Comelec, which involved the Feb. 15, 2006 initiative of Raul Lambino and incumbent Bohol Representative Erico Aumentado to gather signatures to amend the Constitution.

The Comelec denied due course to the petition for lack of an enabling law governing initiative petitions to amend the Constitution and cited the SC's earlier ruling in Santiago versus Comelec.

Carpio also cited a third case, that of Cruz versus the environment secretary, which involved the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Indigenous Peoples Act of 1997 which, in turn, gave back ancestral domain to tribes.

In resolving it, the Court en banc denied the petition for mandamus and prohibition, ruling 7-7, as well as the motion for reconsideration that followed it, resulting in a per curiam decision affirming the constitutionality of the law.

"Santiago and Cruz are squarely in point with the present cases because Santiago and Cruz, like the present cases, indisputably involve the constitutionality of a law and a tie-vote on the motion for reconsideration," he said. (KNR of Sun.Star Cebu)