IS the Supreme Court locked in a “Sisyphus Snydrome”?

In the realm of the dead, Sisyphus was sentenced to roll a huge stone up a steep hill, Greek mythology says. On reaching the summit, the stone would skid to the bottom. And he’d begin again.

Is that happening in former Rep. Jacinto Paras’s request: the Court reverse itself, yet again, in upholding legality of 16 towns converted into cities?

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In November 2008, by a 7 to 5 vote (two abstentions), the Court ruled: the 16 (Bogo, Naga and Carcar included) flunked Republic Act 9009 standards, e.g. generating P100-million in local income.

The 16 opted, instead, for palusot via exemptions. “The Constitution is clear,” Justice Antonio Carpio wrote. “Creation of local government units (LGUs) must follow criteria set.”

The decision became final and executory on May 21 last year. But in the Arroyo Court, “final” does not mean “definitive, conclusive, unchangeable, unappealable.” It also means “changeable, inconclusive, revocable.”

And on Dec. 21, the Court flipped-flopped. It changed the final, revoked the irrevocable and changed the unchangeable. The 16 were “qualified” to become cities.

That set off what promises to be a Sispyhus episode of “perpetual litigation.” The League of Cities (LCP) protested – and filed another motion for reconsideration (MR).

LCP questioned participation in the December reversal of Justices Diosdado Peralta, Mariano del Castillo, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama Jr. and Lucas Bersamin---who penned the controversial decision of exempting the Chief Justice from the ban on midnight appointments. “They were not yet members of the SC on Nov. 18, 2008 when the decision on this case was promulgated.”

This brawl is about money.

The 16 “cities” siphon from the common Internal Revenue Allotment pool. Bogo’s P60 million IRA, for example, ballooned to P180 million. This “sweat-free” cash spurred the stampede to clone cities.

In 1991, there were already 60 cities, many of dubious viability. Negros Occidental had 13. Himamalayan is a “city of only three barangays. The total soared to 131 in June 2007.

When the court U-turned, politicians had lined up 27 more towns to become cities, via Exemption Expressway. A city shingle can provide safety nets for fading political dynasties.

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

“When reversals happen for some reason other than the entry of new legal issues and facts, the Court’s credibility is put at risk,” investigative reporter Marites Vitug writes in her new award winning book: “Shadow of Doubt – Probing the Supreme Court.”

“Through the years, it has become obvious the justices flip-flop because they do not study the case – for lack of time or neglect – and completely rely on the ponente. When an MR comes their way, and litigants, through emissaries call the justices’ attention, or lobby with them, they then take a closer look at the case.

“This appears to be common. They have been approached. This is the shorthand explanation for this phenomenon.”

“Cities are changing the social fabric and culture of nations,” Asian Development Bank notes. “It has the elements of unpredictability and chaos”-– and opportunity, given statesmanship. Not the Sisyphus virus, though.

(juanlmercado@gmail.com)