REVERSING itself for the second time, the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday, voting 7-6, declared unconstitutional the laws passed by the 11th Congress that paved the way for the conversion of 16 municipalities into cities.

In a 16-page resolution, the Court en banc granted the motion of the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) appealing its December 21, 2009 resolution that declared the cityhood laws as constitutional.

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This means that the Court is reverting to its supposed final ruling in November 18, 2008 that declared unconstitutional the cityhood laws, which was reversed by the December ruling last year.

This is the third ruling of the High Couurt on the petition of LCP opposing the “wholesale conversion” of municipalities into cities, thereby reducing the share of existing cities in the Internal Revenue Allotment.

This change in the justices’ voting was brought about by the addition to the Court of three new magistrates - Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Mendoza, and Maria Lourdes Sereno - since the SC last ruled on the case.

The Court, through Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, ruled that the conversion into cities of the 16 municipalities violated Section 10 Article X of the Constitution.

This provision states that “no province, city, municipality or barangay shall be created, divided, merged, abolished or its boundary substantially altered, except in accordance with the criteria established in the local government code and subject to approval by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite in the political units directly affected.”

“The unconstitutionality of the Cityhood Laws lies in the fact that Congress provided an exemption contrary to the express language of the Constitution… Congress exceeded and abused its law-making power, rendering the challenged cityhood Laws void for being violative of the Constitution,” the SC said.

It also ruled then that the cityhood laws have violated RA 9009, which took effect in June 2001 or six years before the cityhood laws were passed, that amended Section 450 of the Local Government Code (LGC) by increasing the annual income requirement for conversion of a municipality into a city from P20 million to P100 million.

While all the criteria for the creation of cities must be embodied exclusively in the Local Government Code, the SC said the assailed cityhood laws provided an exemption from the increased income requirement for the creation of cities under Section 450 of the LGC.

Concurring with Carpio’s ponencia were Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Villarama, Mendoza, and Sereno.

All seven justices also agreed that the assailed resolution last year is void since the November 2008 decision was never reversed.

They said there could be no reversal of the November 2008 decision “for a tie-vote cannot result in any court order or directive,” referring to the 6-6 vote of the magistrates in a resolution in April last year that denied a second motion for reconsideration of respondent Commission on Elections.

The tribunal ruled that a tie-vote is a non-majority, which cannot overrule a prior affirmative action. “Undeniably, the 6-6 vote did not overrule the prior majority Decision of November 2008, as well as the prior majority en banc Resolution of March 31, 2009 denying reconsideration. The tie-vote on the second motion for reconsideration is not the same as a tie-vote on the main decision where there is no prior decision.”

Court records show however that there were still pending unresolved motions after the entry of judgment, which paved the way for another resolution of the Court on the case in December 2009.

Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., who penned the assailed resolution, dissented in this new ruling of the Court. He was joined in his dissent by Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad and Jose Portugal Perez.

Associate Justices Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Mariano Del Castillo again took no part in the case during voting in full Court session last Tuesday.

After the effectivity of RA 9009, the House of Representatives of the 12th Congress adopted Joint Resolution No. 29, which sought to exempt from the P100-million income requirement the 24 municipalities whose cityhood bills were not approved in the 11th Congress.

Out of these 24 municipalities, only 16 expressed intention to be converted into cities, which include the municipalities of Baybay (Leyte); Bogo (Cebu); Catbalogan (Samar); Tandag (Surigao del Sur); Borongan (Eastern Samar); Tayabas (Quezon province); Lamitan (Basilan); Tabuk (Kalinga); Bayugan (Agusan del Sur); Batac (Ilocos Norte); Mati (Davao Oriental); Guihulngan (Negros Oriental); Cabadbaran (Agusan del Norte); Carcar (Cebu); El Salvador (Misamis Oriental); and Naga (Cebu).

The House and the Senate later approved the cityhood bills, which lapsed into law on various dates from March to July 2007. (JCV/Sunnex)