MANILA -- The Supreme Court (SC), ruling with finality on the legality of 16 Cityhood Laws, said Congress exceeded and abused its lawmaking power rendering the questioned laws unconstitutional.

Local chief executives of the 16 cities also met with their legal counsel, Estelito Mendoza, on Friday to discuss the effects of the High Court's ruling.

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No immediate details were released after the meeting.

Reversing itself for the second time, the SC, voting 7-6, declared unconstitutional the laws passed by the 11th Congress that paved 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.

This is the third ruling of the High Court 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.

"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 Republic Act (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.

The change in the justices' voting was also because of the entry of three new magistrates - Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Mendoza, and Maria Lourdes Sereno - since the SC last ruled on the case.

The high 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."

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.

Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., who penned the assailed resolution, dissented in this new ruling of the high tribunal. 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.

The reversion has posed a problem to the 16 LGUs, which elected 10 councilors instead of just eight.

Under the LGC, a city elects 10 councilors while a municipality, only eight. The final decision of the SC came three months after the elections.

Tabuk Mayor Ferdinand Tubban said if the high court's ruling is final then they cannot do anything but to follow it.

"It has been a long fight for all the people of Tabuk to claim the cityhood we have wanted and probably what the region also wanted for Cordillera development," he said.

"Whatever is stated in the ruling we will follow and start with that despite our persistence of claiming our cityhood," he added.

Naga Mayor Valdemar Chiong said the new SC decision has less effect on Naga's internal revenue allotment (IRA) because Naga has been receiving an IRA under a municipality status since May 2009. (JCV/JM Agreda of Sun.Star Baguio/Sunnex)