EL SALCADOR town in Misamis Oriental is no longer a city, again. This reversal of fortune must be dizzying for town officials and residents who have been proud to see their beloved place wear a symbol that bespeaks of an elevated status, of economic growth, and then see it lost, twice.

Fifteen other towns share a similar fate. But do their residents deserve this trouble? Certainly not, but the lessons that have emerged from this reversals of fate, or more likely, Supreme Court reversals, must be taken to heart by the leaders of the 16 towns and those aspiring for future cityhood.

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While it is convenient to lay the blame on the High Court for the flip-flops, local leaders of the towns aspiring for cityhood status should have, at the outset, exercised prudence in evaluating whether their localities, in law and in fact, truly deserve to be converted into cities. The primary motivation of the race towards cityhood seemed to be the trough known as the Internal Revenue Allocation (IRA).

The 16 towns engaged in a legal battle despite knowing that they flunked Republic Act 9009 standards, especially the required P100-million local income. And when the SC declared their cityhood status unconstitutional in 2008, they opted for the shortcut, via exemptions.

In between this legal drama, the 16's legal counsel Estelito Mendoza was reported to have written a "for-your-eyes-only" letter to the Court in January 2009. The veteran lawyer allegedly asked the justices to allow magistrates who didn't participate in deliberations to vote in the case. The League of Cities cried foul, calling Mendoza's act unethical. The Mendoza "affair" didn't help but instead cast doubt on the reputation of the 16. Many were asking whether they were willing to do "anything" to advance their cause.

When the Court declared the self-serving exemptions to be unconstitutional, the 16 towns marched on and filed motions for reconsideration, all torpedoed on March last year.

The 16 could have called it quits and told their constituents they've done their best but, on the contrary, they brought their cityhood ambitions back from the dead, to which the Court oddly, obliged by making a stunning turnaround on Dec. 21 last year.

In the latest ruling, the High Court said Congress exceeded and abused its lawmaking power rendering the questioned laws unconstitutional.

"The unconstitutionality of the Cityhood Laws lies in the fact that Congress provided an exemption contrary to the express language of the Constitution ... [C]ongress exceeded and abused its law-making power, rendering the challenged Cityhood Laws void for being violative of the Constitution," the court said.

The Court added that "limiting the exemption only to the 16 municipalities violates the requirement that the classification must apply to all similarly-situated. Municipalities with the same income as the 16 respondent municipalities cannot convert into cities, while the 16 respondent municipalities can. Clearly, as worded the exemption provision found in the Cityhood Laws, even if it were written in Section 450 of the Local Government Code, would still be unconstitutional for violation of the equal protection clause."

It doesn't take rocket science to understand what the Court, despite the head-scratching somersaults, meant: There is an established, fair process of creating cities. Fruits prematurely ripened often leave a bad taste in the mouth. The 16 could have saved themselves and their constituents from trouble had they stuck to this simple life lesson from the very start.