VOTING 6-4,the Supreme Court (SC) reversed its earlier decision and declared as constitutional the cityhood laws that converted 16 municipalities into cities.
The Court en banc, in a 35-page decision penned by Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., granted the second motion for reconsideration by the respondent cities on the Court’s November 18, 2008 decision that declared the cityhood laws as unconstitutional for violation of Sections 6 and 10 of the Constitution.
Declared as valid and constitutional are RA Nos. 9389 (Baybay City in Leyte), 9390 (Bogo City in Cebu), 9391 (Catbalogan City in Samar), 9392 (Tandag City in Surigao del Sur), 9393 (Lamitan City in Basilan), 9394 (Borongan City in Samar), 9398 (Tayabas City in Quezon), 9404 (Tabuk City in Kalinga), 9405 (Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur), 9407 (Batac City in Ilocos Norte), 9408 (Mati City in Davao Oriental), 9409 (Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental), 9434 (Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte), 9435 (El Salvador City in Misamis Oriental), 9436 (Carcar City in Cebu), and 9491 (Naga City in Cebu).
All cityhood laws, enacted after the effectivity of RA 9009 increasing the income requirement for cityhood from P20 million to P100 million in Sec. 450 of the Local Government Code (LGC), explicitly exempt respondent municipalities from the said increased income requirement.
Concurring were Associate Justices Renato C. Corona, Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas P. Bersamin, Roberto A. Abad, and Martin S. Villarama, Jr.
Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio wrote a dissenting opinion. He was joined by Associate Justices Conchita Carpio Morales, Arturo D. Brion, and Diosdado M. Peralta.
Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, and Mariano C. Del Castillo did not take part.
In its decision, the Court held that the favorable treatment accorded the 16 municipalities by the cityhood laws rests on substantial distinction.
The Court stressed that respondent local government units (LGUs) were qualified cityhood applicants before the enactment of RA 9009 and to impose on them the much higher income requirement after what they have gone through would appear to be indeed unfair.
“Thus, the imperatives of fairness dictate that they should be given a legal remedy by which they should be allowed to prove that they have all the necessary qualifications for city status using the criteria set forth under the LGC of 1991 prior to its amendment by RA 9009. Truly, the peculiar conditions of respondent LGUs, which are actual and real, provide sufficient grounds for legislative classification,” the Court said.
“To be sure, courts, regardless of doubts they might be entertaining, can not question the wisdom of the classification, if reasonable, made by Congress or the motivation underpinning the classification. In the same token, they do not sit to determine the propriety or efficacy of the remedies Congress has specifically chosen to extend. That is its prerogative. The power of the Legislature to make distinctions and classifications among persons is, to reiterate, neither curtailed nor denied by the equal protection clause. A law can be violative of the constitutional limitation only when the classification is without reasonable basis,” it added..
The Court explained that the exemption of respondent LGUs from the P100 million income requirement was meant to reduce the inequality occasioned by the passage of the amendatory RA 9009.
From another perspective, it added, the exemption was unquestionably designed to insure that fairness and justice were accorded respondent LGUs.
The Court likewise noted that what were then the cityhood bills covering respondent LGUs were part and parcel of the original 57 conversion bills filed in the 11th Congress, 33 of which became laws before the adjournment of that Congress.
It said the then bills of the challenged cityhood laws were not acted upon due inter alia to the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada and the related “jueteng” scandal investigations conducted before and the “EDSA events that followed the aborted impeachment.”
The Court further said: “The enactment of the cityhood laws was in a real sense an attempt on the part of Congress to address the inequity dealt the respondent LGUs. These laws positively promoted equality and eliminated the inequality, doubtless unintended, between respondent municipalities and the other 33 municipalities whose cityhood bills were enacted during the 11th Congress….Indeed, to deny respondent [local government units] LGUs/municipalities the same rights and privileges accorded to the other thirty-three municipalities when, at the outset they were similarly situated, is tantamount to denying the former the protective mantle of the equal protection clause.”
Records showed that last June 2009, the SC ruled with finality declaring as unconstitutional the cityhood laws that elevated the status of 16 municipalities into cities for violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
The Court en banc came out with the ruling after it junked in its March 31.
Source: The Manila Times