(Yearender) 2009: A challenging year for the Judiciary

December 23, 2009 11:10 pm 

MANILA, Dec. 23 – The year 2009 has been a challenging year for the Judiciary as it saw the retirement of Supreme Court (SC) Sr. Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing and Associate Justices Minita Chico-Nazario, Dante Tinga, Adolf Azcuna and Ruben Reyes who all reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Associate Justice Alicia Austria Martinez opted to retire early this year due to health reasons.

Also, the High Court hurdled many challenges as it ruled on a number of important and controversial cases.

Before the year's end, the SC ruled that voters who have reached the age of 18 and above and so are voters who have transferred residences and those who have not yet registered as of Oct. 31, 2009 can now register until Jan. 9, 2010 for the May 10, 2010 general elections.

Finding merits in the petition filed by Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino and other concerned citizens, the SC, by a unanimous vote, granted the petition to extend the voters registration and declared null and void the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Resolution No. 8585 insofar as it set the deadline for voter registration for the 2010 elections on Oct. 31, 2009.

In a nine-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, the SC also ordered the Comelec to proceed with dispatch in reopening the registration of voters and holding the same until Jan. 9, 2010.

The high tribunal stressed that its decision is immediately executory.

The SC held that Congress itself has determined that the period of 120 days before a regular election and 90 days before a special election is enough time for the Comelec to make all the necessary preparations with respect to the coming elections.

It said that such determination of Congress is well within the ambit of its legislative power, which the High Court is bound to respect, and that the Comelec's rule-making power should be exercised in accordance with the prevailing law.

On the other hand, the question on the constitutionality of Presidential Proclamation No. 1959 that placed the province of Maguindanao under martial law on Dec. 4, 2009 remains "hanging in the balance" as the SC deferred its action on the petitions filed against it.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 1959 declaring Martial Law in Maguindanao to quell the brewing rebellion in the province.

Instead, the SC directed the petitioners to comment on the contention of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) that the issue is already moot and academic since martial law in Maguindanao was lifted on Dec. 12, 2009.

Likewise, the SC dismissed the petition to disqualify former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada from seeking the presidency in the May 10, 2010 national and local elections.

Estrada is the standard-bearer of the Partido ng Masang Pilipino.

SC Deputy Spokesperson Gleo Guerra said that the High Court dismissed the petition against Estrada on the ground of being premature.

Guerra said that the petition for disqualification should have been filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) which has the pre-requisite expertise and jurisdiction to hear such petition.

Likewise, voting 8-6, the SC ruled that elected and appointed government officials need not resign from their posts upon filing of their respective certificates of candidacy (COCs) for the May 10, 2010 local and national elections.

According to SC Spokesman Atty. Jose Midas Marquez, the SC justices in an en banc session with an 8-6 voting, said that the elected and appointed officials are now in the same position or on equal footing as far as seeking an elective post in next year's elections are concerned.

Marquez, quoting the SC ruling, said such government officials need not resign from their position upon filing of their respective COCs for next year's elections.

The SC said that appointed officials of the government are not considered resigned upon filing of their respective COCs.

In his petition before the SC, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said that the Comelec resolution violates the law which provides that a candidate can only be considered resigned at the start of the campaign period which is Feb. 10, 2010 for national candidates and March 20, 2010 for local candidates.

The Comelec has set the period of from Nov. 20, 2009 to Dec. 1, 2009 within which to file COCs for those seeking elective post in next year's elections.

Comelec Resolution 8678, otherwise known as the "Guidelines on the Filing of Candidacy and Nomination of Official Candidates of Registered Political Parties in connection with the May 10, 2010 National and Local Elections", provides that a person holding a public appointive office or position, including active members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and other officers and employees in government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs), shall be considered ipso facto resigned from office upon filing of his COC.

It also provides, however, that a person holding an elective office or position shall not be considered resigned upon the filing of COC for the same or any other elective office or position.

The SC had also allowed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to transfer the venue of the multiple murder charges filed against Datu Unsay, Maguindanao Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. from the Cotabato City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 15 to the Quezon City RTC.

DOJ Acting Secretary and concurrent Solicitor General Agnes Devanaderas sought the transfer of the venue of the trial for security reasons and fear of the witnesses to testify in Cotabato City.

Mayor Ampatuan is the prime suspect in the gruesome killings of 57 civilians, including 15 women and 30 media practitioners in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao on Nov. 23.

According to Acting SC spokesperson Atty. Gleo Guerra, the SC justices in an en banc session ordered Quezon City RTC executive judge Ofelia Marquez to raffle off the murder case to determine which court branch would try the case upon receiving the records from the Cotabato City RTC.

Initially, Guerra said, 20 counts of murder charges were filed by the DOJ before the Cotabato City RTC against Ampatuan Jr. in connection with the Maguindanao massacre.

Guerra clarified, however, that the venue of the trial should be held in Camp Crame, Quezon City due to security concerns and the number of witnesses who would testify.

The jurisdiction to hear the case, she said, should be held in the Quezon City RTC.

Furthermore, the SC, voting 9-5 reinstated the earlier disqualified Mayor Rosalinda Penera of the municipality of Sta. Monica, Surigao del Norte.

The High Court granted Penera's motion for reconsideration and set aside its Sept. 11, 2009 decision which had affirmed her disqualification by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for premature campaigning.

SC spokesman Atty. Jose Midas Marquez said the earlier 8-7 vote was affected by the retirement of Sr. Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing and Associate Justice Consuelo Ynarez-Santiago and the appointment of Associate Justice Martin Villarama, Jr.

In a resolution penned by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the SC en banc also set aside the resolutions dated July 24, 2007 and Jan. 30, 2008 by the Comelec Second Division and the Comelec en banc, respectively.

Concurring were Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justices Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio Morales, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin and Martin Villarama, Jr.

"We grant Rosalinda A. Penera's motion for reconsideration of this Court's Decision of 11 September 2009… The assailed decision is contrary to the clear intent and letter of the law," the SC said.

Penera's disqualification rose from her alleged premature campaigning when she and her supporters had a motorcade on March 29, 2007, a day before the start of the authorized campaign period for the May 2007 elections.

The SC held that the assailed decision reverses its ruling in Lanot versus Comelec, wherein the SC held that a person who files a certificate of candidacy (COC) is not a candidate until the start of the campaign period.

It noted that Congress had elevated the Lanot doctrine into law under Republic Act No. 8436.

Marquez said that with the SC decision promulgated Wednesday, there is nothing more to stop or prevent "infomercials" of those who are seeking elective posts in the May 10, 2010 national elections, provided, however that said "infomercials" are run before the start of the campaign period.

He added that such "infomercials" are now considered by the SC as "freedom of expression" as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

Under the Sept. 11, 2009 SC ruling, a candidate may already be liable for premature campaigning after the filing of the COC but even before the start of the campaign period.

The same considers a person who files a COC already a "candidate" even before the start of the campaign period.

The SC ruled that under the law, "candidate" has been defined as "any person aspiring for or seeking an elective public office, who has filed a certificate of candidacy" and that "any person who files certificate of candidacy within [the period for filing] shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy."

It stressed that when "the applicable provisions of R.A. 8436, as amended by R.A. 9369, and read together, these provisions of law do not consider Penera a candidate for purposes other than the printing of the ballots until the start of the campaign period."

"In layman's language, this means that a candidate is liable for an election offense only for acts done during the campaign period, not before. The law is clear as daylight — any election offense that may be committed by a candidate under any election law cannot be committed before the start of the campaign period. In ruling that Penera is liable for premature campaigning for partisan political acts before the start of the campaigning, the assailed Decision ignores the clear and express provision of the law," the SC said.

The SC further said that what the law says is "any unlawful act or omission applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the campaign period. The plain meaning of this provision is that the effective date when partisan political acts become unlawful as to a candidate is when the campaign period starts. Before the start of the campaign period, the same partisan political acts are lawful."

Meanwhile, the SC ordered the City Government of Pasig to compensate five landowners for illegally taking their property and converted it to a municipal road.

In a ruling penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, the SC said that the City of Pasig "acted in utter disregard of respondent's proprietary rights. Such conduct cannot be countenanced by the Court. For said illegal taking, the City of Pasig should definitely be held liable for damages to respondents."

The City of Pasig was ordered to institute the appropriate expropriation proceedings to determine the just compensation that will be paid to Jovito Luis, Lidinila Luis Santos, Angelita Cagalingan, Romeo Luis and Virginia Luis-Ballesteros, the owners of the 1,586-square-meter land in Pasig that was converted into A. Sandoval Avenue, Barangay Palatiw, Pasig City in 1980.

The compensation shall include a legal interest of six percent per annum from the time of taking until full payment is made.

The City of Pasig was also ordered to pay P400,000 for exemplary damages and attorney's fees.

The SC reminded the City of Pasig that in exercising the power of eminent domain, it must not disregard the property rights of the people under Section 9, Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution which provides that "private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation."

The case rose when the City of Pasig took the property in 1980 and converted it to a municipal road.

In 1993, the then Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) ng Pasig passed a resolution authorizing payment for just compensation to the owners.

Nonetheless, the SP appraisal committee assessed the property for only P150 per square meter.

The respondents asked that they be paid P2,000 per square meter, saying that a property in the same area has been paid P2,000 per square meter when it was expropriated.

The City of Pasig refused.

The legal counsels of the respondents sent a demand letter to Pasig City Mayor Vicente Eusebio demanding for a P5,000 per square meter or equivalent to P7.930 million as just compensation including damages.

Both the Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) and the Court of Appeals (CA) ruled against the City of Pasig, prompting the said local government unit to elevate the case to the SC.

Likewise, the SC affirmed a ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA) ordering manning firms, Wallem Maritime Services, Inc. and Scandic Shipmanagement Limited, to pay an ailing seaman US$ 60,000 in disability benefits.

The SC, in a ruling penned by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, stressed that "the perfection of appeals in the manner and within the period permitted by law is not only mandatory but jurisdictional and must, therefore, be strictly observed."

It also said that both agencies lost its right to assail the CA decision for its filing a late appeal.

Associate Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Diosdado Peralta, Mariano Del Castillo and Roberto Abad concurred in the decision.

Moreover, the SC upheld the decision of the CA dismissing the murder case filed against a grandson of the late President Elpidio Quirino.

It said that the relatives of the victim businessman Francisco "Don Paco" Delgado failed to raise new valid arguments that would warrant a reversal of their August 2009 decision in favor of Luisito Gonzales, singer Kuh Ledesma's ex-husband and grandson of the late President Elpidio Quirino.

The SC upheld the ruling of the CA, saying that there is no probable cause to file a criminal case against Gonzales and his driver Antonio Buenaflor on the death of Delgado. (PNA) LAP/PTR

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