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16 towns now cities again as SC reverses itself for 3rd time

(Updated 5:12 p.m.) For the third time, the Supreme Court has reversed itself by deciding that 16 towns can be declared cities. If this decision is indeed final, places like Batac in Ilocos Norte and Lamitan in Basilan can avail of larger Internal Revenue Allotments from the national coffers, like all other cities. SC spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez confirmed that by voting 7-6 with two abstentions at the high tribunal's en banc (full court) session last Tuesday, the court affirmed the constitutionality of the cityhood laws converting the following municipalities as cities:
  • Lamitan in Basilan;
  • Baybay in Leyte;
  • Bogo in Cebu;
  • Catbalogan in Samar
  • Tandag in Surigao del Sur;
  • Borongan in Samar;
  • Tayabas in Quezon;
  • Tabuk in Kalinga;
  • Bayugan in Agusan del Sur;
  • Batac in Ilocos Norte;
  • Mati in Davao Oriental;
  • Guihulngan in Negros Oriental;
  • Cabadbaran in Agusan del Norte;
  • El Salvador in Misamis Oriental;
  • Carcar in Cebu; and
  • Naga in Cebu. Voting patterns Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin penned the decision, with the concurrence of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-Castro, Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, and Jose Mendoza. Those who dissented were Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Martin Villarama, Jr., and Maria Lourdes Sereno. Justices Antonio Eduardo Nachura and Mariano Del Castillo still did not take part in the voting. Mendoza used to be one of those who voted to nullify the 16 cityhood laws. Asked what made Mendoza change his mind, Marquez said that the Supreme Court's decision is still unavailable as of posting time. Marquez likewise addressed imminent criticism that the court has once again flip-flopped on the case. "It's not really far-fetched for the court to reverse itself, considering that the voting is very tight. If you say the voting is 10-5, or 11-4, then you have more assurance that the decision will not be reversed. But in this case, it has always been tight. A change in the composition of the court can influence succeeding decisions," said Marquez. Fourth judgment The court’s latest ruling is its fourth judgment on the case. The first decision was rendered on Nov. 18, 2008, declaring as unconstitutional the Republic Acts (RAs) converting the municipalities into cities. The second decision was made on Dec. 21, 2009, reversing the Nov. 2008 decision and ruling that the towns can be declared as cities. Last August 24, 2010, the SC made its second reversal and reinstated its Nov. 2008 decision. In its latest ruling, the high court granted the motion for reconsideration filed by the 16 municipalities seeking to be declared as cities. The SC ruled that the 16 cityhood laws exempted the concerned municipalities from the P100 million income requirement provided by Section 450 of the the Local Government Code. Cityhood case On Nov. 18, 2008, the SC, in a vote of 6-5, granted the League of Cities of the Philippines' (LCP) petition challenging the constitutionality of the cityhood laws. The SC ruled that the laws violated Section 10 of Article X of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that “no city…shall be created … except in accordance with the criteria established in the local government code." The respondents in the case -- the 16 municipalities concerned and the Commission on Elections, among others -- appealed the ruling. Their motion for reconsideration was granted on Dec. 21, 2009, when the court reversed the Nov. 18, 2009 ruling. The League of Cities of the Philippines then filed a motion for reconsideration, which was granted in August 2010. Carpio, who penned the first and third decisions, held that the SC's Nov. 18, 2008 (first) decision could not be reversed because “a tie-vote cannot result in any court order or directive." He noted that the SC was evenly divided when it subsequently voted on the second motion for reconsideration. He also held that the 1987 Constitution is clear that the creation of local government units (LGUs) must follow the criteria established in the Local Government Code (LGC) and not in any other law. The adverse parties to the case -- the Comelec, et al. -- filed a subsequent motion for reconsideration, which was granted last Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011. Asked whether the League of Cities of the Philippines can once again file another appeal seeking for another reversal of the SC's ruling, Marquez said that the LCP is not barred from filing another motion for reconsideration. The Rules of Court prohibits a litigant from filing a second motion for reconsideration if the court has already denied his appeal. However, the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court allow the high court to entertain second motions for reconsideration "in the interest of higher justice." But in this case, Marquez said, the motion for reconsideration that LCP may file can be considered "the first motion for reconsideration" because the high court's latest reversal can be deemed "a new ruling." — RSJ/MRT, GMA News