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Dinagat Islands a province again as SC reverses itself

Overturning an earlier decision that was already deemed final and executory, the Supreme Court has ruled as constitutional the law declaring Dinagat Islands in northeast Mindanao as a separate province. Voting 9-6 during last Tuesday's en banc (full court) session in Baguio City, the high tribunal said that Republic Act No. 9355 is legal because Dinagat Islands, a cluster of islands formerly part of Surigao del Norte province, is exempted from the Local Government Code's requirement of land area for provinces. The 1987 Constitution provides that the creation of local government units must comply with the criteria established by the Local Government Code (LGC).
View Larger Map The court's ruling was announced on Wednesday by spokesman and administrator Jose Midas Marquez. "The Supreme Court, in a vote of 9-6, has reconsidered its earlier decision and has found RA 9355 as constitutional. The court said that Dinagat is exempted from the requirements of an area because it comprises more than one island; and that is an exemption from the requirements of an area," said Marquez at a news briefing in Baguio City, where the magistrates are holding their three-week summer session. Marquez said that Associate Justice Eduardo Nachura penned the decision reconsidering its first ruling, which was written in February 2010 by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta. The first decision also had a 9-6 vote. Marquez said that he is yet to receive information on who among the justices changed their minds. The new ruling was in response to an appeal to remove the entry of judgment that stemmed from the first decision. An entry of judgment is included in the court's Book of Judgments once a decision is already deemed final and executory. But Marquez said that the recall of the entry in this case "is an exemption to the rule." "Apparently, an entry of judgment was made in the wrong premise. The court decided to lift or recall that entry," he said. Dinagat Islands case In February 2010, the SC nullifed RA 9355 because Dinagat Islands failed to comply with the LGC’s requirements of population size and land area for it to become a province. Dinagat Islands used to be part of Surigao del Norte province before it was classified as a province in December 2006. "Republic Act No. 9355, otherwise known as An Act Creating the Province of Dinagat Islands, is hereby declared unconstitutional. The proclamation of the Province of Dinagat Islands and the election of the officials thereof are declared null and void," said the SC then. In May that year, the high court upheld as final and executory the Feb. 2010 ruling. Dinagat Islands is perceived to be a stronghold of the Ecleo family, which is allegedly allied with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The province's representative, Ruben Ecleo, is also facing arrest. Earlier this year, the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan ordered his arrest over graft charges. Last Jan. 28, 2011, the Sandiganbayan's First Division issued a new arrest warrant after the SC affirmed last November the anti-graft court’s decision to convict Ecleo and two other local officials for graft. Flip-flopping court? Addressing imminent criticisms that the court has once again "flip-flopped" on a case, Marquez on Wednesday said: "In the greater interest of justice, you can always consider each particular case." Second motions for reconsideration are prohibited pleadings under Section 5, Rule 37 of the Rules of Court. "No party shall be allowed a second motion for reconsideration of a judgment or final order," the rule states. However, Section 3, Rule 5 of the Internal Rules of Court provides that a second motion for reconsideration may still be admitted "in the higher interest of justice." The SC was recently criticized for its Feb. 16, 2011 decision on the legality of the 16 cityhood laws which converted 16 towns into cities. The Feb. 16 ruling was its fourth decision on the case, which means that the court had reversed itself three times. –JV, GMA News