Supreme Court voids creation of Shariff Kabunsuan

Posted at 07/16/08 6:57 PM

By Jesus F. Llanto

The Supreme Court has declared the creation of the province of Shariff Kabunsuan in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao void and ruled that the power of ARMM’s legislature to create provinces and cities is unconstitutional.

The SC, in an 8-6 vote, declared void Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act 201, which created the province of Shariff Kabunsuan, which was carved out of Maguindanao province.

“Only Congress can create provinces and cities because the creation of provinces and cities necessarily includes the creation of legislative districts,” the 33-page decision penned by Justice Antonio Carpio reads.

The SC ruling said that creation of province or a city “inherently involves the power to create a legislative district.”  Creating a province or a city without creating a legislative district, the decision said, is unconstitutional because the Constitution mandates that a province or a city with at least 250,000 inhabitants is entitled to at least one representative.

The ruling said that only Congress can create or reapportion a legislative district. “Congress exercises these powers through a law that the Congress itself enacts and not through a law that a regional or local legislative bodies enact.”

The Regional Legislative Assembly, ARMM’s law-making body enacted on Aug. 28, 2006 MMAA 201, which created Shariff Kabunsuan by separating eight municipalities from the first district of Maguindanao-- Barira, Buldon, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Kabuntalan, Matanog, Parang, Sultan Kudarat, Sultan Mastura and Upi. It was ratified in a plebiscite on October 29, 2006.
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The now-defunct province of Shariff Kabunsuan was composed of 11 towns after RLA created three new towns—Sultan Mastura, Northern Kabuntalan and Datu Blah Sinsuat—from the province’s three existing plan.

The SC decision also declared unconstitutional the RLA’s power to create provinces and cities in the region but it did not pass upon the constitutionality of the creation of new municipalities and barangays.

“The creation of such municipalities and barangays does not involve the creation of legislative district,” the ruling reads.

Under Republic Act No. 9140 or the Expanded ARMM Law, the RLA has the power to create new LGUs and to set its own criteria in creating, dividing, merging, or abolishing LGUs. LGUs created by the Expanded ARMM Law that do not meet the standards of the LGC are not entitled to the share in the national taxes collected by the national government and depend only on the general funds of the ARMM regional government.

This provision of the ARMM law has been criticized because it results in the creation of smaller and non-viable local government units. In recent years, the number of LGUs in the region has swelled. In December 2005, the region was composed only of 5 provinces, 101 municipalities, and 2,461 barangays. Since then, one province (Shariff Kabunsuan), 12 municipalities, and nine barangays have been created.

Local officials in the region said that this process has improved the peace situation because it helps avoid rido or clan wars by giving every political family a territory to govern.