Supreme Court strikes down cityhood of 16 towns

Posted at 11/18/08 9:43 PM

The Supreme Court (SC) declared as unconstitutional the laws converting 16 municipalities into cities because Congress did not follow the "criteria established in the Local Government Code (LGC)."

Voting 7-5, the SC en banc granted the petition and petitions-in-intervention filed by the League of Cities of the Philippines and several provincial government officials seeking to nullify 16 cityhood laws in a decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio

The 16 laws cover the laws on the cityhood of the following municipalities: Baybay in Leyte; Bogo in Cebu; Catbalogan in Samar; Tandag in Surigao del Sur; Borongan in Eastern Samar; Tayabas in Quezon province; Lamitan in Basilan; Tabuk in Kalinga Apayao; Bayugan in Agusan del Sur; Batac in Ilocos Norte; Mati in Davao Oriental; Guihulngan in Negros Oriental; Cabadbaran in Agusan del Norte; Carcar in Cebu; El Salvador in Misamis Oriental; and Naga in Cebu.

According to the high court, the cityhood laws violated Sections 10, Article X of the Constitution as well as the equal protection clause.

Section 10 provides that "no province, city, municipality or barangay shall be created, divided, merged, abolished or its boundary substantially altered, except in accordance with the criteria established in the local government code and subject to approval by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite in the political units directly affected.

The high court also said that the cityhood laws also violate Section 6, Article X of the Constitution as it prevented a fair and just distribution of the national taxes to local government units.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Senior Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, Associate Justices Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Conchita Carpio Morales, Presbitero Velasco, Jr, and Arturo Brion concurred with the ruling.

Associate Justices Ruben Reyes, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Minita Chico-Nazario, Adolfo Azcuna and Renato Corona dissented, while Associate Justices Dante Tinga and Antonio Eduardo Nachura took no part in the deliberations. Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago is on leave.

During the 11th Congress, the House of Representatives enacted into law 33 bills converting 33 municipalities into cities. However, Congress did not act on bills converting 24 other municipalities into cities.

“Mad rush”

In the 12th Congress, both houses of Congress passed into law Republic Act No. (R.A.) 9009, which took effect on June 30, 2001, amending Section 450 of the Local Government Code by increasing the annual income requirement for conversion of a municipality into a city from P20 million to P100 million.

The amendment was made to restrain the "mad rush" of municipalities to convert into cities solely to secure a larger share in the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) despite the fact that they are incapable of fiscal independence.

After the effectivity of R.A. 9009, the House of Representatives during the 12th Congress adopted Joint Resolution No. 29, which seeks to exempt from the P100 million income requirement the 24 municipalities whose cityhood bills were not approved in the 11th Congress.

But only 16 out of the 24 municipalities filed through their respective sponsors their respective cityhood bills.

Both houses of Congress later approved the cityhood bills which lapsed into law on various dates from March to July 2007.

Constitutional criteria

In declaring the said cityhood laws as unconstitutional, the 15-member tribunal stressed that the Constitution requires that Congress shall prescribe all the criteria for the creation of a city in the Local Government Code and not in any other law, including the cityhood laws.

"The Constitution is clear. The creation of local government units must follow the criteria established in the Local Government Code and not in any other law. There is only one Local Government Code. The Constitution requires Congress to stipulate in the Local Government Code all the criteria necessary for the creation of a city, including the conversion of a municipality into a city. Congress cannot write such criteria in any other law, like the Cityhood Laws," the SC ruling pointed out.

Besides, the SC said the cityhood laws failed to adhere to the provisions of Section 450 of the LGC, as amended by R.A. 9009.

The SC stressed that Congress, in enacting RA 9009, did not provide any exemption from the increased income requirement, not even to the respondent municipalities.

"Since the law is clear, plain and unambiguous that any municipality desiring to convert into a city must meet the increased income requirement, there is no reason to go beyond the letter of the law in applying Section 450 of the Local Government Code, as amended by R.A. 9009," the high court said.

"Furthermore, limiting the exemption to the 16 municipalities violates the requirement that the classification must apply to all similarly situated. Municipalities with the same income as the 16 respondent municipalities cannot convert into cities, while the 16 respondent municipalities can. Clearly, as worded the exemption provision found in the Cityhood laws, even if it were written in Section 450 of the Local Government Code, would still be unconstitutional for violation of the equal protection clause," the SC said.