Rebuilding From Ruins

by Juan L. Mercado

“The evil that men do lives after them,” Shakespeare noted. Conviction by the  impeachment  court  dumped  Chief Justice Renato Corona into the dust bill. But the Court still is hamstrung by skewed judgements rendered by the “Arroyo Justices” — those named by now detained  former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Take the June hearing, by the Court, of protests against it’s repeated flip-flops on 16 towns. The 16  clawed to become  cities, by dint of exemptions by special laws, even if they lacked qualifications. The League of Cities filed a second motion for reconsideration, questioning anew the constitutionality of the cityhood laws.

In February, the Corona Court voted  7-6-2, ruled  “with finality” that the creation of 16 new cities didn’t fracture the Constitution.  But not before it repeatedly cartwheeled for 16 unqualified towns.”  “Oh no! Not again!” the Inquirer headlined February’s flip-flop.

The 16  towns were  elevated to cityhood, then busted, again elevated, then rebusted. They include Baybay, Leyte; Naga, Bogo and Carcar in Cebu; Catbalogan, Samar; Borongan, Eastern Samar; Tandag, Surigao del Sur; and Lamitan, Basilan.

The others are: Tayabas, Quezon; Tabuk, Kalinga; Bayugan, Agusan del Sur; Batac, Ilocos Norte; Mati, Davao Oriental; Guihulngan, Negros Oriental; Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte; and El Salvador, Misamis Oriental.

All 16  flunked the tax collection criterion of  P100 million average for two consecutive years set by the Local Government Code,  the Court. ruled. Thereafter, it ordered entry of judgement —  which made it final.

But  “final” in the Corona Supreme Court meant also  “perhaps”, even “maybe”.  The Court changed its mind three since, at the behest of  Ferdinand Marcos justice minister: Estelito Mendoza..

On   Dec. 31, 2009, it said the  16 cityhood laws were  constitutional after all. In another U-Turn  on Aug. 24, 2010, it said.  No, they are not,  Then,  on Feb. 15, 2011, it somersaulted  and said  the laws were constitutional,thank you.

By  then, vertigo afflicted  everybody. That includes the  League of  Cities. Its 120 members  protested the 16 “upstarts”  siphoning  their Internal Revenue Allotments. It filed a second motion for reconsideration.

League of City members, whose Internal Revenue Allotments, were  slashed , protested and rallied  Koronadal Mayor Peter B. Miguel, for example,  said he’d will be joining other city mayors in a protest  The Sangguniang Panglungsod passed a resolution supporting the LCP’s protest

“This Court made history with its repeated flip-flopping in this case,” Justice Antonio Carpio wrote.  in his dissenting opinion.  He had written the original ponencia that  “defrocked” the 16.   Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, now Ombudsman  also dissented. So did Justices  Martin Villarama Jr., Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Arturo Brion and Diosdado Peralta.

“There is absolutely nothing in the [16] Cityhood Laws to support the majority decision that [they] amended the Local Government Code,” Carpio wrote. Thus, the 16 must  generate P100 million income, not merely P20 million. And the  “Separability Clause” in each cityhood  bill  provides that the LGC prevails in case  of inconsistency.

The majority committed a  “glaring error” by claiming the P100-million minimum income  standard  was “arbitrarily made” or “extremely difficult” to comply with.  San Juan, Navotas, Sta. Rosa (Laguna), Dasmariñas (Cavite) and Biñan (Laguna) “were created in full compliance with the P100 million income criterion.”

There are, in fact,  21 towns in Luzon  that  generate P100 million incomes. The League of Cities  endorsed their cityhood applications.

The qualified towns are: Cabuyao and San Pedro in Laguna; Cainta, Taytay and Binangonan in Rizal; Bacoor, General Trias, Imus, Carmona, and Silang in Cavite; San Pedro, Laguna; Pantabangan in  Nueva Ecija; Calaca, Sto. Tomas, Bauan and Nasugbu in Batangas; Mauban in Quezon; Marilao, Sta. Maria and Norzagaray in Bulacan; and Limay in Bataan.

Now, Carpio is acting chief justice. The impeachment  of Corona  served notice on the Arroyo justices: the days when an automatic majority steamrollered  protests — whether it was jerrymandering to accommodate President Arroyo’s son or issue instant TROs to allow GMA to scot – are over.

Unnoticed but equally significant, there are unqualified towns who itch to become cities, without the sweat of  raising revenues, be legislative shortcut. Last time, we looked there were 26 waiting in the wings.

“If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson, hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example.” George Bernard Shaw once wrote. So, look at the examples in the congressional queue:

House Bill 304, by Rep Raul Daza, is an Act Converting the Municipality of  Catarman in the Province of Northern Samar into component city  HB 415 by Rep Edgardo Angara  would make  Municipality of Baler into a city.

HB 2087, filed  by (the late) Rep. Ignacio Arroyo would change into city the town of  An Binalbagan.‘ HB2165 by Rep. Unico Jr, does that for  the town of Labo and  HB 4727 by Rep Rodolfo Albano turns  Ilagan into a  city.

Under acting chief Justice Antonio Carpio the Court started initial reforms. These included  publishing, on Internet, reports on it’s special funds. It also required judges to open their Statements of  Assets and Liabilities.

Will this post-Corona Court  be able to rebuild from the ruins of 16 cities’ somersaults?


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