Sep 26, 2020

The 3 in 1 Palawan Supreme Court Decision Simplified

Given the significance of the Supreme Court’s Decision in the life of every Palaweño, it must be read and understood by all. A good grasp of the Court’s wisdom might help put an end to the division caused by an issue understandably close to our hearts.

The Supreme Court has rendered a landmark decision that could have great repercussions in the history of Palawan.

Voting 15-0, the Highest Court of the land dismissed the petition that sought to declare unconstitutional R.A. 11259, the law which divided Palawan into 3 provinces.

Given the significance of the Supreme Court’s Decision in the life of every Palaweño, it must be read and understood by all. A good grasp of the Court’s wisdom might help put an end to the division caused by an issue understandably close to our hearts.

As the Court used peculiar and technical language, it is good to explain the Decision in simple, comprehensible, ordinary terms for the benefit of all.

 

What is the case about?

The case filed by Del Rosario, Virgo, Baladad, Dioso, Davila – residents of Puerto Princesa – and Alsa, Hassan, Colili, – residents of Aborlan, Española, and Brooke’s Point, respectively – sought to declare unconstitutional R.A. 11259 entitled “Charter of the Provinces of Palawan Del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan Del Sur”.

In filing this case, the petitioners wanted R.A. 11529 to be declared invalid and without legal effect. As a consequence, they also asked the Court to stop the plebiscite scheduled to be conducted as required by the law.

The case was filed against government agencies that will be involved in the plebiscite and the disbursement of funds for it. Thus, the COMELEC, the Department of Budget and Management, the Provincial Government of Palawan, and the Provincial Treasurer of the Provincial Government of Palawan were named as the Respondents.

 

What are the issues involved in the case?

The issues are the legal questions brought by the petitioners to the Supreme Court to be deliberated upon, answered, and resolved.

In this case, the Petitioners presented the following legal questions to be decided on by the Supreme Court:

  1. Was the law passed in violation of the public’s right to take part in public affairs through hearings and consultations?
  2. Did the law violate the Constitution in disqualifying voters from Puerto Princesa from voting in the scheduled plebiscite?
  3. Did the law violate the Constitution because it provides for a change in the sharing of proceeds from national wealth?

The Respondents, through the Office of the Solicitor General that acts as the lawyer for the government, also presented a legal question to be resolved by the Supreme Court:

  1. Do the Petitioners have a “standing to sue”, that is, the right to challenge the constitutionality of the law?

 

What is the ruling of the court?

In resolving the questions presented to it, the Supreme Court first tackled the issue presented by the Respondents on the Petitioners’ “standing to sue”.

This is because a question involving “standing to sue” is a fundamental one, and if found lacking, would merit the outright dismissal of the entire case without even having to answer the other legal questions. This is due to a requirement in law that only those who will be directly injured or prejudiced by a law may question its validity.

Now, the court’s ruling:

  1. Do the Petitioners have a “standing to sue”, that is, the right to challenge the constitutionality of the law?

The Supreme Court ruled that Petitioners Del Rosario, Virgo, Baladad, Dioso, Davila had no legal standing to file the case and to challenge the constitutionality of R.A. 11259.

In explaining this conclusion, the Supreme Court said that “as residents of Puerto Princesa, they have become residents of an entity separate, distinct, and autonomous from the province of Palawan, when Puerto Princesa became an HUC.” (page 4)

In other words, since Puerto Princesa is no longer part of Palawan, the petitioners who are residents of Puerto Princesa, are not entitled to question the law which divided Palawan into 3 provinces. It is short of saying that the law no longer concerned them as they are part of an entirely different territory, being part of an HUC.

With regard to the other petitioners, Alsa, Hassan, and Colili, the Supreme Court found that they are directly affected by the the implementation of R.A. 11259 because they are residents of Palawan, as such, the Supreme Court ruled on the other legal questions for their benefit.

The Supreme Court then proceeded to answer the legal questions raised by the Petitioners:

  1. Was the law passed in violation of the public’s right to take part in public affairs through hearings and consultations?

The Supreme Court ruled that the law did not violate the public’s right to take part in public affairs through hearings and consultations.

The Supreme Court explained that the records of the case reveal that the division of Palawan “was made in consultation with the people of Palawan through their elected representatives: the municipal mayors, the municipal councilors, and the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.” This is reflected in transcripts of consultative meetings and resolutions by these bodies. (page 6)

Since we are a Republican state where the people are heard and act through elected representatives, the support and consent of the Palaweños on the division of Palawan were expressed through their elected officials.

In any case, the effectivity of the division of Palawan is “still subject to the supreme mode of public consultation: the ballot.” (page 6)

     2. Did the law violate the Constitution in disqualifying voters from Puerto Princesa from voting in the scheduled plebiscite?

The Supreme Court ruled that RA 11259 did not violate the Constitution in disqualifying voters from Puerto Princesa from voting in the plebiscite.

The Constitution requires that the division of a province be approved by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite in the “political units directly affected.”

The Supreme Court found it abundantly clear that Puerto Princesa, a distinct political entity, an HUC, can no longer be considered a “political unit directly affected” by the proposed division of Palawan into three provinces. As a necessary consequence, the qualified voters of Puerto Princesa, including petitioners Del Rosario, Virgo, Baladad, Dioso, have no right to vote in the plebiscite for the division of Palawan.

In deciding that Puerto Princesa is not a “political unit directly affected” by the division of Palawan into three provinces, the Supreme Court looked at 3 factors, namely, territorial alteration, political effects, and economic effects, and made the following conclusions:

     a. On territorial alteration: R.A. 11259 will not result in the alteration of Puerto Princesa’s territorial jurisdiction. There is nothing in the law that changes the metes and bounds of Puerto Princesa’s territory. (page 10)

       b. On political effects: When Puerto Princesa was converted from a component city into an HUC its political ties with the province of Palawan were already effectively severed. (page 13)

       c. On economic effects: As an HUC, Puerto Princesa is already fiscally autonomous from the province of Palawan, with the power to impose its own taxes, its own internal revenue allotment, and its own share in whatever natural resources that may be found within its territory. (page 14)

Thus, not a “political unit directly affected” voters from Puerto Princesa were properly excluded from the coverage of the plebiscite.

     3. Did the law violate the Constitution because it provides for a change in the sharing of proceeds from national wealth?

The Supreme Court refrained from ruling on this legal question due to it being premature.

The Supreme Court explained that pending the plebiscite, only the portions of the law relating to the conduct of the plebiscite have become in full force and effect. As such, it would be premature for the Supreme Court to resolve questions on the sharing of proceeds from national wealth as these are still inoperative.

 

What’s next?

Judicial decisions made by the Supreme Court become part of the law of the land and have the force and effect of law. It must be recognized and respected by all as part of good citizenship and adherence to the supremacy of the law.

This Decision has paved the way for the full operation of R.A. 11259 creating the 3 in 1 Palawan, provided it hurdles one last challenge: the plebiscite – where the will of the sovereign will be heard and realized.

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