G.R. No. 180050 - RODOLFO G. NAVARRO, VICTOR F. BERNAL, and RENE O. MEDINA, Petitioners, v. EXECUTIVE SECRETARY EDUARDO ERMITA, representing the President of the Philippines; Senate of the Philippines, represented by the SENATE PRESIDENT; House of Representatives, represented by the HOUSE SPEAKER; GOVERNOR ROBERT ACE S. BARBERS, representing the mother province of Surigao del Norte; GOVERNOR GERALDINE ECLEO VILLAROMAN, representing the new Province of Dinagat Islands, Respondents.

 

Promulgated on:

April 12, 2011

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CONCURRING OPINION

 

 

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

 

 

Great cases, like hard cases, make bad law. For great cases are called great not by reason of their real importance in shaping the law of the future, but because of some accident of immediate overwhelming interest which appeals to the feelings and distorts the judgment. These immediate interests exercise a kind of hydraulic pressure which makes what previously was clear seem doubtful, and before which even well settled principles of law will bend.

 

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

Northern Securities Co. v. United States [1]

 

 

On the abstract principles which govern courts in construing legislative acts, no difference of opinion can exist. It is only in the application of those principles that the difference discovers itself.

Chief Justice John Marshall

United States v. Fisher[2]

 

 

Considering the circumstances which supervened after the promulgation of the Decision on February 10, 2010 and Resolution dated May 12, 2010, I find myself reconsidering my previous position. Mr. Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura has himself identified factors not previously considered by this Court, which, in my view, warrant a reversal of our previous rulings.

 

The case before us concerns the proper interpretation of Section 461 of Republic Act (RA) No. 7160, also known as the Local Government Code (LGC), which prescribes the criteria for the creation of a province as follows:

 

SEC. 461. Requisites for Creation. (a) A province may be created if it has an average annual income, as certified by the Department of Finance, of not less than Twenty million pesos (P20,000,000.00) based on 1991 constant prices and either of the following requisites:

 

(i) a contiguous territory of at least two thousand (2,000) square kilometers as certified by the Lands Management Bureau; or

 

(ii)  a population of not less than two hundred fifty thousand (250,000) inhabitants as certified by the National Statistics Office:

 

Provided, That, the creation thereof shall not reduce the land area, population, and income of the original unit or units at the time of said creation to less than the minimum requirements prescribed herein.

 

(b) The territory need not be contiguous if it comprises two (2) or more islands or is separated by a chartered city or cities which do not contribute to the income of the province. 

 

(c) The average annual income shall include the income accruing to the general fund, exclusive of special funds, trust funds, transfers, and non-recurring income.[3] (Underscoring supplied)

 

 

To implement the provisions of the LGC, the Oversight Committee (created pursuant to Sec. 533 of the LGC) formulated the Implementing Rules and Regulations to carry out the provisions of the law. Article 9 of said Rules and Regulations provides:

 

Art. 9 Provinces (a) Requisites for Creation. A province shall not be created unless the following requisites on income and either population or land area are present:

 

(i) Income - An average annual income of not less than Twenty million pesos (P20,000,000.00) for the immediately preceding two (2) consecutive years based on 1991 constant prices, as certified by the DOF. The average annual income shall include the income accruing to the general fund, exclusive of special funds, special accounts, transfers, and non-recurring income; and

 

(ii) Population or land area Population shall not be less than two hundred fifty thousand (250,000) inhabitants, as certified by NSO; or land area which must be contiguous with an area of at least two thousand (2,000) square kilometers, as certified by LMB. The territory need not be contiguous if it comprises two (2) or more islands or is separated by a chartered city or cities which do not contribute to the income of the province. The land area requirement shall not apply where the proposed province is composed of one (1) or more islands. The territorial jurisdiction of a province sought to be created shall be properly identified by metes and bounds.

 

 

Since our May 12, 2010 ruling (which denied respondents respective Motions for Reconsideration), the Office of the Solicitor General (representing the Republic of the Philippines) and Gov. Geraldine Ecleo Villaroman (representing the new Province of the Dinagat Islands), each sought leave to file a Second Motion for Reconsideration on May 27, 2010 and May 26, 2010, respectively, which motions were noted without action. The winning candidates for provincial and congressional seats in Surigao del Norte also sought to intervene in this case; however, their motion for intervention was denied on July 20, 2010.

 

Subsequent to the Motions for Reconsideration, Justice Nachura has taken pains to compare the requisites for the creation of the different local government units (LGUs) in order to highlight what, in my view, is a glaring inconsistency in the provisions of the law. To summarize:

 

LGU

Land Area Requirement

Barangay

No minimum land area requirement. Rather, the barangay must be created out of a contiguous territory with a population of at least two thousand (2,000) inhabitants [Sec. 386(a), LGC]

The territory need not be contiguous if it comprises two (2) or more islands. [Sec. 386(b), LGC]

Municipality

Contiguous territory of at least fifty (50) square kilometers

Note the land area requirement is IN ADDITION to the income requirement of at least Two Million Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (PhP2,500,000.00) in average annual income for the last 2 consecutive years AND the population requirement of at least Twenty Five Thousand (25,000) inhabitants. [Sec. 442(a), LGC]

The requirement on land area shall not apply where the municipality proposed to be created is composed of one (1) or more islands. The territory need not be contiguous if it comprises two (2) or more islands. [Sec. 442(b), LGC]

 

 

City

Contiguous territory of at least one hundred (100) square kilometers

Note a city must have an average annual income of at least Twenty Million Pesos (PhP20,000,000.00) for the last 2 consecutive years AND comply with either the land area requirement OR have a population of at least one hundred fifty thousand (150,000) inhabitants. [Sec. 450(a), LGC]

The requirement on land area shall not apply where the city proposed to be created is composed of one (1) or more islands. The territory need not be contiguous if it comprises two (2) or more islands. [Sec 450(b), LGC]

Province

Contiguous territory of at least two thousand (2,000) square kilometers. 

Note a province must have an average annual income of at least Twenty Million Pesos (PhP20,000,000.00) AND comply with either the land area requirement OR have a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand (250,000) inhabitants. [Sec. 461(a), LGC]

The territory need not be contiguous if it comprises two (2) or more islands or is separated by a chartered city or cities which do not contribute to the income of the province. [Sec 461(b), LGC]

 

 

As Justice Nachura points out, as regards the creation of barangays, land area is not included as a requirement. However, a minimum land area is provided for the creation of municipalities, cities, and provinces. Furthermore, while an exemption[4] is provided for municipalities and cities in cases where the LGU concerned is composed of one or more islands, in stark contrast, no such exemption exists with respect to provinces.

 

It is not difficult to see why no exemption is needed for barangays why exempt them from a requirement that does not even apply to them? In fact, the inclusion of the clause [t]he territory need not be contiguous if it comprises two (2) or more islands in Sec. 386(b) of the LGC appears to be surplusage. But I cannot see why there would be a difference in treatment between cities and municipalities, on one hand, and provinces, on the other. In fact, as Justice Nachura points out, this may lead to anomalous results. This leads me to conclude that Justice Nachuras interpretation is indeed correct that the legislature fully intended to exempt LGUs from the land area requirement in cases where the LGU concerned encompassed two or more islands, as provided in Section 442 (for municipalities) and Section 450 (for cities), but this legislative policy was not carried over to Section 461 (for provinces). Consequently, Article 9(2) of the LGCs Implementing Rules and Regulations were precisely enacted in order to correct the congressional oversight.

 

Our esteemed colleague, Mr. Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, suggests that this interpretation is implausible because even if there were any such oversight, Congress had every opportunity in the last 19 years to correct its mistake. To this I would only observe that Congress has never, in the last 19 years, been faced with a situation where an amendment to Section 461 of the LGC was necessary or desirable, and no case concerning the land area requirement for provinces has ever been brought before this Court since the LGCs enactment.[5] The only case that has mentioned the land area requirement for provinces, Tan v. Commission on Elections,[6] (regarding the invalidation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 885 which created the province of Negros Del Norte) dealt with the matter only tangentially, at best.[7]

 

Justice Peralta also opines that there is no need to search for the legislative intent, since the language of the law is plain, clear, and unambiguous. I would submit, however, that it is equally true that the statute must be read as a whole, that its clauses and phrases are not detached and isolated expressions, but that each and every part must be considered in order to ascertain its meaning.[8]

 

Therefore, the statute, read as a whole, in the light of its legislative history, cannot be said to preclude the interpretation placed on it by the majority. But in interpreting a statute [such as the Local Government Code], we cannot take one sentence, one section, or even the entire statute alone and say that it has a "plain meaning" as if there were an objective formula in the few words simply waiting to be grasped by the courts. Instead the statute must be read as a whole, taking all of its provisions and reading them in the context of the legal fabric to which they are to be applied. An interpretation that creates an admittedly anomalous result is not salved by the majority's apologia that, if we read the statute in that fashion, Congress created the anomaly. Instead the question is whether the statute read as a whole was intended by Congress to create such results. The law is not an isolated bundle of capricious and inconsistent commands by a legislature presumed to react mindlessly.[9]

 

 

It is also relevant that the Senate and the House of Representatives, represented by the Office of the Solicitor General, have asserted that Congress intended that provinces composed of one or more islands should be exempted from the 2,000 sq. km. land area requirement. Surely, the legislatures will in this case should be given deference, as a co-equal branch of government operating within its area of constitutional authority.

 

I also cannot help but note that the Dinagat Islands is not the first small island-province which has been separated from a larger province through legislative imprimatur. The Court may take judicial notice of the fact that the island-provinces of Batanes (previously annexed to Cagayan),[10] Camiguin (previously a sub-province of Misamis Oriental),[11] Siquijor (previously a sub-province of Negros Oriental),[12] Biliran (previously a sub-province of Leyte),[13] Guimaras (previously a sub-province of Iloilo),[14] and Marinduque (previously annexed to Tayabas)[15] also have land areas of well below 1,000 square kilometers each.

 

To be clear, I am not making an equal protection argument, since none of these provinces were created under the auspices of the LGC. I only point this out to show that Congress, in drafting the LGC, was cognizant of the special circumstances surrounding the creation of island-provinces, and evidently intended that economic development be a more significant consideration than size. The Congressional deliberations bear this out:

 

CHAIRMAN LINA:

Will you look at the case of how many municipalities are there in Batanes province?

CHAIRMAN ALFELOR:

 

Batanes is only six.

 

CHAIRMAN LINA:

Six town. Siquijor?

CHAIRMAN ALFELOR:

 

Siquijor. It is region?

 

CHAIRMAN LINA:

Seven.

CHAIRMAN ALFELOR:

 

Seven. Anim.

 

CHAIRMAN LINA:

Six also.

CHAIRMAN ALFELOR:

 

Six also.

 

CHAIRMAN LINA:

It seems with a minimum number of towns?

CHAIRMAN ALFELOR:

The population of Siquijor is only 70 thousand, not even one congressional district. But tumaas in 1982. Camiguin, that is Region 9. Wala dito. Nagtataka nga ako ngayon.

 

CHAIRMAN LINA:

Camiguin, Camiguin.

CHAIRMAN ALFELOR:

That is region? Camiguin has five municipalities, with a population of 63 thousand. But we do not hold it against the province because maybe thats one stimulant where growth can grow, can start. The land area for Camiguin is only 229 square kilometers. So if we hard fast on requirements of, we set a minimum for every province, palagay ko we just leave it to legislation, eh. Anyway, the Constitution is very clear that in case we would like to divide, we submit it to a plebiscite. Pabayaan natin ang tao. Kung maglalagay tayo ng set ng minimum, tila yata mahihirapan tayo eh. Because what is really the thrust of the Local Government Code? Growth. To devolve powers in order for the community to have its own idea how they will stimulate growth in their respective areas.

 

So in every geographical condition, mayroong sariling idiosyncrasies eh. We cannot make a generalization.[16]

 

 

Though this Court certainly has the authority to override the legislative interpretation, I do not believe it is appropriate or necessary in this instance. Rather, we should acknowledge the strong presumption that a legislature understands and correctly appreciates the needs of its own people [and] that its laws are directed to problems made manifest by experience.[17]

 

I do not propose that the Court overturn its settled precedent to the effect that Implementing Rules and Regulations cannot go beyond the terms of the statute. But under these limited circumstances where a reading of the entire law reveals inconsistencies which this Court must reconcile, where the legislature has informed the Court of its intentions in drafting the law, and where the legislative history of the LGC leads one to the inescapable conclusion that the primary consideration in the creation of provinces is actually administrative convenience, economic viability, and capacity for development - then it would be far more just to give effect to the will of the legislature in this case.

 

In the words of Mr. Justice Isagani Cruz:

 

But as has also been aptly observed, we test a law by its results; and likewise, we may add, by its purposes. It is a cardinal rule that, in seeking the meaning of the law, the first concern of the judge should be to discover in its provisions the intent of the lawmaker. Unquestionably, the law should never be interpreted in such a way as to cause injustice as this is never within the legislative intent. An indispensable part of that intent, in fact, for we presume the good motives of the legislature, is to render justice.

 

Thus, we interpret and apply the law not independently of but in consonance with justice. Law and justice are inseparable, and we must keep them so. To be sure, there are some laws that, while generally valid, may seem arbitrary when applied in a particular case because of its peculiar circumstances. In such a situation, we are not bound, because only of our nature and functions, to apply them just the same, in slavish obedience to their language. What we do instead is find a balance between the word and the will, that justice may be done even as the law is obeyed.

 

As judges, we are not automatons. We do not and must not unfeelingly apply the law as it is worded, yielding like robots to the literal command without regard to its cause and consequence. "Courts are apt to err by sticking too closely to the words of a law," so we are warned, by Justice Holmes again, "where these words import a policy that goes beyond them." While we admittedly may not legislate, we nevertheless have the power to interpret the law in such a way as to reflect the will of the legislature. While we may not read into the law a purpose that is not there, we nevertheless have the right to read out of it the reason for its enactment. In doing so, we defer not to "the letter that killeth" but to "the spirit that vivifieth," to give effect to the law maker's will.

 

The spirit, rather than the letter of a statute determines its construction, hence, a statute must be read according to its spirit or intent. For what is within the spirit is within the letter but although it is not within the letter thereof, and that which is within the letter but not within the spirit is not within the statute. Stated differently, a thing which is within the intent of the lawmaker is as much within the statute as if within the letter; and a thing which is within the letter of the statute is not within the statute unless within the intent of the lawmakers.[18]

 

 

 

For these reasons, I thus concur in the opinion of Justice Nachura.

 

 

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO

Associate Justice

 



[1] 193 U.S. 197, 400-411 (1904) (Holmes, J. dissenting).

[2] 6 U.S. 358 (1805).

[3] Article X, Section 10 of the Constitution also provides that [n]o province, city, municipality, or barangay may 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. 

[4] That [t]he requirement on land area shall not apply where the city proposed to be created is composed of one (1) or more islands.

[5] Since the effectivity of the Local Government Code on January 11, 1992, no issue has been raised concerning the land area requirement of provinces. The following provinces have been successfully created since 1992 Biliran, Guimaras, Saranggani, Kalinga, Apayao, Compostela Valley, and Zamboanga Sibugay, and all of them had land areas of more than 2,000 sq. km. each.

Biliran and Guimaras (previously subprovinces of Leyte and Iloilo, respectively) were converted into regular provinces, pursuant to Sec. 462 of the Local Government Code. Sec. 462 provides:

SEC. 462. Existing Sub-Provinces. - Existing sub- provinces are hereby converted into regular provinces upon approval by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite to be held in the said subprovinces and the original provinces directly affected. The plebiscite shall be conducted by the Comelec simultaneously with the national elections following the effectivity of this Code.

Saranggani was separated from South Cotabato in accordance with Republic Act No. 7228, An Act Creating The Province Of Sarangani (1992). It has a land area of 3,972 sq. km. (http://www.sarangani.gov.ph/seventowns.php).

Kalinga-Apayao was separated into the provinces of Kalinga and Apayao by virtue of Republic Act No. 7878, An Act Converting The Sub-Provinces Of Kalinga And Apayao Into Regular Provinces To Be Known As The Province Of Kalinga And The Province Of Apayao, Amending For The Purpose Republic Act No. 4695 (1995). Kalinga has a land area of 3,164.3 sq. km. (http://www.nscb.gov.ph/rucar/fnf_kalinga.htm) while Apayao has a land area of 4,120 sq. km. (http://www.nscb.gov.ph/rucar/fnf_apayao.htm)

Compostela Valley was separated from Davao by virtue of Republic Act No. 8470, An Act Creating The Province Of Compostela Valley From The Province Of Davao Del Norte, And For Other Purposes (1998), and has a land area of 4,667 sq. km. (http://www.nscb.gov.ph/ru11/prov_profile/comval.htm).

Zamboanga Sibugay was separated from Zamboanga del Sur by virtue of Republic Act No. 8973, An Act Creating The Province Of Zamboanga Sibugay From The Province Of Zamboanga Del Sur And For Other Purposes (2000). It has a land area of 3,362.22 sq. km. (http://www.zamboanga.com/zs/).

[6] 226 Phil. 624 (1986).

[7] Tan v. Commission on Elections did not directly discuss the requirement of land area under Batas Pambansa Bilang 337, but rather, concerned the proper construction of the unit or units affected for a plebiscite. However, the Court did state that the territory in Section 197 of Batas Pambansa Bilang 337 was intended to apply to land area only.

[8] Philippine International Trading Corporation v. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 183517, June 22, 2010, citing Land Bank of the Philippines v. AMS Farming Corporation, G.R. No. 174971, October 15, 2008, 569 SCRA 154, 183, Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority v. Urgello, G.R. No. 162288, April 4, 2007, 520 SCRA 515, 535, and Smart Communications, Inc. v. The City of Davao, G.R. No. 155491, September 16, 2008, 565 SCRA 237, 247-248.

[9] United States v Acres of Land Situated in Grenada and Yalobusha Counties Mississippi Jg [1983] USCA5 583; 704 F.2d 800; 20 ERC 1025 (12 May 1983).

[10] Act No. 1952, An Act to Provide for the Establishment of the Province of Batanes; to Amend Paragraph Seven of Section Sixty Eight of Act Numbered Eleven Hundred Eighty Nine in Certain Particulars; to Authorize the Approval of the Governor-General to extend the Time for the Payment without Penalty and Taxes and Licenses; to Amend Section Five of Act Numbered Fifteen Hundred and Eighty Two entitled the Election Law by Increasing the Number of Delegates to the Philippine Assembly to Eighty One, and for other Purposes (1909).

[11] Republic Act No. 4669, An Act Separating the Subprovince of Camiguin from the Province of Misamis Oriental and Establishing it as an Independent Province (1966).

[12] Republic Act No. 6398, An Act Separating the Subprovince of Siquijor from the Province of Oriental Negros and Establishing it as an Independent Province (1971).

[13] Sec. 462 of the Local Government Code.

[14] Id.

[15] Act No. 2880, An Act Authorizing the Separation of the Subprovince of Marinduque from the Province of Tayabas and the Reestablishment of the Former Province of Marinduque, and for other Purposes (1920).

[16] Bicameral Conference Committee on Local Government (Book III), March 13, 1991, pp. 18-28, in FN 14 of Justice Nachuras Reflections.

[17] Enron Corp. v. Spring Independent School District, 922 S.W. 2d 931; Middleton v. Texas Power & Light Co. (1919), 249 U.S. 152, at 157.

[18] Alonzo v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 234 Phil. 267, 272-273 (1987).