The Supreme Court, voting 6-5, today declared unconstitutional Cityhood Laws or Republic Acts (RAs) converting 16 municipalities into cities.
In a 24-page decision penned by Justice Antonio T. Carpio, the Court ruled that the following Cityhood Laws violate secs. 6 and 10, Article X of the Constitution: RA Nos. 9389 (Baybay City in Leyte), 9390 (Bogo City in Cebu), 9391 (Catbalogan City in Samar), 9392 (Tandag City in Surigao del Sur), 9393 (Lamitan City in Basilan), 9394 (Borongan City in Samar), 9398 (Tayabas City in Quezon), 9404 (Tabuk City in Kalinga), 9405 (Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur), 9407 (Batac City in Ilocos Norte), 9408 (Mati City in Davao Oriental), 9409 (Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental), 9434 (Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte), 9435 (El Salvador City in Misamis Oriental), 9436 (Carcar City in Cebu), and 9491 (Naga City in Cebu).
Joining Justice Carpio in the majority are Senior Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing, and Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., and Justice Arturo D. Brion.
Justice Ruben T. Reyes, who wrote a dissenting opinion, was joined by Justice Renato C. Corona, Justice Adolfo S. Azcuna, Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario, and Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro.
Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, Justice Dante O. Tinga, and Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura took no part, while Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago was on leave.
The foregoing Cityhood Laws, all enacted after the effectivity of RA 9009, explicitly exempt respondent municipalities from the increased income requirement from PhP20 million to PhP 100 million in sec. 450 of the Local Government Code (LGC), as amended by RA 9009.
In their petitions, the League of Cities of the Philippines, et al. contended, among others, that the Cityhood Laws violate the equal protection clause, lamenting that the wholesale conversion of municipalities into cities will reduce the share of existing cities in the Internal Revenue Allotment because more cities will share the same amount of internal revenue set aside for all cities under sec. 285 of the LGC.
Granting their petitions, the Court ruled that the exemptions in the City Laws is unconstitutional because sec. 10, Art. X of the Constitution requires that such exemption must be written into the LGC and not into any other laws.
The Court also held that the Cityhood Laws violate sec. 6, Art. X of the Constitution because they prevent a fair and just distribution of the national taxes to local government units. It explained that a city with an annual income of only PhP20 million, all other criteria being equal, should not receive the same share in national taxes as a city with an annual income of PhP100 million or more. It ruled that the criteria, as prescribed in sec. 450 of the LGC, must be strictly followed because such criteria prescribed by law, are material in determining the “just share” of local government units (LGUs) in national taxes.
The Court also ruled that the deliberations during the 11th Congress on the unapproved cityhood bills, as well as the deliberations during the 12th and 13th Congress on the unapproved resolution exempting from RA 9009 certain municipalities, have no legal significance.
Furthermore, the Court also held that to be valid under the equal protection clause, the classification in the present case–mere pendency of a cityhood bill in the 11th Congress–must be based on substantial distinctions rationally related to a legitimate government objective which is the purpose of the law, not limited to existing conditions only, and applicable to all similarly situated.
Applying the foregoing, the Court held, that mere pendency of a cityhood bill in the 11th Congress is not a material difference to distinguish a municipality from another for the purpose of the income requirement. However, it said that the exemption provision in the Cityhood Laws gives the 16 municipalities a unique advantage based on an arbitrary date–the filing of their cityhood bill before the end of the 11th Congress.
The Court said “limiting the exemption only 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.”
For his part, Justice Reyes said, “What should not be overlooked is that the cityhood laws enjoy the presumption of constitutionality. Petitioners and petitioners-in-intervention bear the heavy burden of overcoming such presumption. However, the majority does exactly the opposite…The exemption on the 16 municipalities is not only based on the fact that they had pending cityhood bills when RA No. 9009 was enacted. Aside from complying with the territory and population requirements of the Local Government Code, these municipalities also met the P20,000,000.00 income threshold of the old Section 450 of the Local Government Code.”
During the 11th Congress, Congress enacted into law 33 bills converting 33 municipalities into cities. However, Congress did not act on bills converting 24 other municipalities into cities. During the 12th Congress, Congress enacted into law RA 9009, which took effect on June 30, 2001. After the effectivity of RA 9009, the House of Representatives of the 12th Congress adopted Joint Resolution No. 29, which sought to exempt from the PhP100 million income requirement in RA 9009 the 24 municipalities whose cityhood bills were not approved in the 11th Congress. The 12th Congress ended without the Senate approving said resolution.
During the 13th Congress, the House of Representatives re-adopted the said joint resolution as Joint Resolution No. 1 and forwarded it to the Senate for approval. However, the Senate again failed to approve the same. Following the advice of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, 16 municipalities filed, through their respective sponsors, individual cityhood bills. (GR No. 176951, League of Cities of the Philippines v. Comelec; GR No. 177499, League of Cities of the Philippines v. Comelec; GR No. 178056, League of Cities of the Philippines v. Comelec, November 18, 2008)