The Supreme Court, by a vote of 9-6, yesterday declared as unconstitutional Republic Act No. 9355, An Act Creating the Province of Dinagat Islands and nullified the proclamation of the Province of Dinagat Islands and the election of the officials thereof.
In a 30-page decision penned by Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, the Court En Banc also declared null and void the provision in Article 9 (2) of the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Local Government Code of 1991, stating, “The land area requirement shall not apply where the proposed province is composed of one (1) or more islands.”
The Court held said that the said provision did not fill in any detail in accordance with a known standard provided for by the law. Instead, the IRR added an exemption to the standard or criteria prescribed by the LGC in the creation of a province as regards the land area requirement, which exemption is not found in the Code. As such, the provision in the IRR that the land area requirement shall not apply where the proposed province is composed of one or more islands is not in conformity with the standard or criteria prescribed by the LGC, ruled the Court.
“The requirements for the creation of a province contained in Sec. 461 of the Local Government Code are clear, plain and unambiguous, and its literal application does not result in absurdity or injustice. Hence, the provision in Art. 9(2) of the IRR exempting a proposed province composed of one or more islands from the land-area requirement cannot be considered an executive construction of the criteria prescribed by the Local Government Code. It is an extraneous provision not intended by the Local Government Code and, therefore, is null and void,” the Court held.
RA 9355, the Court noted, expressly states that the Province of Dinagat Islands “contains an approximate land area of 802.12 sq.km,” and thus, failed to comply with the land area requirement of 2,000 square kilometers.
Furthermore, the Court said that Dinagat Islands also failed to comply with the population requirement of not less than 250,000 inhabitants as certified by the National Statistics Office. A Census Population conducted by the NSO showed that the Dinagat Islands population as of May 2000 was only 106,951.
“In fine, R.A. No. 9355 failed to comply with either the territorial or the population requirement for the creation of the Province of Dinagat Islands…The Constitution clearly mandates that the creation of local government units must follow the criteria established in the Local Government Code. Any derogation of or deviation from the criteria prescribed in the Local Government Code violates Sec. 10, Art. X of the Constitution,” the Court said.
The case stemmed from the taxpayers’ suit filed by Surigao del Norte residents Rodolfo G. Navarro, Victor F. Bernal, and Rene O. Medina who argued that the creation of the Dinagat Islands as a new province was an illegal act of Congress and has unjustly deprived the people of Surigao del Norte a large chunk of its territory, Internal Revenue Allocation, and rich resources from the area. Dinagat Islands is one of the three main groups of islands composing Surigao del Norte. The other two are Mainland and Surigao City and Siargao Island and Bucas Grande.
Concurring with Justice Peralta are Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio, and Justices Conchita Carpio Morales, Arturo D. Brion, Mariano C. Del Castillo, Martin S. Villarama, Jr., Jose P. Perez, and Jose C. Mendoza.
Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Renato C. Corona, Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas P. Bersamin, and Roberto A. Abad.
Justice Nachura, citing Sec. 461 of the LGC, said that “the province of Dinagat Islands, composed at it is of a group of islands, is exempt from compliance not only with the territorial contiguity requirement but also with the 2,000-sq km land area criterion.” (GR No. 180050, Navarro v. Sec. Ermita, February 10, 2010)