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SC Orders Maguindanao del Norte Vice Governor to Show Cause Why She Should Not Be Cited in Contempt

November 15, 2023

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered Bai Fatima Ainee L. Sinsuat (Sinsuat), Vice Governor of the Province of Maguindanao del Norte, to show cause within 10 days from notice why she should not be cited in contempt for her failure to promptly inform the Court of her appointment, oath taking, and assumption as Vice Governor of the said province.

In 2022, Sinsuat, the elected Vice Governor of the Province of Maguindanao pursuant to the 2022 National and Local Elections, assumed office as Governor of the newly created province of Maguindanao del Norte. She wrote a letter to respondent Bureau of Local Government Finance – Regional Office No. XII (BLGF Region XII) requesting that Badorie M. Alonzo (Alonzo) be designated as provincial treasurer. When informed by the BLGF Region XII that it intended to seek guidance on the matter from respondents Bureau of Local Government Finance – Central Office (BLGF Central) and the Ministry of Interior and Local Government (MILG) of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the province of Maguindanao del Norte, represented by Sinsuat, filed a petition for mandamus with prayer for the issuance of a preliminary mandatory injunction against respondents to compel the latter to process the designation of Alonzo or any qualified person designated by Sinsuat as provincial treasurer.

On April 19, 2023, the Court granted Sinsuat’s prayer for a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction and ordered the respondents to process Alonzo’s or any qualified person’s designation as provincial treasurer of Maguindanao del Norte.

On June 26, 2023, the Court issued a Decision granting the petition for mandamus and made the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction permanent, ordering the BLGF Region XII to process the appointment of Alonzo or any qualified person designated by Sinsuat as treasurer of the province of Maguindanao del Norte.

In determining whether mandamus may issue, the Court affirmed the clear legal right of Maguindanao del Norte, represented by Sinsuat as Acting Governor, to recommend the appointment of its provincial treasurer.

Thereafter, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), representing the BLGF Region XII and BLGF Central, the MILG, and petitioner Province of Maguindanao, through Sinsuat, filed their respective motions before the Court.

The OSG filed an Omnibus Motion praying that the case be set for oral arguments and that the June 26, 2023 Decision of the Court be reversed. The OSG also informed the Court that on April 26, 2023, the President had appointed several officers for the provinces of Maguindanao del Norte, among which was Sinsuat as Vice Governor. The OSG alleged that Sinsuat effectively abandoned her claim as Acting Governor of Maguindanao del Norte and relinquished the authority to appoint its provincial officer when she accepted and took her oath of office as Vice Governor of the province on April 28, 2023.

The MILG prayed for remedies identical to those prayed for by the OSG, averring that the issue of who shall assume as Governor and Vice Governor of Maguindanao del Norte has become moot because of the supervening events which transpired during the pendency of the case, particularly the appointment and assumption to office of Abdulraof Raul Macacua (Macacua) and Sinsuat as Governor and Vice Governor, respectively.

Petitioner, on the other hand, filed a motion praying that the MILG, among others, be cited for indirect contempt for their purported disobedience to the Court’s June 26, 2023 Decision and for their improper conduct.

The Court’s Second Division, through Associate Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier, partly granted the omnibus motion of the OSG and the motion for reconsideration of the MILG by reversing its Decision dated June 26, 2023 and dismissing for being moot Sinsuat’s petition for mandamus.

The Court also denied the OSG’s prayer to refer the case to the Supreme Court En Banc and to set the case for oral argument as well as the Province of Maguindanao del Norte’s motion for indirect contempt.

Emphasizing that the factual circumstances under which the Court issued its assailed June 26, 2023 Decision are drastically different from the present state of things as revealed by the parties, the Court ruled that Sinsuat is deemed to have abandoned her claim to the position of Governor of Maguindanao del Norte when she accepted her appointment, took her oath, and assumed office as Vice Governor of Maguindanao del Norte.

To warrant a finding of abandonment, two essential elements must be present: first, the intention to abandon, and second, an overt of “external” act which the intention is carried into effect.

The Court took note of Sinsuat’s acts which indicated her intention to abandon. It found that Sinsuat never expressed any objection when the President appointed Macacua as OIC Governor of Maguindanao del Norte on April 4, 2023, or when he assumed office as such and that she ceased to discharge the functions of Governor of the province from the time Macacua assumed office until the time of the promulgation of the assailed Decision.

The Court also pointed out the positive acts of Sinsuat which effected her intent to abandon the post of Governor. First, Sinsuat accepted her appointment as Vice Governor knowing full well that by doing so, she could not simultaneously serve as Governor. Second, she took her oath of office as Vice Governor on April 28, 2023 before no less than the President. Lastly, she assumed the office and discharged the duties and functions of Vice Governor of Maguindanao del Norte.

Since Sinsuat abandoned her claim to the position of Governor of Maguindanao del Norte, the Court ruled that the issues raised in the petition have been rendered moot, and Sinsuat’s authority to represent the Province of Maguindanao del Norte had ceased, warranting the dismissal of the case.

In denying the common prayer of the OSG and the MILG that the case be referred to the Court En Banc and that oral arguments on the same be held, the Court said that there was no exigent constitutional issue left for resolution in the present case which would necessitate its referral to the Court En Banc. It stated that the apparent clash between Macacua’s title to the position of Governor and Sinsuat’s claim against would be the proper subject of a quo warranto, since Macacua was not even a party to the present case.

The Court, however, deemed it proper to order Sinsuat to show cause why she should not be cited in contempt. It lamented that while the Court takes judicial notice of the official acts of the President in appointing Sinsuat, the parties should have at least informed the Court of the supervening events which significantly altered the possible outcome of the case.

The Court remarked that Sinsuat’s silence and omissions appear to constitute intentional concealment which tends to disrespect the Court’s authority as final dispenser of justice. It said that not only did Sinsuat failed to apprise the Court that she already accepted her appointment as Vice Governor of Maguindanao del Norte, she also conveniently omitted to mention this important fact in her Motion for Indirect Contempt. Her actions tend to cripple the Court’s authority to render and informed and just resolution of the case.

The Supreme Court Public Information Office will upload a copy of the ruling once it receives the same from the Second Division Clerk of Court.

(G.R. No. 265373, Province of Maguindanao del Norte v. Bureau of Local Government Finance, Regional Office No. XII, Bureau of Local Government Finance, Central Office, and Ministry of Interior and Local Government, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)

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The Supreme Court Under
the 1987 Constitution

As in the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, the 1987 Constitution provides that “[t]he judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.” (Art. VII, Sec. 1). The exercise of judicial power is shared by the Supreme Court with all lower courts, but it is only the Supreme Court’s decisions that are vested with precedential value or doctrinal authority, as its interpretations of the Constitution and the laws are final and beyond review by any other branch of government.

Unlike the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, however, the 1987 Constitution defines the concept of judicial power. Under paragraph 2 of Section 1, Article VIII, “judicial power” includes not only the “duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable” but also “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.” This latter provision dilutes the effectivity of the “political question” doctrine which places specific questions best submitted to the political wisdom of the people beyond the review of the courts.

Building on previous experiences under former Constitutions, the 1987 Constitution provides for specific safeguards to ensure the independence of the Judiciary. These are found in the following provisions:

    • The grant to the Judiciary of fiscal autonomy. “Appropriations for the Judiciary may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year, and, after approval, shall be automatically and regularly released.” (Art. VIII, Sec. 3).
    • The grant to the Chief Justice of authority to augment any item in the general appropriation law for the Judiciary from savings in other items of said appropriation as authorized by law. (Art. VI, Sec. 25[5])
    • The removal from Congress of the power to deprive the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction over cases enumerated in Section 5 of Article VIII.
    • The grant to the Court of the power to appoint all officials and employees of the Judiciary in accordance with the Civil Service Law (Art. VIII, Sec. 5 [6])
    • The removal from the Commission of Appointments of the power to confirm appointments of justices and judges (Art. VIII, Sec. 8)
    • The removal from Congress of the power to reduce the compensation or salaries of the Justices and judges during their continuance in office. (Art. VIII, Sec. 10)
    • The prohibition against the removal of judges through legislative reorganization by providing that “(n)o law shall be passed reorganizing the Judiciary when it undermines the security of tenure of its members. (Art. VIII, Sec. 2)
    • The grant of sole authority to the Supreme Court to order the temporary detail of judges. (Art. VIII, Sec. 5[3])
    • The grant of sole authority to the Supreme Court to promulgate rules of procedure for the courts. (Art. VIII, Sec. 5[5])
    • The prohibition against designating members of the Judiciary to any agency performing quasi-judicial or administrative function. (Art. VIII, Sec. 12)
    • The grant of administrative supervision over the lower courts and its personnel in the Supreme Court. (Art. VIII, Sec. 6)

The Supreme Court under the present Constitution is composed of a Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices. The members of the Court are appointed by the President from a list, prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council, of at least three nominees for every vacancy. This new process is intended to “de-politicize” the courts of justice, ensure the choice of competent judges, and fill existing vacancies without undue delay.


The Supreme Court Under
the Revolutionary Government

Shortly after assuming office as the seventh President of the Republic of the Philippines after the successful People Power Revolution, then President Corazon C. Aquino declared the existence of a revolutionary government under Proclamation No. 1 dated February 25, 1986. Among the more significant portions of this Proclamation was an instruction for “all appointive officials to submit their courtesy resignations beginning with the members of the Supreme Court.” The call was unprecedented, considering the separation of powers that the previous Constitutions had always ordained, but understandable considering the revolutionary nature of the post-People Power government. Heeding the call, the members of the Judiciary—from the Supreme Court to the Municipal Circuit Courts—placed their offices at the disposal of the President and submitted their resignations. President Corazon C, Aquino proceeded to reorganize the entire Court, appointing all 15 members.

On March 25, 1986, President Corazon Aquino, through Proclamation No. 3, also abolished the 1973 Constitution and put in place a Provisional “Freedom” Constitution. Under Article I, Section 2 of the Freedom Constitution, the provisions of the 1973 Constitution on the judiciary were adopted insofar as they were not inconsistent with Proclamation No. 3.

Article V of Proclamation No. 3 provided for the convening of a Constitutional Commission composed of 50 appointive members to draft a new constitution; this would be implemented by Proclamation No. 9. Under the leadership of retired SC Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma as its President, the Constitutional Commission of 1986 submitted its output of to the people for ratification.

By a vote of 76.30%, the Filipino people then ratified the Constitution submitted to them in a national plebiscite on February 2, 1987.

President Aquino, other civilian officials, and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, upon the announcement of the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, swore allegiance to the new charter on February 11, 1987 thereby putting an end to the revolutionary government.


The Supreme Court Under
the 1973 Constitution

The declaration of Martial Law through Proclamation No. 1081 by former President Ferdinand E, Marcos in 1972 brought about the transition from the 1935 Constitution to the 1973 Constitution. This transition had implications on the Court’s composition and functions.

This period also brought in many legal issues of transcendental importance and consequence. Among these were the legality of the ratification of a new Constitution, the assumption of the totality of government authority by President Marcos, and the power to review the factual basis for a declaration of Martial Law by the Chief Executive, among others. Also writ large during this period was the relationship between the Court and the Chief Executive who, under Amendment No. 6 to the 1973 Constitution, had assumed legislative powers even while an elected legislative body continued to function.

The 1973 Constitution increased the number of the members of the Supreme Court from 11 to 15, with a Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices. The Justices of the Court were appointed by the President alone, without the consent, approval, or recommendation of any other body or officials.


The Supreme Court of
the Second Republic

Following liberation from the Japanese occupation at the end of the Second World War and the Philippines’ subsequent independence from the United States, Republic Act No. 296 or the Judiciary Act of 1948 was enacted. This law grouped together the cases over which the Supreme Court could exercise exclusive jurisdiction for review on appeal, certiorari, or writ of error.


The Supreme Court During
the Commonwealth

Following the ratification of the 1935 Philippine Constitution in a plebiscite, the principle of separation of powers was adopted, not by express and specific provision to that effect, but by actual division of powers of the government—executive, legislative, and judicial—in different articles of the 1935 Constitution.

As in the United States, the judicial power was vested by the 1935 Constitution “in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as may be established by law.” It devolved on the Judiciary to determine whether the acts of the other two departments were in harmony with the fundamental law.

The Court during the Commonwealth was composed of “a Chief Justice and ten Associate Justices, and may sit en banc or in two divisions, unless otherwise provided by law.”


The Establishment of
the Supreme Court of the Philippines

On June 11, 1901, the Second Philippine Commission passed Act No. 136 entitled “An Act Providing for the Organization of Courts in the Philippine Islands” formally establishing the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands and creating Courts of First Instance and Justices of the Peace Courts throughout the land. The judicial organization established by the Act was conceived by the American lawyers in the Philippine Commission, with its basic structures patterned after similar organizations in the United States.

The Supreme Court created under the Act was composed of a Chief Justice and six Judges. Five members of the Court could form a quorum, and the concurrence of at least four members was necessary to pronounce a judgment.

Act No. 136 abolished the Audiencia established under General Order No. 20 and declared that the Supreme Court created by the Act be substituted in its place. This effectively severed any nexus between the present Supreme Court and the Audiencia.

The Anglo-American legal system under which the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands was expected to operate was entirely different from the old Spanish system that Filipinos were familiar with. Adjustments had to be made; hence, the decisions of the Supreme Court during its early years reflected a blend of both the Anglo-American and Spanish systems. The jurisprudence was a gentle transition from the old order to the new.


The Judicial System During
the American Occupation

After Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War in the late 1890s, The subsequent occupation by the Americans of the Philippine Islands paved the way for considerable changes in the control, disposition, and governance of the Islands.

The judicial system established during the regime of the military government functioned as an instrument of the executive—not of the judiciary—as an independent and separate branch of government. Secretary of State John Hay, on May 12, 1899, proposed a plan for a colonial government of the Philippine Islands which would give Filipinos the largest measure of self-government. The plan contemplated an independent judiciary manned by judges chosen from qualified locals and Americans.

On May 29, 1899, General Elwell Stephen Otis, Military Governor for the Philippines, issued General Order No. 20, reestablishing the Audiencia Teritorial de Manila which was to apply Spanish laws and jurisprudence recognized by the American military governor as continuing in force.

The Audiencia was composed of a presiding officer and eight members organized into two divisions: the sala de lo civil or the civil branch, and the sala de lo criminal or the criminal branch.

It was General Otis himself who personally selected the first appointees to the Audiencia. Cayetano L. Arellano was appointed President (equivalent to Chief Justice) of the Court, with Manuel Araullo as president of the sala de lo civil and Raymundo Melliza as president of the salo de lo criminal. Gregorio Araneta and Lt. Col. E.H. Crowder were appointed associate justices of the civil branch while Ambrosio Rianzares, Julio Llorente, Major R.W. Young, and Captain W.E. Brikhimer were designated associate justices of the criminal branch. Thus, the reestablished Audiencia became the first agency of the new insular government where Filipinos were appointed side by side with Americans.


The Judicial System Under
the Spanish Regime

During the early Spanish occupation, King Philip II established the Real Audiencia de Manila which was given not only judicial but legislative, executive, advisory, and administrative functions as well. Composed of the incumbent governor general as the presidente (presiding officer), four oidores (equivalent to associate justices), an asesor (legal adviser), an alguacil mayor (chief constable), among other officials, the Real Audiencia de Manila was both a trial and appellate court. It had exclusive original, concurrent original, and exclusive appellate jurisdictions.

Initially, the Audiencia was given a non-judicial role in the colonial administration, to deal with unforeseen problems within the territory that arose from time to time—it was given the power to supervise certain phases of ecclesiastical affairs as well as regulatory functions, such as fixing of prices at which merchants could sell their commodities. Likewise, the Audiencia had executive functions, like the allotment of lands to the settlers of newly established pueblos. However, by 1861, the Audiencia had ceased to perform these executive and administrative functions and had been restricted to the administration of justice.

When the Audiencia Territorial de Cebu was established in 1886, the name of the Real Audiencia de Manila was changed to Audiencia Territorial de Manila.


The Judicial System of the
Pre-Colonization Filipinos

When the Spanish colonizers first arrived in the Philippine archipelago, they found the indigenous Filipinos without any written laws. The laws enforced were mainly derived from customs, usages, and tradition. These laws were believed to be God-given and were orally transmitted from generation to generation.

A remarkable feature of these customs and traditions was that they were found to be very similar to one another notwithstanding that they were observed in widely dispersed islands of the archipelago. There were no judges and lawyers who were trained formally in the law, although there were elders who devoted time to the study of the customs, usages, and traditions of their tribes to qualify them as consultants or advisers on these matters.

The unit of government of the indigenous Filipinos was the barangay, which was a family-based community of 30 to 100 families, occupying a pook (“locality” or “area”) headed by a chieftain called datu who exercised all functions of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—a barangay was not only a political but a social and an economic organization. In the exercise of his judicial authority, the datu acted as a judge (hukom) in settling disputes and deciding cases in his barangay.