Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Emotional tangle between 16 municipalities aspiring to be cities and the League of Cities

A text message going around says it all about the way the Japanese people have comported themselves in the midst of their multi-tragedies

Says the text: “Something to admire about the Japanese:  1. Walang pumapapel na mayor at iba pang politico; 2. Walang nagpapanggap na biktima ng mga sakuna; 3. Walang nag-uunahan sa pila at nag-aagawan ng mga relief goods; 4. Walang hadlang na media; walang ‘personal opinion’ ng reporters;  5. Walang pulitikong nagtatapal ng mukha at pangalan sa mga relief goods! Gumising na tayo.”

How  correct. As I said earlier, we can admire the dignity, fortitude and stoicism of the Japanese people, all part of their inner strength in the face of tribulations, as well as their concern for putting the common good above self, as epitomized by the “Fukushima 50.”   We have a lot to learn from them.

Don’t shoot the messenger

Shooting the messenger, instead of the message, was what  Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte did, in complaining about warnings issued by internationally-renowned urban planner/architect Felino Palafox after the magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Japan. It was unfair of Valte to complain that Palafox was an “alarmist” in warning our people about what could possibly happen if a similar disaster---Heaven forbid!--- strikes this country.  She also said the Palace never received any advisory from Palafox prior to the Japanese tragedies, when in truth, as he stressed in text messages, he has been repeating this message about the need for disaster-preparedness since Ondoy struck in September 2009, sending it anew to P-Noy last July. Instead of shooting the messenger, the Palace should be thankful for the message and take it seriously.

Another  message not to be taken seriously

Not to be taken seriously, however, is the tidbit from former Sen. Ernesto Maceda’s Star column linking former Defense Secretary Bert Gonzalez and Fr. Romeo Intengan of the PDSP with the powerhouse bloc of women in the P-Noy administration that’s supposed to be controlling this regime's funds.  I cannot for the life of me see these two gentlemen having any political connection with these powerful women, and I’m sure many share this feeling. It must be an early April Fool's joke  from the former politico who’s closely linked with Vice President Binay.

Tune into dzRH tonight at 8: most interesting

For those of you who have a chance, tune in tonight to the 8 pm. program Cecile Alvarez and I co-host every Sunday evening over dzRH, as we discuss with Rep. Ben Evardone of the lone district of Eastern Samar what has become a most emotional issue. This is the Supreme Court decision of last Feb. 15, upholding the constitutionality of the “Cityhood Laws” creating component cities out of 16 municipalities, some of them well known but others few have heard about around the country.  We guarantee that you’ll find the discussion most interesting---a real “paaralang bayan.”

The 16 municipalities fighting for cityhood are: Borongan, Eastern Samar; Baybay, Leyte;  Bogo, Cebu (the hometown of my late friend, Chief Justice and Senate President Marcelo Fernan); Catbalogan, Samar; Tandag, Surigao del Sur; Tayabas, Quezon; Lamitan, Basilan; Tabuk, Kalinga; Bayugan, Agusan del Sur; Batac, Ilocos Norte; Mati, Davao Oriental; Guihulngan, Negros Oriental; Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte; Carcar, Cebu; El Salvador, Misamis Oriental; and Naga, Cebu.

Nene Pimentel’s fear

Recall that the grant by Congress of cityhood to the 16 municipalities, through separate legislation for each of them, was already controversial more than two years ago, when the 122-member League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP), formerly headed by Mandaluyong Mayor Ben-Hur Abalos and now by San Fernando, Pampanga Mayor Oscar Rodriguez, opposed it on two fronts. The LCP, alarmed by the sudden bee-line for cityhood by smaller municipalities, succeeded in getting Congress to pass an amendment to the Local Government Code (Code) authored by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel in 1991. 

It will be recalled that Pimentel's Code had fixed the cities' official annual income to be generated from local sources to P20 million per city; but in June 2001, the LCP maneuvered to get Congress to amend the Code by passing RA 9009, also authored by Sen. Nene Pimentel, which raised the cities' annual revenue ceiling to P100 million a year---thus making it tougher for the smaller municipalities to make it.  Pimentel was quoted during the interpellation in the Senate as saying he feared the day when the nation would be left with only cities and no municipalities at all.

In addition, the LCP challenged the legality of the 16 municipalities’ cityhood application before the SC, where high-powered lawyers faced off:  Estelito Mendoza for the 16 and the Puno Law Offices for the LCP. But the issue escalated into a full-blown  controversy when the SC began to “flip-flop,”  to use media’s favorite term, on this issue---a trail of first disapproving and then approving the municipalities' cityhood conversion. 

SC’s “flip-flopping”

Initially the SC, in a decision penned by Justice Antonio Carpio, dis-allowed the 16 towns’ conversion into cities on Nov. 18, 2008, and  the Court also twice struck down their motion for reconsideration. On Dec. 21, 2009, however, the Court en banc, in a 6-4 decision penned by Justice Presbitero Velasco, declared the Cityhood Laws for the 16 applicants constitutional; but on Aug. 24, 2010, the Court en banc, in a resolution penned by original ponente Carpio, reinstated the Nov. 18, 2008 decision that had denied cityhood to the 16 municipal applicants

But the Obstinate 16 refused to take the Carpio resolution sitting down and  challenged it before the SC. This resulted  last Feb. 15 with the 7-6 majority decision penned by Justice Lucas Bersamin, that rendered “favorable action” on the 16 Cityhood petition on the basis of some “cogent points.” Rep. Ben Evardone, in our program,  explained the periodic changing of the magistrates' position on this issue by saying that over the years the Court's composition had changed, so that new justices tended to view things in another light. To this blogger, however, the history of the Cityhood issue seems more like a microcosm of the existing great political divide in the Corona Court.

The 7-6 vote reversal by the Bersamin ponencia of the Carpio-penned SC resolution of Aug. 24 caught the LP-dominated House quite by surprise, and some members itching for the impeachment of Ombusdman Merceditas Gutierrez have publicly threatened that the SC’s “flip-flopping” is ground for the justices’ impeachment too---but after Merci.


 Justice Bersamin argued that the 16 separate Cityhood bills did not violate Art. X, Sec. 10 of the Constitution as they were well within criteria defined by the Code,  and approved by a majority of votes cast in plebiscites in the 16 municipalities.  He also stressed that the enactment of the Cityhood Laws is an exercise of Congress of its legislative power, and that if the Code is a creation of Congress, it has the power to alter or modify the Code as it did when it enacted RA 9009;  pushing this argument further, Bersamin said that “such power of amendment of laws was again exercised when Congress enacted the Cityhood Laws” for each of the 16 applicant municipalities, and granted them an exemption from the P100 million annual revenue ceiling. Thus, he argued, by syllogism those separate Cityhood laws effectively amended the Code itself.

The Moral Argument

In our program Rep. Ben Evardone, the spokesman of the “Obstinate 16,” after citing the legal arguments of Bersamin, dwelt on the “moral aspects” of the issue. Evardone, a former newspaperman and two-term governor of Eastern Samar before running for its lone congressional district, feels that the LCP members should not be so restrictive about membership, for after all their Internal Revenue Allotment has not decreased with the temporary conversion of the 16 municipalities to cities; moreover, he argued, the 16 ought to be given every opportunity to also develop and become effective engines of economic growth for their regions, following the Code’s principle of decentralization of powers.

 Evardone cited an eye-popping line from Justice Bersamin in the SC decision upholding the constitutionality of the new cities:  “…It is like the elder siblings (old cities) wanting to kill the newly-born so that their inheritance would not be diminished.”

To this blogger, the most powerful arguments for the 16 municipal applicants for cityhood are that the 16 separate laws creating them into cities were all passed by Congress itself, and perhaps more importantly, the constituents of these areas approved their conversion into cities in separate plebiscites. Vox populi, vox Dei.

                                  For comments/reactions, pls. email: polbits@yahoo.com

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