The Supreme Court Justices, according to Chief Justice Reynato Puno (thru PDI), “are aware of of how their decision on a deal expanding the Bangsamoro territory would impact on the volatile situation in Mindanao.” This may be particularly true considering that just last month, the SC also declared that the creation of a new province in the ARMM – Shariff Kabunsuan – is unconstitutional. Here’s the digest of that case — Bai Sandra Sema vs. COMELEC and Didagen Dilangalen, G.R. No. 177597, 16 July 2008.
Facts: The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created under Republic Act (“R.A.”) No. 6734, as amended by Republic Act No. 9054. The Province of Maguindanao is part of ARMM. Cotabato City, on the other hand, voted against inclusion in the ARMM during the plebiscite in November 1989.
There are two legislative districts for the Province of Maguindanao. The first legislative district of Maguindanao consists of Cotabato City and eight municipalities. However, for the reason noted above, Cotabato City is not part of the ARMM but of Region XII.
On 28 August 2006, the ARMM’s legislature, the ARMM Regional Assembly, exercising its power to create provinces under Section 19, Article VI of RA 9054, enacted Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 201 (MMA Act 201) creating the Province of Shariff Kabunsuan composed of the eight municipalities in the first district of Maguindanao. The voters of Maguindanao ratified Shariff Kabunsuan’s creation in a plebiscite held on 29 October 2006.
On 10 May 2007, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 7902, subject of these petitions, renaming the first legislative district in question as “Shariff Kabunsuan Province with Cotabato City (formerly First District of Maguindanao with Cotabato City).”
Sema, who was a candidate in the 14 May 2007 elections for Representative of “Shariff Kabunsuan with Cotabato City,” prayed for the nullification of COMELEC Resolution No. 7902 and the exclusion from canvassing of the votes cast in Cotabato City for that office. Sema contended that Shariff Kabunsuan is entitled to one representative in Congress.
Issue: There are a number of issues resolved, but the main issue is this — Whether Section 19, Article VI of RA 9054, delegating to the ARMM Regional Assembly the power to create provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays, is constitutional.
Ruling: The power to create provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays was delegated by Congress to the ARMM Regional Assembly under Section 19, Article VI of RA 9054. However, pursuant to the Constitution, the power to create a province is with Congress and may not be validly delegated. Section 19 is, therefore, unconstitutional. MMA Act 201, enacted by the ARMM Regional Assembly and creating the Province of Shariff Kabunsuan, is void. The creation of Shariff Kabunsuan is invalid.
Discussion: The creation of local government units (LGUs) is governed by Section 10, Article X of the Constitution. There are three conditions that must be complied with in creating any of the four local government units – province, city, municipality or barangay – to wit:
1. The creation of a local government unit must follow the criteria fixed in the Local Government Code.
2. Such creation must not conflict with any provision of the Constitution.
3. There must be a plebiscite in the political units affected.
In this case, the creation of a province by the Regional Assembly is contrary to the Constitution.
There is neither an express prohibition nor an express grant of authority in the Constitution for Congress to delegate to regional or local legislative bodies the power to create LGUs. However, under its plenary legislative powers, Congress can delegate to local legislative bodies the power to create LGUs, subject to reasonable standards and provided no conflict arises with any provision of the Constitution.
When it comes to the creation of municipalities and barangays, there is no provision in the Constitution that conflicts with the delegation to regional legislative bodies (like the ARMM Regional Assembly) of the power to create such LGUs. The creation of provinces and cities is another matter.
The power to create a province or city inherently involves the power to create a legislative district. This is clear under Section 5 (3), Article VI of the Constitution (“Each city with a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand, or each province, shall have at least one representative” in the House of Representatives) and Section 3 of the Ordinance appended to the Constitution (“ “Any province that may hereafter be created, or any city whose population may hereafter increase to more than two hundred fifty thousand shall be entitled in the immediately following election to at least one Member x x x.”) In other words, for Congress to delegate validly the power to create a province or city, it must also validly delegate at the same time the power to create a legislative district.
However, Congress CANNOT validly delegate the power to create legislative districts. The power to increase the allowable membership in the House of Representatives, and to reapportion legislative districts, is vested exclusively in Congress.
Section 5 (1), Article VI of the Constitution vests in Congress the power to increase, through a law, the allowable membership in the House of Representatives. Section 5 (4) empowers Congress to reapportion legislative districts. The power to reapportion legislative districts necessarily includes the power to create legislative districts out of existing ones. Congress exercises these powers through a law that Congress itself enacts, and not through a law that regional or local legislative bodies enact. The allowable membership of the House of Representatives can be increased, and new legislative districts of Congress can be created, only through a national law passed by Congress.
The exclusive power to create or reapportion legislative districts is logical. Congress is a national legislature and any increase in its allowable membership or in its incumbent membership through the creation of legislative districts must be embodied in a national law. Only Congress can enact such a law. It would be anomalous for regional or local legislative bodies to create or reapportion legislative districts for a national legislature like Congress. An inferior legislative body, created by a superior legislative body, cannot change the membership of the superior legislative body.
Indeed, the office of a legislative district representative to Congress is a national office, and its occupant, a Member of the House of Representatives, is a national official. It would be incongruous for a regional legislative body like the ARMM Regional Assembly to create a national office when its legislative powers extend only to its regional territory. The office of a district representative is maintained by national funds and the salary of its occupant is paid out of national funds. It is a self-evident inherent limitation on the legislative powers of every local or regional legislative body that it can only create local or regional offices, respectively, and it can never create a national office. To allow the ARMM Regional Assembly to create a national office is to allow its legislative powers to operate outside the ARMM’s territorial jurisdiction. This violates Section 20, Article X of the Constitution which expressly limits the coverage of the Regional Assembly’s legislative powers “[w]ithin its territorial jurisdiction x x x.”