By: Juan L. Mercado
“THE EVIL that men do lives after them,” Shakespeare noted. Conviction by the impeachment court dumped Chief Justice Renato Corona into the dust bill.
But the Court still is hamstrung by skewed judgments rendered by the “Arroyo Justices” – those named by now detained former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Take the June hearing by the Court of protests against its repeated flip-flops on 16 towns. The 16 clawed to become cities, by dint of exemptions, by special laws, even if they lacked qualifications. The League of Cities filed a second motion for reconsideration, questioning anew the constitutionality of the cityhood laws.
In February, the Corona Court voted 7-6-2, ruled “with finality” that the creation of 16 new cities didn’t fracture the Constitution. But not before it repeatedly cartwheeled for 16 unqualified towns.” “Oh no! Not again!” the Inquirer headlined February’s flip-flop.
The 16 towns were elevated to cityhood, then busted, again elevated, then rebusted. They include Baybay, Leyte; Naga, Bogo and Carcar in Cebu; Catbalogan, Samar; Borongan, Eastern Samar; Tandag, Surigao del Sur; and Lamitan, Basilan.
The others are: Tayabas, Quezon; Tabuk, Kalinga; Bayugan, Agusan del Sur; Batac, Ilocos Norte; Mati, Davao Oriental; Guihulngan, Negros Oriental; Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte; and El Salvador, Misamis Oriental.
All 16 flunked the tax collection criterion of P100 million average for two consecutive years set by the Local Government Code, the Court ruled. Thereafter, it ordered entry of judgment – which made it final.
But “final” in the Corona Supreme Court meant also “perhaps”, even “maybe”. The Court changed its mind three since, at the behest of Ferdinand Marcos justice minister: Estelito Mendoza.
On Dec. 31, 2009, it said the 16 cityhood laws were constitutional after all. In another U-Turn on Aug. 24, 2010, it said “No, they are not.” Then, on Feb. 15, 2011, it somersaulted and said the laws were constitutional, thank you.
By then, vertigo afflicted everybody. That includes the League of Cities. Its 120 members protested the 16 “upstarts” siphoning their Internal Revenue Allotments. It filed a second motion for reconsideration.
League of City members, whose Internal Revenue Allotments were slashed, protested and rallied. Koronadal Mayor Peter B. Miguel, for example, said he’d be joining other city mayors in a protest. The Sangguniang Panlungsod passed a resolution supporting the LCP’s protest.
“This Court made history with its repeated flip-flopping in this case,” Justice Antonio Carpio wrote in his dissenting opinion. He had written the original ponencia that “defrocked” the 16. Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, now Ombudsman also dissented. So did Justices Martin Villarama Jr., Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Arturo Brion and Diosdado Peralta.
“There is absolutely nothing in the  Cityhood Laws to support the majority decision that [they] amended the Local Government Code,” Carpio wrote. Thus, the 16 must generate P100 million income, not merely P20 million. And the “Separability Clause” in each cityhood bill provides that the LGC prevails in case of inconsistency.
The majority committed a “glaring error” by claiming the P100-million minimum income standard was “arbitrarily made” or “extremely difficult” to comply with. San Juan, Navotas, Sta. Rosa (Laguna), Dasmariñas (Cavite) and Biñan (Laguna) “were created in full compliance with the P100 million income criterion.”
There are, in fact, 21 towns in Luzon that generate P100 million incomes. The League of Cities endorsed their cityhood applications.
The qualified towns are: Cabuyao and San Pedro in Laguna; Cainta, Taytay and Binangonan in Rizal; Bacoor, General Trias, Imus, Carmona, and Silang in Cavite; San Pedro, Laguna; Pantabangan in Nueva Ecija; Calaca, Sto. Tomas, Bauan and Nasugbu in Batangas; Mauban in Quezon; Marilao, Sta. Maria and Norzagaray in Bulacan; and Limay in Bataan.
Now, Carpio is acting chief justice. The impeachment of Corona served notice on the Arroyo justices: the days when an automatic majority steamrollered protests – whether it was jerrymandering to accommodate President Arroyo’s son or issue instant TROs to allow GMA to scot – are over.
Unnoticed but equally significant, there are unqualified towns who itch to become cities, without the sweat of raising revenues, be legislative shortcut. Last time, we looked there were 26 waiting in the wings.
“If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson, hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example,” George Bernard Shaw once wrote. So, look at the examples in the congressional queue:
House Bill 304, by Rep Raul Daza, is an Act Converting the Municipality of Catarman in the Province of Northern Samar into component city. HB 415 by Rep. Edgardo Angara would make Municipality of Baler into a city.
HB 2087, filed by (the late) Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, would change into city the town of Binalbagan. HB 2165 by Rep. Unico Jr does that for the town of Labo, and HB 4727 by Rep. Rodolfo Albano turns Ilagan into a city.
Under acting chief Justice Antonio Carpio the Court started initial reforms. These included publishing, on Internet, reports on its special funds. It also required judges to open their Statements of Assets and Liabilities.
Will this post-Corona Court be able to rebuild from the ruins of 16 cities’ somersaults?