Political Law

Ramon Ceniza et al vs Commission on Elections, COA & National Treasurer

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G.R. No. L-52304 – 95 SCRA 775 – Equal Protection – Gerrymandering

**”Gerrymandering” is a “term employed to describe an apportionment of representative districts so contrived as to give an unfair advantage to the party in power.” **

Pursuant to Batas Blg 51 (enacted 22 Dec 1979), COMELEC adopted Resolution No. 1421 which effectively bars voters in chartered cities (unless otherwise provided by their charter), highly urbanized (those earning above P40 M) cities, and component cities (whose charters prohibit them) from voting in provincial elections. The City of Mandaue, on the other hand, is a component city NOT a chartered one or a highly urbanized one. So when COMELEC added Mandaue to the list of 20 cities that cannot vote in provincial elections, Ceniza, in behalf of the other members of DOERS (Democracy or Extinction: Resolved to Succeed) questioned the constitutionality of BB 51 and the COMELEC resolution. They said that the regulation/restriction of voting being imposed is a curtailment of the right to suffrage. Further, petitioners claim that political and gerrymandering motives were behind the passage of Batas Blg. 51 and Section 96 of the Charter of Mandaue City. They contend that the Province of Cebu is politically and historically known as an opposition bailiwick and of the total 952,716 registered voters in the province, close to one-third (1/3) of the entire province of Cebu would be barred from voting for the provincial officials of the province of Cebu. Ceniza also said that the constituents of Mandaue never ratified their charter. Ceniza likewise aver that Sec 3 of BB 885  insofar as it classifies cities including Cebu City as highly urbanized as the only basis for not allowing its electorate to vote for the provincial officials is inherently and palpably unconstitutional in that such classification is not based on substantial distinctions germane to the purpose of the law which in effect provides for and regulates the exercise of the right of suffrage, and therefore such unreasonable classification amounts to a denial of equal protection.

ISSUE: Whether or not there is a violation of equal protection.

HELD: The thrust of the 1973 Constitution is towards the fullest autonomy of local government units. In the Declaration of Principles and State Policies, it is stated that “The State shall guarantee and promote the autonomy of local government units to ensure their fullest development as self-reliant communities.” The petitioners allegation of gerrymandering is of no merit, it has no factual or legal basis. The Constitutional requirement that the creation, division, merger, abolition, or alteration of the boundary of a province, city, municipality, or barrio should be subject to the approval by the majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite in the governmental unit or units affected is a new requirement that came into being only with the 1973 Constitution. It is prospective in character and therefore cannot affect the creation of the City of Mandaue which came into existence on 21 June 1969.

The classification of cities into highly urbanized cities and component cities on the basis of their regular annual income is based upon substantial distinction. The revenue of a city would show whether or not it is capable of existence and development as a relatively independent social, economic, and political unit. It would also show whether the city has sufficient economic or industrial activity as to warrant its independence from the province where it is geographically situated. Cities with smaller income need the continued support of the provincial government thus justifying the continued participation of the voters in the election of provincial officials in some instances.

The petitioners also contend that the voters in Mandaue City are denied equal protection of the law since the voters in other component cities are allowed to vote for provincial officials. The contention is without merit. The practice of allowing voters in one component city to vote for provincial officials and denying the same privilege to voters in another component city is a matter of legislative discretion which violates neither the Constitution nor the voter’s right of suffrage.

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