Political Law

Bai Sandra Sema vs Commission on Elections

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G.R. No. 177597 – 558 SCRA 700 – Political Law – Municipal Corporation - Creation of LGUs by Autonomous Regions (ARMM) - Population Requirement

The Province of Maguindanao is part of ARMM. Cotabato City is part of the province of Maguindanao but it is not part of ARMM because Cotabato City voted against its inclusion in a plebiscite held in 1989. Maguindanao has two legislative districts. The 1st legislative district comprises of Cotabato City and 8 other municipalities.

A law (RA 9054) was passed amending ARMM’s Organic Act and vesting it with power to create provinces, municipalities, cities and barangays. Pursuant to this law, the ARMM Regional Assembly created Shariff Kabunsuan (Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act 201) which comprised of the municipalities of the 1st district of Maguindanao with the exception of Cotabato City.

For the purposes of the 2007 elections, COMELEC initially stated that the 1st district is now only made of Cotabato City (because of MMA 201). But it later amended this stating that status quo should be retained; however, just for the purposes of the elections, the first district should be called Shariff Kabunsuan with Cotabato City - this is also while awaiting a decisive declaration from Congress as to Cotabato’s status as a legislative district (or part of any).

Bai Sandra Sema was a congressional candidate for the legislative district of S. Kabunsuan with Cotabato (1st district). Later, Sema was contending that Cotabato City should be a separate legislative district and that votes therefrom should be excluded in the voting (probably because her rival Dilangalen was from there and Dilangalen was winning - in fact he won). She contended that under the Constitution, upon creation of a province (S. Kabunsuan), that province automatically gains legislative representation and since S. Kabunsuan excludes Cotabato City - so in effect Cotabato is being deprived of a representative in Congress.

COMELEC maintained that the legislative district is still there and that regardless of S. Kabunsuan being created, the legislative district is not affected and so is its representation.

ISSUE: Whether or not RA 9054 is unconstitutional. Whether or not ARMM can create validly LGUs.

HELD: RA 9054 is unconstitutional. The creation of local government units is governed by Section 10, Article X of the Constitution, which provides:

Sec. 10. No province, city, municipality, or barangay may be created, divided, merged, abolished or its boundary substantially altered except in accordance with the criteria established in the local government code and subject to approval by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite in the political units directly affected.

Thus, the creation of any of the four local government units province, city, municipality or barangay must comply with three conditions. First, the creation of a local government unit must follow the criteria fixed in the Local Government Code. Second, such creation must not conflict with any provision of the Constitution. Third, there must be a plebiscite in the political units affected.

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 local government units. However, under its plenary legislative powers, Congress can delegate to local legislative bodies the power to create local government units, subject to reasonable standards and provided no conflict arises with any provision of the Constitution. In fact, Congress has delegated to provincial boards, and city and municipal councils, the power to create barangays within their jurisdiction, subject to compliance with the criteria established in the Local Government Code, and the plebiscite requirement in Section 10, Article X of the Constitution. Hence, ARMM cannot validly create Shariff Kabunsuan province.

Note that in order to create a city there must be at least a population of at least 250k, and that a province, once created, should have at least one representative in the HOR. Note further that in order to have a legislative district, there must at least be 250k (population) in said district. Cotabato City did not meet the population requirement so Sema’s contention is untenable. On the other hand, ARMM cannot validly create the province of S. Kabunsuan without first creating a legislative district. But this can never be legally possible because the creation of legislative districts is vested solely in Congress. At most, what ARMM can create are barangays not cities and provinces.

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This case is consolidated with G.R. No. 178628.

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