Political Law

Negros Oriental II Electric Cooperative, Inc. vs Sangguniang Panlungsod of Dumaguete

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G.R. No. 72492 – 155 SCRA 421 – Political Law – Municipal Corporations – The Sanggunian – Powers of the Sanggunian – Inquiry in Aid of Legislation; No contempt power

In 1985, the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) of Dumaguete sought to conduct an investigation in connection with pending legislation related to the operations of public utilities. Invited in the hearing were the heads of NORECO II (Negros Oriental II Electric Cooperative, Inc.) – Paterio Torres and Arturo Umbac. NORECO II is alleged to have installed inefficient power lines in the said city. Torres and Umbac refused to appear before the SP and they alleged that┬áthe power to investigate, and to order the improvement of, alleged inefficient power lines to conform to standards is lodged exclusively with the National Electrification Administration (NEA); and neither the Charter of the City of Dumaguete nor the [old] Local Government Code (Batas Pambansa Blg. 337) grants the SP such power. The SP averred that inherent in the legislative functions performed by the respondent SP is the power to conduct investigations in aid of legislation and with it, the power to punish for contempt in inquiries on matters within its jurisdiction.

ISSUE: Whether or not LGUs can issue contempt.

HELD: No. There is no express provision either in the 1973 Constitution or in the LGC (BP 337) granting local legislative bodies, the power to subpoena witnesses and the power to punish non-members for contempt. Absent a constitutional or legal provision for the exercise of these powers, the only possible justification for the issuance of a subpoena and for the punishment of non-members for contumacious behavior would be for said power to be deemed implied in the statutory grant of delegated legislative power. But, the contempt power and the subpoena power partake of a judicial nature. They cannot be implied in the grant of legislative power. Neither can they exist as mere incidents of the performance of legislative functions. To allow local legislative bodies or administrative agencies to exercise these powers without express statutory basis would run afoul of the doctrine of separation of powers. There being no provision in the LGC explicitly granting local legislative bodies, the power to issue compulsory process and the power to punish for contempt, the SP of Dumaguete is devoid of power to punish Torres and Umbac for contempt. The Ad Hoc Committee of said legislative body has even less basis to claim that it can exercise these powers. Even assuming that the SP and the Ad-Hoc Committee had the power to issue the subpoena and the order complained of, such issuances would still be void for being ultra vires. The contempt power (and the subpoena power) if actually possessed, may only be exercised where the subject matter of the investigation is within the jurisdiction of the legislative body.

NOTE: Under the 1991 Local Government Code (RA 7610), Section 65 thereof provides that a local sanggunian may compel witnesses to appear before it (subpoena power). However, the sanggunian still does not have the power to punish witnesses who fail to appear before it. The sanggunian must file a contempt case against such witnesses.

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