Bai Sandra Sema vs. COMELEC

G.R. No. 177597

July 16, 2008

Facts:

On August 28, 2006, the ARMM Regional Assembly, exercising its power to create provinces under Sec.19, Art.VI of RA 9054, enacted Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 201 (MMA Act 201) creating the province of Shariff Kabunsuan in the first district of Maguindanao.

The voters of Maguindanao ratified Shariff Kabunsuan’s creation in a plebiscite held on October 29, 2006.

On February 6, 2007, the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Cotabato City passed Resolution No. 3999 requesting the COMELEC to “clarify the status of Cotabato City in view of the conversion of the First District of Maguindanao into a regular province” under MMA Act 201.

In an answer to Cotabato City’s query, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 07-0407 “maintaining the status quo with Cotabato City as part of Shariff Kabunsuan in the First Legislative District of Maguindanao.”

However, in preparation for the May 14, 2007 elections, the COMELEC promulgated Resolution No. 7845 stating that Maguindanao’s first legislative district is composed only of Cotabato City because of the enactment of MMA Act No. 201. On May 10, 2007, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 7902 amending Resolution No. 07-0407 by renaming the legislative district in question as “Shariff Kabunsan Province with Cotabato City”.

Sema, who was a candidate for Representative of “Shariff Kabunsuan with Cotabato City” prayed for the nullification of Resolution No. 7902 and the exclusion from the canvassing of votes cast in Cotabato for that office. Sema contended that Shariff Kabunsuan is entitled to one representative in Congress under Sec. 5(3), Art. VI of the Constitution and Sec.3 of the Ordinance appended to the Constitution.

Issues:

1. Whether Sec. 19, Art. VI of RA 9054 delegating to the ARMM Regional Assembly the power to create provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays is constitutional.

2. Whether a province created under Sec. 19, Art.VI of RA 9054 is entitled to one representative in the House of Representatives without need of a national law creating a legislative district for such province.

Held:

1.Sec.19, Art.VI of RA 9054 is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, insofar as it grants to the ARMM Regional Assembly the power to create provinces and cities,for being contrary to Sec. 5 of Art.VI and Sec.20 of Art. X of the Constitution, as well as Sec.3 of the Ordinance appended to the Constitution.

The creation of LGUs is governed by Sec.10, Art.X of the Constitution:

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 (LGC) 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 LGU must comply with 3 conditions: First, the creation of an LGU must follow the criteria fixed in the LGC. 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/legislative bodies the power to create LGUs.However, under its plenary powers, Congress can delegate to local legislative bodies the power to create LGUs subject to reasonable standards and provided no conflict arises with any provisions of the Constitution. In fact, the delegation to regional legislative bodies of the power to create municipalities and barangays is constitutional, provided the criteria established in the LGC and the plebiscite requirement in Sec. 10, Art. X of the Constitution is complied.

However, the creation of provinces is another matter. Under the LGC, “only x x x an Act of Congress” can create provinces, cities, or municipalities.
According to, Sec. 5 (3), Art.VI of the Constitution:

Each City with a population of at least 250,000, or each province, shall have at least 1 representative in the House of Representatives.”

Similarly, Sec. 3 of the Ordinance appended to the Constitution provides,

Any province that may hereafter be created, or any city whose population may hereafter increase to more than 250,000 shall be entitled in the immediately following election to at least 1 Member”.

Thus, only Congress can create provinces and cities because the creation of provinces and cities necessarily includes the creation of legislative districts, a power only Congress can exercise under  Sec. 5, Art.VI of the Constitution and Sec.3 of the Ordinance appended to the Constitution.

2.Legislative Districts are created or reapportioned only by an act of Congress. Under the Constitution, the power to increase the allowable membership in the House of Representatives, and to apportion legislative districts, is vested exclusively in Congress.

Sec. 5 (1), Art.VI of the Constitution vests Congress the power to increase the allowable membership in the House of Representatives. Sec. 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 the Congress itself enacts, not through a law enacted by regional/local legislative bodies. The “power of redistricting xxx is traditionally regarded as part of the power (of Congress) to make laws”, and is thus vested exclusively in (it) [Montejo v. COMELEC, 242 SCRA 415 (1995)].

An inferior legislative body cannot change the membership of the superior legislative body which created it. Congress is a national legislature, and any changes in its membership through the creation of legislative districts must be embodied in national law.

The power to create or reapportion legislative districts cannot be delegated by Congress but must be exercised by Congress itself. Even the ARMM Regional Assembly recognizes this.

The ARMM cannot create a province without a legislative district because the Constitution mandates that every province shall have a legislative district.

But this can never be legally possible because the creation of legislative districts is vested solely in Congress.

Moreover, the ARMM Regional Assembly cannot enact a law creating a national office because Sec. 20, Art.X of the Constitution expressly provides that the legislative powers of regional assemblies are limited only “within its territorial jurisdiction.” (Nothing in Sec. 20, Art.X of the Constitution authorizes autonomous regions to create/apportion legislative districts for Congress.)

It is axiomatic that organic acts of autonomous regions cannot prevail over the Constitution. Since the ARMM Regional Assembly has no legislative power to enact laws relating to national elections, it cannot create a legislative district whose representative is elected in national elections.

At most, what ARMM can create are barangays not cities and provinces.

Thus, MMA Act 201 enacted by the ARMM Regional Assembly, creating the Province of Shariff Kabunsuan, is void.

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