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Cityhood case: Rep. Gullas denies "secret letter" to SC

CEBU, Philippines - Cebu first district Rep. Eduardo R. Gullas yesterday denied the allegations reportedly circulated by the League of Cities of the Philippines that the 16 cities upheld by the Supreme Court sent a “secret letter” asking the SC justices to favor the constitutionality of their charters.

Gullas, in a press conference at his office at the University of the Visayas, however admitted that the 16 cities through legal counsel Estelito Mendoza filed a letter last January 19, 2009, but said there was no secrecy about it as apart from the Office of the Chief Justice, each member of the Supreme Court at that time was also sent a copy.

A full-page advertisement bearing a copy of the letter showed that it was received by the office of former chief justice Reynato Puno and the staff of the 14 associate justices.

Gullas, who authored the bills converting Naga and Carcar into cities, said the main purpose of the letter was not to convince the SC en banc to favor the 16 cities, but “to request the three who abstained in the voting to participate as what should have been constitutional”.

Both the cities of Naga and Carcar were among the 16 cities whose charters were declared unconstitutional by the SC in its November 18, 2008 decision. The SC however reversed its decision, reinstating the cityhood of the 16 cities in its February 15, 2011 decision.

The veteran lawmaker said that when in a case the SC declares a law unconstitutional “as much as possible every member in the en banc should participate unless prevented by insuperable reasons such as mandatory grounds for disqualification.”

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In that November 18, 2008 decision, justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Dante Tinga and Antonio Eduardo Nachura did not participate in the voting, hence, there were only 11 (6-5) votes that time.

Ynares-Santiago was on a five-day vacation leave then, while Tinga and Nachura preferred to abstain from the voting.

In that controversial letter, the 16 cities requested that all justices be compelled to participate in the resolution of their motion for reconsideration lodged on December 10, 2008.

“The claim that the letter asked the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the law is also false. What the letter did is simply ask those members of the court who did not participate in the decision…to take part in the resolution in compliance with the requirement of the Constitution that cases involving the constitutionality of the law shall be decided by the Supreme Court en banc, meaning to say, the Chief of justice and the 14 associate justices,” read the letter in reference to Section 4 (1), Article VIII of the Constitution.

“Distortion of truth by the League of Cities must be exposed lest, as has been said, “when a falsehood is repeated often enough, the lie becomes the truth,” said the letter.

Meanwhile, the LCP has reportedly filed its motion for reconsideration assailing the court’s February 15, 2011 resolution.

“It’s all about the money, the IRA (internal revenue allotment). Like the older siblings would like to kill the younger siblings for the inheritance,” Gullas said.

Gullas said that 16 member-cities of the LCP, as of the time they filed their petitions to the court, did not meet the P20-million income requirement. For one, Marawi City, an LCP member, in 2008 had an average income of P5,291,522, while the cities of Palayan and Sipalay had P6 million and P9 million, respectively.

Under the old Local Government Code, a town to be converted into a city has to have at least a P20 million annual income excluding the IRA, and a 150,000 total population and/or 100 square-kilometer of total land area.

Republic Act 9009 of Sen. Aquino Pimentel however amended this part and upped the income requirement to P100 million. But Gullas maintained that before the amendment was approved, there was an agreement in Congress at that time that the pending bills would not be affected by Pimentel’s new law. With that agreement, the bills converting 16 towns into cities were approved.

And with the new law in effect, the congressman also said that nine of the LCP member-cities, also at the time they petitioned the 16 new cities, did not reach the P100 million income requirement to become cities. Among these are Sorsogon City and Passi City with P30 million and P40 million, respectively.

The LCP filed three petitions to the High Court last 2008 asking that the 16 new charters be declared unconstitutional considering that they do not meet the income requirement.— /BRP  (FREEMAN NEWS)

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