Who’s the ponente of this odd Supreme Court ruling?

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

The Supreme Court First Division issued in November a decision that defies logic. It took away from a developer a prime property in Taguig that the latter had bought and fully paid for way back 1995.

The First Division gave the whole 1.6 hectares of developed land to six workers who were collecting back wages from only one of three siblings who had sold it.

Nobody signed from the division. Only the clerk of court did.

Worse, a constitutional requirement was broken. There was no certification from the Chief Justice that the division members discussed the case among themselves before assigning the writing to the ponente (read provision below). The SC’s internal rules echo this requirement.

Why is this requirement so important that it is enshrined in the basic law of the land and repeated in the SC’s internal rules? Because it is supposed to ensure that decisions are properly studied and discussed, and are therefore fair.

So why is the ponente not proud enough to own authorship? The answer may be in the details.

The company bought the land in 1995 from the three siblings for P30.5 million. It paid the siblings in full.

Taxes were also fully paid on time. But the BIR withheld clearance because of the sellers’ insufficient payment of estate taxes.

While the company was awaiting BIR clearance to transfer the land to its name, one of the three siblings faced labor issues. Six employees filed with the National Labor Relations Commission for payment of back wages and other money claims.

The labor arbiter later levied the entire property and awarded it to the employees.

The case reached the SC. Initially in March 2023 the First Division said that the workers were entitled to only one-third ownership.

The developer moved for reconsideration. The division amended its decision: it gave the whole property, not just one-third, to the workers.

Like in the first decision, the ponente did not sign in November 2023. There was also no constitutionally required certification. And before it was dispossessed, the developer was not asked for its side as part of due process in Article III, Bill of Rights, Section 1.

Meanwhile, a northern Luzon politico and another party got into the act, and tried to buy the awarded rights of the employees. If they succeed in buying the rights, they get to own the 1.6 hectares now valued at P412 million.

The land dispute is a local issue. Strangely, four Senate hearings have been held about it. In the last one, owners of the development firm were accorded the usual rough treatment.

The developer has engaged the services of a major law firm. It recently filed an omnibus motion seeking, among others, that the case be elevated to the SC en banc.

Will the First Division oblige? It’s anybody’s guess. The First Division is headed by the Chief Justice, who must first agree.

Note: Article VIII, Judicial Department, Section 13:

“The conclusions of the Supreme Court in any case submitted to it for decision en banc or in division shall be reached in consultation before the case is assigned to a Member for the writing of the opinion of the Court.

“A certification to this effect signed by the Chief Justice shall be issued and a copy thereof attached to the record of the case and served upon the parties.

“Any Member who took no part, or dissented, or abstained from a decision or resolution, must state the reason therefor. The same requirements shall be observed by all lower collegiate courts.”

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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