How Tabuk became a city (Last of two parts)
By Estanislao Albano, Jr.
The League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) seized upon Republic Act No. 9009 to kill the cityhood bills so that, along with the respective congressmen of the applicant towns, Congressman Wacnang sought the help of other congressmen and employed all possible strategies to clear the way for the bills to be enacted into laws.
During the 12th Congress (2001-2004), the hope for the 24 towns whose cityhood bills were not acted upon during the previous term were revived with the filing of a resolution exempting them from Republic Act No. 9009 but nothing came of it as the Senate refused to vote on the measure during its last session sometime on February 2004.
During the 13th Congress (2004-2007) the resolution exempting the 24 towns from the effects of Republic Act No. 9009 was re-filed and despite the intense adverse lobbying from the LCP, the same was favorably acted upon by the Senate with the decision that separate bills for conversion into cities be filed. Congressman Wacnang then re-filed the bill as House Bill No. 3068 on October 4, 2004.
Finally on February 5,2005, the Senate passed the bills for the conversion of the 12 towns which complied with its decision on third reading. But the 12 towns were not yet home dry because the LCP merely shifted the pressure to the executive. Fortune would smile on the 12 towns, however, because President Gloria Arroyo refused to be influenced by the lobby and although she did not sign the bills, she allowed them to lapse into law on March 23,2007 thus Republic Act No. 9409 converting Tabuk into a component city came into being.
The LCP next petitioned the Supreme Court (SC) to prohibit the conduct of plebiscites on the cityhood laws on the ground that the applicants for cityhood were not qualified based on Republic Act No. 9009 which increased the local income of towns applying to become component cities to P100M but the court did not act on it.
During the campaign period, the leadership of the city headed by Mayor Lammawin and Vice Mayor Rainier Sarol told the voters that cityhood will not only mean physical development but also improvement in the living standard of the people and alleviation of poverty because of the increased resources. They said that it is possible that with the conversion into a city, the IRA of the LGU which then stood at P96.8M will be tripled. On the other hand, the handful of people who opposed cityhood claimed among others that the increased resources will not benefit the residents because it will only go to corruption, taxes will be raised and criminality will increase.
In the plebiscite on June 23, 2007, the Yes votes overwhelmed the No votes 17,060 to 2,333. These votes came from 217 precincts of the 222 precincts of the municipality. The Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBC) no longer waited for the election returns from the five remaining precincts as they could no longer affect the results anyway. At 12:05 PM of June 24, 2007, MBC Chairman Reyman Solbita declared the Yes votes had won the plebiscite.
Meantime that the 16 New Cities were transitioning into their new status, the LCP pursued its petition to void their Cityhood Laws in the SC and on November 18, 2008, they scored a victory. The court declared the laws unconstitutional ruling that the 16 New Cities did not pass the requirements for cityhood.
Undaunted by the setback, the 16 New Cities jointly filed a motion for reconsideration (MR) on December 10, 2008 winning a reversal on December 21, 2009. However, it should be noted that after the SC had issued an entry of judgment on its April 28,2009 ruling denying the second MR of the 16 New Cities of its November 18, 2008 decision, the IRA of the new cities were reverted to their previous level.
On August 27,2010, the SC reversed itself anew. Voting 7-6, with two justices not taking part, the court reinstated its November 18, 2008 decision declaring the 16 Cityhood Laws unconstitutional. This, too, did not take out the fight from the 16 New Cities who filed an MR
Immediately even as the prospect grew even dimmer than before due to the notion that the court cannot keep on reversing itself on a case.
But on February 15, 2011, the SC made another about face upholding the constitutionality of the 16 Cityhood Laws and on April 12, 2011, in a session in Baguio City, the court voted 7-6 to dismiss with finality the MR of the LCP of its February 15,2011 ruling.
In junking the appeal, the court demolished the contention of the league that the 16 new cities are unqualified because their local incomes are way below the P100M local income required by RA 9009 for towns to become cities. It pointed out that Congress clearly intended the 16 erstwhile towns to be exempted from the P100M local income requirement set by Republic Act No. 9009 which took effect on June 30, 2001 when the cityhood bills were already pending in Congress.
The decision which was penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin also debunked the argument of the LCP that it is not hard to comply with Republic Act No. 9009 by pointing out that almost half of the 122 members of the league have local incomes below P100M.
“While the Constitution mandates that the creation of local government units must comply with the criteria laid down in the LGC (Local Government Code), it cannot be justified to insist that the Constitution must have to yield to every amendment to the LGC despite such amendment imminently producing effects contrary to the original thrusts of the LGC to promote autonomy, decentralization, countryside development, and the concomitant national growth,” the court said.
The LCP has been insisting that the cityhood laws violated Article X Section 10 of the Constitution, which provides that “no province, city, municipality or barangay shall 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 happily ended the journey of Tabuk to cityhood. It took all of 12 years from the time the idea was born to the time the status was sealed for all time by the April 12, 2011 decision of the highest court in the land. **