Thursday, January 7, 2016

De facto vs. de jure local government units - G.R. No. 103702

"x x x.

While petitioners would grant that the enactment of Republic Act No. 7160 may have converted the Municipality of San Andres into a de facto municipality, they, however, contend that since the petition for quo warranto had been filed prior to the passage of said law, petitioner municipality had acquired a vested right to seek the nullification of Executive Order No. 353, and any attempt to apply Section 442 of Republic Act 7160 to the petition would perforce be violative of due process and the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Petitioners' theory might perhaps be a point to consider had the case been seasonably brought. Executive Order No. 353 creating the municipal district of San Andres was issued on 20 August 1959 but it was only after almost thirty (30) years, or on 05 June 1989, that the municipality of San Narciso finally decided to challenge the legality of the executive order. In the meantime, the Municipal District, and later the Municipality, of San Andres, began and continued to exercise the powers and authority of a duly created local government unit. In the same manner that the failure of a public officer to question his ouster or the right of another to hold a position within a one-year period can abrogate an action belatedly filed, 19 so also, if not indeed with greatest imperativeness, must aquo warranto proceeding assailing the lawful authority of a political subdivision be timely raised. 20 Public interest
demands it.

Granting the Executive Order No. 353 was a complete nullity for being the result of an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power, the peculiar circumstances obtaining in this case hardly could offer a choice other than to consider the Municipality of San Andres to have at least attained a status uniquely of its own closely approximating, if not in fact attaining, that of a de facto municipal corporation. Conventional wisdom cannot allow it to be otherwise. Created in 1959 by virtue of Executive Order No. 353, the Municipality of San Andres had been in existence for more than six years when, on 24 December 1965, Pelaez v. Auditor General was promulgated. The ruling could have sounded the call for a similar declaration of the unconstitutionality of Executive Order No. 353 but it was not to be the case. On the contrary, certain governmental acts all pointed to the State's recognition of the continued existence of the Municipality of San Andres. Thus, after more than five years as a municipal district, Executive Order No. 174 classified the Municipality of San Andres as a fifth class municipality after having surpassed the income requirement laid out in Republic Act No. 1515. Section 31 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, otherwise known as the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, constituted as municipal circuits, in the establishment of Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in the country, certain municipalities that comprised the municipal circuits organized under Administrative Order No. 33, dated 13 June 1978, issued by this Court pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 537. Under this administrative order, the Municipality of San Andres had been covered by the 10th Municipal Circuit Court of San Francisco-San Andres for the province of Quezon.

At the present time, all doubts on the de jure standing of the municipality must be dispelled. Under the Ordinance (adopted on 15 October 1986) apportioning the seats of the House of Representatives, appended to the 1987 Constitution, the Municipality of San Andres has been considered to be one of the twelve (12) municipalities composing the Third District of the province of Quezon. Equally significant is Section 442(d) of the Local Government Code to the effect that municipal districts "organized pursuant to presidential issuances or executive orders and which have their respective sets of elective municipal officials holding office at the time of the effectivity of (the) Code shall henceforth be considered as regular municipalities." No pretension of unconstitutionality per se of Section 442(d) of the Local Government Code is proferred. It is doubtful whether such a pretext, even if made, would succeed. The power to create political subdivisions is a function of the legislature. Congress did just that when it has incorporated Section 442(d) in the Code. Curative laws, which in essence are retrospective, 21 and aimed at giving "validity to acts done that would have been invalid under existing laws, as if existing laws have been complied with," are validly accepted in this jurisdiction, subject to the usual qualification against impairment of vested rights. 22

All considered, the de jure status of the Municipality of San Andres in the province of Quezon must now be conceded.

x x x."