These motions assail our Decision dated October 18, 2011, where we upheld the constitutionality of Republic Act (RA) No. 10153. Pursuant to the constitutional mandate of synchronization, RA No. 10153 postponed the regional elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) (which were scheduled to be held on the second Monday of August 2011) to the second Monday of May 2013 and recognized the President’s power to appoint officers-in-charge (OICs) to temporarily assume these positions upon the expiration of the terms of the elected officials.
Issues: (a) Does the Constitution mandate the synchronization of ARMM regional elections with national and local elections?
(b) Does RA No. 10153 amend RA No. 9054? If so, does RA No. 10153 have to comply with the supermajority vote and plebiscite requirements?
(c) Is the holdover provision in RA No. 9054 constitutional?
(d) Does the COMELEC have the power to call for special elections in ARMM?
(e) Does granting the President the power to appoint OICs violate the elective and representative nature of ARMM regional legislative and executive offices?
(f) Does the appointment power granted to the President exceed the President’s supervisory powers over autonomous regions?
Held: YES. Synchronization mandate includes ARMM elections
The Court was unanimous in holding that the Constitution mandates the synchronization of national and local elections. While the Constitution does not expressly instruct Congress to synchronize the national and local elections, the intention can be inferred from the following provisions of the Transitory Provisions (Article XVIII) of the Constitution, which state:
Section 1. The first elections of Members of the Congress under this Constitution shall be held on the second Monday of May, 1987.
The first local elections shall be held on a date to be determined by the President, which may be simultaneous with the election of the Members of the Congress. It shall include the election of all Members of the city or municipal councils in the Metropolitan Manila area.
Section 2. The Senators, Members of the House of Representatives, and the local officials first elected under this Constitution shall serve until noon of June 30, 1992.
Of the Senators elected in the elections in 1992, the first twelve obtaining the highest number of votes shall serve for six years and the remaining twelve for three years.
The inclusion of autonomous regions in the enumeration of political subdivisions of the State under the heading “Local Government” indicates quite clearly the constitutional intent to consider autonomous regions as one of the forms of local governments.
We reiterate our previous observations:
This view – that Congress thought it best to leave the determination of the date of succeeding ARMM elections to legislative discretion – finds support in ARMM’s recent history.
To recall, RA No. 10153 is not the first law passed that rescheduled the ARMM elections. The First Organic Act – RA No. 6734 – not only did not fix the date of the subsequent elections; it did not even fix the specific date of the first ARMM elections, leaving the date to be fixed in another legislative enactment. Consequently, RA No. 7647, RA No. 8176, RA No. 8746, RA No. 8753, and RA No. 9012 were all enacted by Congress to fix the dates of the ARMM elections. Since these laws did not change or modify any part or provision of RA No. 6734, they were not amendments to this latter law. Consequently, there was no need to submit them to any plebiscite for ratification.
The Second Organic Act – RA No. 9054 – which lapsed into law on March 31, 2001, provided that the first elections would be held on the second Monday of September 2001. Thereafter, Congress passed RA No. 9140 to reset the date of the ARMM elections. Significantly, while RA No. 9140 also scheduled the plebiscite for the ratification of the Second Organic Act (RA No. 9054), the new date of the ARMM regional elections fixed in RA No. 9140 was not among the provisions ratified in the plebiscite held to approve RA No. 9054. Thereafter, Congress passed RA No. 9333, which further reset the date of the ARMM regional elections. Again, this law was not ratified through a plebiscite.
From these legislative actions, we see the clear intention of Congress to treat the laws which fix the date of the subsequent ARMM elections as separate and distinct from the Organic Acts. Congress only acted consistently with this intent when it passed RA No. 10153 without requiring compliance with the amendment prerequisites embodied in Section 1 and Section 3, Article XVII of RA No. 9054.12 (emphases supplied)
YES. The clear wording of Section 8, Article X of the Constitution expresses the intent of the framers of the Constitution to categorically set a limitation on the period within which all elective local officials can occupy their offices. We have already established that elective ARMM officials are also local officials; they are, thus, bound by the three-year term limit prescribed by the Constitution. It, therefore, becomes irrelevant that the Constitution does not expressly prohibit elective officials from acting in a holdover capacity. Short of amending the Constitution, Congress has no authority to extend the three-year term limit by inserting a holdover provision in RA No. 9054. Thus, the term of three years for local officials should stay at three (3) years, as fixed by the Constitution, and cannot be extended by holdover by Congress.
Admittedly, we have, in the past, recognized the validity of holdover provisions in various laws. One significant difference between the present case and these past cases is that while these past cases all refer to electivebarangay or sangguniang kabataan officials whose terms of office are not explicitly provided for in the Constitution, the present case refers to local elective officials – the ARMM Governor, the ARMM Vice Governor, and the members of the Regional Legislative Assembly – whose terms fall within the three-year term limit set by Section 8, Article X of the Constitution.
Even assuming that a holdover is constitutionally permissible, and there had been statutory basis for it (namely Section 7, Article VII of RA No. 9054), the rule of holdover can only apply as an available option where no express or implied legislative intent to the contrary exists; it cannot apply where such contrary intent is evident.
Congress, in passing RA No. 10153 and removing the holdover option, has made it clear that it wants to suppress the holdover rule expressed in RA No. 9054. Congress, in the exercise of its plenary legislative powers, has clearly acted within its discretion when it deleted the holdover option, and this Court has no authority to question the wisdom of this decision, absent any evidence of unconstitutionality or grave abuse of discretion. It is for the legislature and the executive, and not this Court, to decide how to fill the vacancies in the ARMM regional government which arise from the legislature complying with the constitutional mandate of synchronization.
NO. COMELEC has no authority to hold special elections
Neither do we find any merit in the contention that the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is sufficiently empowered to set the date of special elections in the ARMM. To recall, the Constitution has merely empowered the COMELEC to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election. Although the legislature, under the Omnibus Election Code (Batas Pambansa Bilang [BP] 881), has granted the COMELEC the power to postpone elections to another date, this power is confined to the specific terms and circumstances provided for in the law. Specifically, this power falls within the narrow confines of the following provisions:
Section 5. Postponement of election. – When for any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous causes of such a nature that the holding of a free, orderly and honest election should become impossible in any political subdivision, the Commission, motu proprio or upon a verified petition by any interested party, and after due notice and hearing, whereby all interested parties are afforded equal opportunity to be heard, shall postpone the election therein to a date which should be reasonably close to the date of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect but not later than thirty days after the cessation of the cause for such postponement or suspension of the election or failure to elect.
Section 6. Failure of election. – If, on account of force majeure, violence, terrorism, fraud, or other analogous causes the election in any polling place has not been held on the date fixed, or had been suspended before the hour fixed by law for the closing of the voting, or after the voting and during the preparation and the transmission of the election returns or in the custody or canvass thereof, such election results in a failure to elect, and in any of such cases the failure or suspension of election would affect the result of the election, the Commission shall, on the basis of a verified petition by any interested party and after due notice and hearing, call for the holding or continuation of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect on a date reasonably close to the date of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect but not later than thirty days after the cessation of the cause of such postponement or suspension of the election or failure to elect. [emphases and underscoring ours]
YES. The power to appoint has traditionally been recognized as executive in nature. Section 16, Article VII of the Constitution describes in broad strokes the extent of this power, thus:
In our assailed Decision, we already identified the three possible solutions open to Congress to address the problem created by synchronization – (a) allow the incumbent officials to remain in office after the expiration of their terms in a holdover capacity; (b) call for special elections to be held, and shorten the terms of those to be elected so the next ARMM regional elections can be held on May 13, 2013; or (c) recognize that the President, in the exercise of his appointment powers and in line with his power of supervision over the ARMM, can appoint interim OICs to hold the vacated positions in the ARMM regional government upon the expiration of their terms. We have already established the unconstitutionality of the first two options, leaving us to consider the last available option.
In this way, RA No. 10153 is in reality an interim measure, enacted to respond to the adjustment that synchronization requires. Given the context, we have to judge RA No. 10153 by the standard of reasonableness in responding to the challenges brought about by synchronizing the ARMM elections with the national and local elections. In other words, “given the plain unconstitutionality of providing for a holdover and the unavailability of constitutional possibilities for lengthening or shortening the term of the elected ARMM officials, is the choice of the President’s power to appoint – for a fixed and specific period as an interim measure, and as allowed under Section 16, Article VII of the Constitution – an unconstitutional or unreasonable choice for Congress to make?