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Province of North Cotabato vs GRP Peace Panel on Ancestral Domain
G.R. No. 1833591,
October 14, 2008
CARPIO MORALES, J.:
Subject of these consolidated cases is the extent of the powers of the President in pursuing the peace process. While the facts surrounding this controversy center on the armed conflict in Mindanao between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the legal issue involved has a bearing on all areas in the country where there has been a long-standing armed conflict. Yet again, the Court is tasked to perform a delicate balancing act. It must uncompromisingly delineate the bounds within which the President may lawfully exercise her discretion, but it must do so in strict adherence to the Constitution, lest its ruling unduly restricts the freedom of action vested by that same Constitution in the Chief Executive precisely to enable her to pursue the peace process effectively.
On August 5, 2008, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MILF, through the Chairpersons of their respective peace negotiating panels, were scheduled to sign a Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The signing of the MOA-AD between the GRP and the MILF was not to materialize, however, for upon motion of petitioners, specifically those who filed their cases before the scheduled signing of the MOA-AD, this Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order enjoining the GRP from signing the same.
The MOA-AD was preceded by a long process of negotiation and the concluding of several prior agreements between the two parties beginning in 1996, when the GRP-MILF peace negotiations began. On July 18, 1997, the GRP and MILF Peace Panels signed the Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities. The following year, they signed the General Framework of Agreement of Intent on August 27, 1998.
On July 23, 2008, the Province of North Cotabato and Vice-Governor Emmanuel Piñol filed a petition, docketed as G.R. No. 183591, for Mandamus and Prohibition with Prayer for the Issuance of Writ of Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order. Invoking the right to information on matters of public concern, petitioners seek to compel respondents to disclose and furnish them the complete and official copies of the MOA-AD including its attachments, and to prohibit the slated signing of the MOA-AD, pending the disclosure of the contents of the MOA-AD and the holding of a public consultation thereon. Supplementarily, petitioners pray that the MOA-AD be declared unconstitutional.
1. Whether the petitions have become moot and academic
(i) insofar as the mandamus aspect is concerned, in view of the disclosure of official copies of the final draft of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA); and
(ii) insofar as the prohibition aspect involving the Local Government Units is concerned, if it is considered that consultation has become fait accompli with the finalization of the draft;
2. Whether the constitutionality and the legality of the MOA is ripe for adjudication;
3. Whether respondent Government of the Republic of the Philippines Peace Panel committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it negotiated and initiated the MOA vis-à-vis ISSUES Nos. 4 and 5;
4. Whether there is a violation of the people's right to information on matters of public concern (1987 Constitution, Article III, Sec. 7) under a state policy of full disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest (1987 Constitution, Article II, Sec. 28) including public consultation under Republic Act No. 7160 (LOCAL GOVERNMENT CODE OF 1991)[;]
If it is in the affirmative, whether prohibition under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure is an appropriate remedy;
5. Whether by signing the MOA, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines would be BINDING itself
a) to create and recognize the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) as a separate state, or a juridical, territorial or political subdivision not recognized by law;
b) to revise or amend the Constitution and existing laws to conform to the MOA;
c) to concede to or recognize the claim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for ancestral domain in violation of Republic Act No. 8371 (THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES RIGHTS ACT OF 1997), particularly Section 3(g) & Chapter VII (DELINEATION, RECOGNITION OF ANCESTRAL DOMAINS)[;]
If in the affirmative, whether the Executive Branch has the authority to so bind the Government of the Republic of the Philippines;
6. Whether the inclusion/exclusion of the Province of North Cotabato, Cities of Zamboanga, Iligan and Isabela, and the Municipality of Linamon, Lanao del Norte in/from the areas covered by the projected Bangsamoro Homeland is a justiciable question; and
7. Whether desistance from signing the MOA derogates any prior valid commitments of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.
The main body of the MOA-AD is divided into four strands, namely, Concepts and Principles, Territory, Resources, and Governance.
The power of judicial review is limited to actual cases or controversies. Courts decline to issue advisory opinions or to resolve hypothetical or feigned problems, or mere academic questions. The limitation of the power of judicial review to actual cases and controversies defines the role assigned to the judiciary in a tripartite allocation of power, to assure that the courts will not intrude into areas committed to the other branches of government.
As the petitions involve constitutional issues which are of paramount public interest or of transcendental importance, the Court grants the petitioners, petitioners-in-intervention and intervening respondents the requisite locus standi in keeping with the liberal stance adopted in David v. Macapagal-Arroyo.
Contrary to the assertion of respondents that the non-signing of the MOA-AD and the eventual dissolution of the GRP Peace Panel mooted the present petitions, the Court finds that the present petitions provide an exception to the "moot and academic" principle in view of (a) the grave violation of the Constitution involved; (b) the exceptional character of the situation and paramount public interest; (c) the need to formulate controlling principles to guide the bench, the bar, and the public; and (d) the fact that the case is capable of repetition yet evading review.
The MOA-AD is a significant part of a series of agreements necessary to carry out the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace signed by the government and the MILF back in June 2001. Hence, the present MOA-AD can be renegotiated or another one drawn up that could contain similar or significantly dissimilar provisions compared to the original.
That the subject of the information sought in the present cases is a matter of public concern faces no serious challenge. In fact, respondents admit that the MOA-AD is indeed of public concern. In previous cases, the Court found that the regularity of real estate transactions entered in the Register of Deeds, the need for adequate notice to the public of the various laws, the civil service eligibility of a public employee, the proper management of GSIS funds allegedly used to grant loans to public officials, the recovery of the Marcoses' alleged ill-gotten wealth, and the identity of party-list nominees, among others, are matters of public concern. Undoubtedly, the MOA-AD subject of the present cases is of public concern, involving as it does the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State, which directly affects the lives of the public at large.
In sum, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process committed grave abuse of discretion when he failed to carry out the pertinent consultation process, as mandated by E.O. No. 3, Republic Act No. 7160, and Republic Act No. 8371. The furtive process by which the MOA-AD was designed and crafted runs contrary to and in excess of the legal authority, and amounts to a whimsical, capricious, oppressive, arbitrary and despotic exercise thereof. It illustrates a gross evasion of positive duty and a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined.
The MOA-AD cannot be reconciled with the present Constitution and laws. Not only its specific provisions but the very concept underlying them, namely, the associative relationship envisioned between the GRP and the BJE, are unconstitutional, for the concept presupposes that the associated entity is a state and implies that the same is on its way to independence.
The Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 is declared contrary to law and the Constitution.