The creation of Shariff Kabunsuan, a new province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is unconstitutional. This is the ruling of the Supreme Court in Bai Sandra Sema vs. COMELEC and Didagen Dilangalen (G.R. No. 177597, 16 July 2008).
The ARMM was created under Republic Act 6734, as amended by Republic Act No. 9054. The Province of Maguindanao is part of ARMM. Cotabato City, on the other hand, voted against inclusion in the ARMM during the plebiscite in November 1989. There are two legislative districts for the Province of Maguindanao. The first legislative district of Maguindanao consists of Cotabato City and eight municipalities. However, for the reason noted above, Cotabato City is not part of the ARMM but of Region XII.
On 28 August 2006, the ARMM’s legislature, the ARMM Regional Assembly, exercising its power to create provinces under Section 19, Article VI of RA 9054, enacted Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 201 (MMA Act 201) creating the Province of Shariff Kabunsuan composed of the eight municipalities in the first district of Maguindanao. The voters of Maguindanao ratified Shariff Kabunsuan’s creation in a plebiscite held on 29 October 2006.
On 10 May 2007, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 7902, subject of these petitions, renaming the first legislative district in question as “Shariff Kabunsuan Province with Cotabato City (formerly First District of Maguindanao with Cotabato City).”
Sema, who was a candidate in the 14 May 2007 elections for Representative of “Shariff Kabunsuan with Cotabato City,” prayed for the nullification of COMELEC Resolution No. 7902 and the exclusion from canvassing of the votes cast in Cotabato City for that office. Sema contended that Shariff Kabunsuan is entitled to one representative in Congress.
There were a number of issues resolved, but the main issue is this — Whether Section 19, Article VI of RA 9054, delegating to the ARMM Regional Assembly the power to create provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays, is constitutional. Applying the Constitution, the SC ruled that the power to create a province is with Congress and may not be validly delegated. MMA Act 201, which created the Province of Shariff Kabunsuan, is void. The creation of Shariff Kabunsuan is invalid. (Read the full digest here).
The ruling was discussed by Dean Adel Tamano during his MCLE lecture last month (yes, Paulo, some MCLE lectures are interesting). A number of interesting points were discussed (by Dean Tamano and among the attendees). For one, the validity of the creation of Shariff Kabunsuan was never raised by any of the parties in the petition. More importantly, what happens to the elected officials and employees of Shariff Kabunsuan (an employee also asked that question at the e-Legal Forum)? If the province entered into contracts, what happens to those contracts? If the SC tackled an issue not raised by the parties, why not discuss the immediate implications of such decision in order to avoid confusion?