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Thursday, July 4, 2013

LA BUGAL-B’LAAN TRIBAL ASSOCIATION INC. VS. DENR SECRETARY

G.R. No. 127882, January 27 2004

FACTS:
On July 25, 1987, President Corazon C. Aquino issued Executive Order (E.O.) No. 279 authorizing the DENR Secretary to accept, consider and evaluate proposals from foreign-owned corporations or foreign investors for contracts or agreements involving either technical or financial assistance for large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, which, upon appropriate recommendation of the Secretary, the President may execute with the foreign proponent.

On March 3, 1995, President Fidel V. Ramos approved R.A. No. 7942 to “govern the exploration, development, utilization and processing of all mineral resources.”

On April 9, 1995, R.A. No. 7942 took effect. But shortly before the effectivity of R.A. No. 7942, (March 30th), the President entered into an Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) with WMC Philippines, Inc. (WMCP) covering 99,387 hectares of land in South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur and North Cotabato. Subsequently, DENR Secretary Victor O. Ramos issued DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 95-23, s. 1995, otherwise known as the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. No. 7942 which was also later repealed by DAO No. 96-40, s. 1996.

Petitioners claim that the DENR Secretary acted without or in excess of jurisdiction in signing and promulgating DENR Administrative Order No. 96-40 implementing Republic Act No. 7942, the latter being unconstitutional.

ISSUE:
Whether or not the requisites for judicial review are present to raise the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 7942.

HELD:
When an issue of constitutionality is raised, this Court can exercise its power of judicial review only if the following requisites are present:
(1) The existence of an actual and appropriate case;
(2) A personal and substantial interest of the party raising the constitutional question;

(3) The exercise of judicial review is pleaded at the earliest opportunity; and

(4) The constitutional question is the lis mota of the case. 
Respondents claim that the first three requisites are not present. Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution states that “judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable.” The power of judicial review, therefore, is limited to the determination of actual cases and controversies.

An actual case or controversy means an existing case or controversy that is appropriate or ripe for determination, not conjectural or anticipatory, lest the decision of the court would amount to an advisory opinion. The power does not extend to hypothetical questions since any attempt at abstraction could only lead to dialectics and barren legal questions and to sterile conclusions unrelated to actualities.

“Legal standing” or locus standi has been defined as a personal and substantial interest in the case such that the party has sustained or will sustain direct injury as a result of the governmental act that is being challenged, alleging more than a generalized grievance. The gist of the question of standing is whether a party alleges “such personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions.” Unless a person is injuriously affected in any of his constitutional rights by the operation of statute or ordinance, he has no standing.

Petitioners traverse a wide range of sectors.  Among them are La Bugal B’laan Tribal Association, Inc., a farmers and indigenous people’s cooperative organized under Philippine laws representing a community actually affected by the mining activities of WMCP, members of said cooperative, as well as other residents of areas also affected by the mining activities of WMCP. These petitioners have standing to raise the constitutionality of the questioned FTAA as they allege a personal and substantial injury.  They claim that they would suffer “irremediable displacement” as a result of the implementation of the FTAA allowing WMCP to conduct mining activities in their area of residence.  They thus meet the appropriate case requirement as they assert an interest adverse to that of respondents who, on the other hand, insist on the FTAA’s validity.

In view of the alleged impending injury, petitioners also have standing to assail the validity of E.O. No. 279, by authority of which the FTAA was executed.

Public respondents maintain that petitioners, being strangers to the FTAA, cannot sue either or both contracting parties to annul it. In other words, they contend that petitioners are not real parties in interest in an action for the annulment of contract.

Public respondents’ contention fails.  The present action is not merely one for annulment of contract but for prohibition and mandamus.  Petitioners allege that public respondents acted without or in excess of jurisdiction in implementing the FTAA, which they submit is unconstitutional.  As the case involves constitutional questions, the Court is not concerned with whether petitioners are real parties in interest, but with whether they have legal standing.

Misconstruing the application of the third requisite for judicial review – that the exercise of the review is pleaded at the earliest opportunity – WMCP points out that the petition was filed only almost two years after the execution of the FTAA, hence, not raised at the earliest opportunity.


The third requisite should not be taken to mean that the question of constitutionality must be raised immediately after the execution of the state action complained of.  That the question of constitutionality has not been raised before is not a valid reason for refusing to allow it to be raised later. A contrary rule would mean that a law, otherwise unconstitutional, would lapse into constitutionality by the mere failure of the proper party to promptly file a case to challenge the same. Read full text