Issue of October 1, 2017
     
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An aberration

In Yeon su du Korea, the city council’s presiding officer is elected among her peers. Yes, in this part of town, the chair (generic term po) is a woman. The vice mayor is appointed by the mayor and he has been one for 35 years. The council meets in session for a total number of 90 days but may be called for a special session depending on the urgency or need for local legislation.

In G.R. No. 181367 La Carlota City, Negros Occidental, represented by its mayor, Jeffrey P. Ferrer, et al. v. Atty. Rex G. Rojo, promulgated in April 24, 2012 and penned by Justice Castillo, he made a dissertation on the role of a vice mayor in the council: he is not part of the quorum; he cannot participate in legislation by introducing ordinances or resolutions or participate in committee deliberations as he was not elected as a legislator but as an executive.

Lest this piece is misinterpreted as political, “Optima statuti interpretatrix est ipsum statutum” – the best interpreter of a statute is the statute itself.

Surprisingly in this case, both parties invoked to Section 457 of the Local Government Code on the composition of the sangguniang panlungsod: (a) The SP, the legislative body of the city, shall be composed of the vice mayor as presiding officer, the regular sanggunian members, the president of the city chapter of the Liga ng mga Barangay, the president of the Panglungsod na Pederasyon ng mga Sangguniang Kabataan, and the sectoral representatives, as members, their respective positions, they emphasized different phrases thereof.»

* * * * * * * * * *

Atty. Rojo said the phrase “all the members of the sanggunian” includes the presiding officer because he is included in the composition of the legislative body. He contends that since the presiding officer is included in the composition of the sanggunian, he should also be included in the phrase “all the members of the sanggunian.”

On the other hand, petitioners argue that the presiding officer is not included in the phrase because Section 457 does not make him a member of the sanggunian.

There are two qualifying phrases in this provision: as presiding officer and as members. Qualifying phrases refer only to the words to which they are immediately associated. The phrase “as presiding officer” refers only to the vice mayor, while the phrase “as members” refers only to the component parts that are mentioned after the phrase “as presiding officer.” Since the phrase “as members” cannot in any manner refer to the vice mayor, Section 457 itself does not support the argument that the vice mayor is a member that is included in the quorum requirement of all the members of the sanggunian.

The ponencia, J. Castillo, ignored the division or distinction made by Section 457 by both parties who, to protect their arguments, had the expediency of ignoring the qualifiers found in Section 457. The good justice said there was no valid reason offered for such selective reading of Section 457 and it is a basic rule of statutory construction that all the words in a statute should be given effect; thus, the qualifiers cannot be disregarded without doing violence to the provision.

He continued that nothing in the law makes the presiding officer also a member of the legislative body. Even in Section 457, which the city vice mayor was described as the presiding officer of the sanggunian, not a member:

Section 457 must be read in conjunction with Section 53, which describes quorum as a majority of all the members. It leads to the conclusion that quorum refers to the majority of the regular, ex officio, and sectoral members. The word “all” was added to encompass the three kinds of members of the sanggunian; not to encompass its entire composition.

The inclusion of the presiding officer in the composition of the sangguniang panlungsod is only logical considering that the presiding officer is the administrative head of the said body. But his inclusion as such does not automatically make him a member thereof. If it was the lawmakers’ intent to make him a member of the body, the provision could have easily been made to reflect such an intention.

Moreover, the Local Government Code treats the vice mayor and his office separately from that of the SP. The powers and duties of the vice mayor are provided in Section 456 and there is nothing therein which states or even suggests that he is also a member of the SP. The law is clear: the vice mayor is the presiding officer of the SP, and not a member. As such, the vice mayor should not be counted for purposes of quorum.

Even from the congressional deliberations of the bills, which eventually became Republic Act 7160, the deliberations on the Senate floor reveal that the vice mayor’s role in the SP was that of a presiding officer with administrative duties. Not once did our lawmakers intimate that the vice mayor’s powers extend to the legislative functions of an SP member.

The ponencia said that opinions emanating from Department of Interior and Local Government that the presiding officer is included for purposes of quorum are totally bereft of rational and legal basis. It may have persuasive effect because the DILG is the implementing agency of the LGC but is not in any way bound by the DILG’s pronouncements, especially when its opinion does not seek to persuade a critical mind but merely makes a declaration. The court has the primary duty to interpret the law, and any construction that is clearly erroneous cannot prevent the court from exercising its duty. The courts mandate is to the law and laws remain despite non-use, non-observance and customs to the contrary. (Civil Code, Art. 7.)

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