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Jacomille v. Abaya, G.R. No. 212381, 22 April 2015.

04 Sep

[MENDOZA, J.]

FACTS:

Recently, the LTO formulated the Motor Vehicle License Plate Standardization Program (MVPSP) to supply the new license plates for both old and new vehicle registrants.  The DOTC published in newspapers of general circulation the Invitation To Bid for the supply and delivery of motor vehicle license plates for the MVPSP and stated that the source of funding in the amount of P3,851,600,100.00 would be the General Appropriations Act (GAA). However, a perusal of R.A. No. 10352 or the General Appropriations Act of 2013 (GAA 2013), would show that Congress appropriated only the amount of P187,293,000.00 under the specific heading of Motor Vehicle Plate-Making Project. The DOTC proceeded with the bidding process, but delayed in the implementation of the project. The Senate Committee on Public Services conducted an inquiry in aid of legislation on the reported delays in the release of motor vehicle license plates, stickers and tags by the LTO.

Petitioner, by counsel and assisted by Retired Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing, instituted this taxpayer suit, averring that he was a diligent citizen paying his correct taxes to the Philippine Government regularly; that he was a registered vehicle owner, as evidenced by the Certificate of Registration of his motor vehicle and a registered licensed driver; that he would be affected by the government issuance of vehicle plates thru its MVPSP upon his renewal of the registration of his vehicle; that not being a participant to the bidding process, he could not avail of the administrative remedies and procedure provided under Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR); that as far as he was concerned, there was no appeal or any plain or speedy remedy available to him.

For the respondents, the OSG stated that the issues presented had been rendered moot and academic as the gap in the budget of MVPSP was already bridged and covered by the full and specific funding by GAA 2014 in the amount of P4,843,753,000.00 for the item “Motor Vehicle Registration and Driver’s Licensing Regulatory Services.” With the signing of MVPSP on February 21, 2014, after the enactment of GAA 2014, the OSG claimed that all objections that petitioner might have, whether right or wrong, had been rendered naught.

On the other hand, JKG-Power Plates averred that petitioner had no locus standi. It pointed out that petitioner had admitted that he was not one of the bidders in MVPSP and so he would not suffer any direct injury. Likewise, the present case was not a proper subject of taxpayer suit because no taxes would be spent for this project. The money to be paid for the plates would not come from taxes, but from payments of vehicle owners, who would pay P450.00 for every pair of motor vehicle license plate, and P120.00 for every motorcycle license plate. Out of the P450.00, the cost of the motor vehicle plate would only be P380.00. In effect, the government would even earn P70.00 from every pair of plate.

ISSUES:

  1. Whether the petition should be dismissed for being moot and academic, considering the assailed deficiencies in appropriation have been substantially complied with.
  1. Whether the petitioner has locus standi to bring his case in court.
  1. Whether the petitioner established a taxpayer’s suit.

HELD:

1. NO.

The rule is well-settled that for a court to exercise its power of adjudication, there must be an actual case or controversy – one which involves a conflict of legal rights, an assertion of opposite legal claims susceptible of judicial resolution. The case must not be moot or academic or based on extra-legal or other similar considerations not cognizable by a court of justice. Where the issue has become moot and academic, there is no justiciable controversy, and an adjudication thereon would be of no practical u se or value as courts do not sit to adjudicate mere academic questions to satisfy scholarly interest, however intellectually challenging. xxx Nevertheless, there were occasions in the past when the Court passed upon issues although supervening events had rendered those petitions moot and academic. After all, the moot and academic principle is not a magical formula that can automatically dissuade the courts from resolving a case. Courts will decide cases, otherwise moot and academic, if: first, there is a grave violation of the Constitution; second, the exceptional character of the situation and the paramount public interest is involved; third, when the constitutional issue raised requires formulation .of controlling principles to guide the bench, the bar, and the public; and fourth, the case is capable of repetition yet evading review.

In the case at bench, the issues presented must still be passed upon because paramount public interest is involved and the case is capable of repetition yet evading review. MVPSP is a nationwide project which affects new and old registrants of motor vehicles and it involves P3,851,600,100.00 of the taxpayers’ money. Also, the act complained of is capable of repetition because the procurement process under R.A. No. 9184 is regularly made by various government agencies. Hence, it is but prudent for the Court to rule on the substantial merits of the case.

 

2. YES.

Locus standi is defined as the right of appearance in a court of justice on a given question. The fundamental question 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.

In the present case, petitioner justifies his locus standi by claiming that the petition raises issues of transcendental importance and that he institutes the same as a taxpayer’s suit. It must be noted that the Court has provided the following instructive guides to determine whether a matter is of transcendental importance, namely: “(1) the character of the funds or other assets involved in the case; (2) the presence of a clear case of disregard of a constitutional or statutory prohibition by the public respondent agency or instrumentality of the government; and (3) the lack of any other party with a more direct and specific interest in the questions being raised.”

Petitioner sufficiently showed that his case presents a matter of transcendental importance based on the above-cited determinants. He elucidated that, first, around P3.851 billion in public funds stood to be illegally disbursed; second, the IRR of R.A. No. 9184 and R.A. No. 7718 were violated and the contract for MVPSP was awarded to respondent JKG Power Plates despite the utter disregard of the said laws; third, there was no other party with a more direct and specific interest who had raised the issues therein; and fourth, MVPSP had a wide range of impact because all registered motor vehicles owners would be affected.

3. YES.

A person suing as a taxpayer must show that the act complained of directly involves the illegal disbursement of public funds derived from taxation. Contrary to the assertion of JKG-Power Plates, MVPSP clearly involves the expenditure of public funds. While the motor vehicle registrants will pay for the license plates, the bid documents and contract for MVPSP indicate that the government shall bear the burden of paying for the project. Every portion of the national treasury, when appropriated by Congress, must be properly allocated and disbursed. Necessarily, an allegation that public funds in the amount of P3.851 billion shall be used in a project that has undergone an improper procurement process cannot be easily brushed off by the Court.

 

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