BAGUIO CITY, Philippines?The Supreme Court, voting 9-5 on Tuesday, ruled that the islands of Dinagat make up a legitimate and constitutionally valid province, reversing a decision it issued last year.
Officials of Surigao del Norte had fought to declare Republic Act No. 9355, which formed the Dinagat Islands, as unconstitutional. They said Dinagat had failed to pass the prescribed 2,000-square kilometer land area that is necessary for the creation of a new province.
But the Local Government Code (Republic Act No. 7160) does not assert land area as an indicator of the viability of a new barangay, town or city when it involves more than one island, the high court said in its ruling.
The court said it was more likely that groups of islands would form part of a newly created province in an archipelago, which had been the ?legislative intent? of Congress when it passed RA 9355.
The court said the Local Government Code ?was amended by way of the enactment of RA 9355.?
The court also took into account Dinagat Islands? average annual income, ?which is four times more than the minimal requirement? set by the code.
Associate Justice Arturo Brion, who led the dissenting votes, said court rules should have prevented them from addressing a new motion about the issue on the creation of Dinagat Islands as a province.
But the court ruled that it was forced to reopen the case when a resolution issued by the Commission on Elections reflected on its impact on Dinagat?s elected officials, led by Gov. Geraldine Ecleo-Villaroman.
The Ecleos have set up a base for their religious group in the islands. The group counts hundreds of residents of the islands as members. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon