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SC dismisses petition that questions legality of ‘bundled’ airport projects

/ 07:09 PM March 28, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has dismissed the petition filed by a civic organization questioning the legality of “bundling” several airport projects for prospective bidders.

In a 42-page decision promulgated March 12 but made public Wednesday, the high court said the petition filed by a group of farmers and fisherfolk from Samar, known as Gios-Samar, were intertwined with factual issues that it cannot resolve.

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The high court pointed out that it is not a trier of facts.

“While petitioner asserts that the foregoing arguments involve legal as opposed to factual issues, our examination of the petition shows otherwise. As will be demonstrated shortly, petitioner’s arguments against the constitutionality of the bundling of the projects are inextricably intertwined with underlying questions of fact, the determination of which require the reception of evidence,” the high court said in the decision written by Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza.

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“This Court, however, is not a trier of fact. We cannot resolve these factual issues at the first instance. For this reason, we dismiss the petition,” the high court said,  stressing that the reception of evidence is basically before the lower courts.

It pointed out that the high court rules only on questions of law or when the lower courts committed grave abuse of discretion in its decision.

The high court did not budge on its stand even if the petitioner invoked the doctrine of “transcendental importance” when it filed its petition.

It explained that the petitioner cannot invoke the said doctrine using previous jurisprudence since there were no disputed facts in previous cases and the issues involved were the ones of law.

“To be clear, the transcendental importance doctrine does not clothe us with the power to tackle factual questions and play the role of a trial court,” the high court explained, adding that the only time it may take on a case that has factual issues is when it reviews the sufficiency of the President’s proclamation of martial law.

The high court said the need for strict adherence to the hierarchy of courts because, aside from being an “effective filtering” mechanism for cases, it also guides litigants on the proper venue of appeals and the appropriate forum for the issuance of extraordinary writs.”

“Accordingly, when litigants seek relief directly from the Court, they bypass the judicial structure and open themselves to the risk of presenting incomplete or disputed facts. This consequently hampers the resolution of controversies before the Court. Without the necessary facts, the Court cannot authoritatively determine the rights and obligations of the parties. The case would then become another addition to the Court’s already congested dockets,” it added.

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The high court said that as of December 31, 2016, some 6,526 new cases were filed with the Court. Together with reinstated, revived, and reopened cases, the Court has a total of 14,491 cases in its docket.

Of the new cases, 300 were raffled to the Court en banc and 6,226 to its three Divisions.

“We restate the words of Justice Jose P. Laurel that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the Constitution. Hence, direct recourse to us should be allowed only when the issue involved is one of law,” the SC added.

The case stemmed from a petition filed by the group assailing the constitutionality of the bundling of the airport development, operations, and maintenance of the Bacolod-Silay, Davao, Iloilo, Laguindingan, New Bohol (Panglao), and Puerto Princesa Airport projects with a total cost of P116.23 billion.

The group seeks to stop the Department of Transportation and Communications and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines from proceeding with the bidding of the said projects.

The following year, the projects were bundled into two: Bacolod-Silay and Iloilo (P50.66 billion); and Davao, Laguindingan, and New Bohol (P59.66 billion).

The petitioner argued that the bundling of the projects violated the “constitutional prohibitions on the anti-dummy and the grant of opportunity to the general public to invest in public utilities and enable companies with “shaky financial backgrounds” to participate in the projects.

The petitioner said bundling will “surely perpetrate an undue restraint of trade since mid-sized Filipino companies which may have previously considered participating in one of the six distinct projects will no longer have a realistic opportunity to participate in the bidding because the separate projects became two gargantuan projects.”

The high court, however, said the petitioner failed to allege facts that would support its monopoly claim, adding that even if it did plead a cause of action, there would have been a need to receive evidence.

“In short, we find that the grant of a concession agreement to an entity, as a winning bidder, for the exclusive development, operation, and maintenance of any or all of the projects, does not by itself create a monopoly violative of the provisions of the Constitution,” the high court said.

In any case, the SC stressed that the law itself provides for built-in protections to safeguard the public interest, foremost of which is to require public bidding. /ee

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TAGS: airport projects, bidding, Gios-Samar, Philippine News, Supreme Court
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