FACTS: Pursuant to Art. X, section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, Congress passed R.A. No. 6734, the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, calling for a plebiscite to be held in the provinces of – Basilan, Cotobato, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Palawan, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Norte, and Zamboanga del Sur, and the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Puerto Princesa and Zamboanga.

In the ensuing plebiscite held on November 16, 1989, four provinces voted in favor of creating an autonomous region – provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. These provinces became the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in accordance with the constitutional provision.

On the other hand, with respect to provinces and cities not voting in favor of the Autonomous Region, Art. XIX, section 13 of R.A. No. 6734 provides, That only the provinces and cities voting favorably in such plebiscites shall be included in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The provinces and cities which in the plebiscite do not vote for inclusion in the Autonomous Region shall remain in the existing administrative regions. Provided, however, that the President may, by administrative determination, merge the existing regions.

Pursuant to such provision, then President Corazon Aquino issued Executive Order No. 429, “providing for the Reorganization of the Administrative Regions in Mindanao.” 

(1) Misamis Occidental, at present part of Region X, will become part of Region IX.

(2) Oroquieta City, Tangub City and Ozamiz City, at present parts of Region X will become parts of Region IX.

(3) South Cotobato, at present a part of Region XI, will become part of Region XII.

(4) General Santos City, at present part of Region XI, will become part of Region XII.

(5) Lanao del Norte, at present part of Region XII, will become part of Region IX.

(6) Iligan City and Marawi City, at present part of Region XII, will become part of Region IX.

Petitioners, members of Congress representing various legislative districts in South Cotobato, Zamboanga del Norte, Basilan, Lanao del Norte and Zamboanga City wrote to then President Aquino protesting E.O. No. 429 contending that – There is no law which authorizes the President to pick certain provinces and cities within the existing regions and restructure them to new administrative regions. While the authority necessarily includes the authority to merge, the authority to merge does not include the authority to reorganize; that the transfer of regional centers under Executive Order 429 is actually a restructuring (reorganization) of administrative regions. 

As their protest went unheeded, while Inauguration Ceremonies of the New Administrative Region IX was scheduled, petitioners brought this suit for certiorari and prohibition.

On the other hand, in the petition of Immanuel Jaldo, a resident of Zamboanga City suing in the capacity of a taxpayer and citizen, he contends that Art. XIX, section 13 of R.A. No. 6734 is unconstitutional because (1) it unduly delegates legislative power to the President by authorizing him to merge by administrative determination the existing regions or at any rate provides no standard for the exercise of the power delegated and (2) the power granted is not expressed in the title of the law.

The Solicitor General defends the reorganization of regions in Mindanao by E.O. No. 429 as merely the exercise of a power traditionally lodged in the President and as a mere incident of his power of general supervision over local governments and control of executive departments, bureaus and offices under Art. X, section 16 and Art. VII, section 17 of the Constitution.

He argues that the power is not limited to the merger of those regions in which the provinces and cities which took part in the plebiscite are located but that it extends to all regions in Mindanao as necessitated by the establishment of the autonomous region; That the power is not limited to the merger of those regions in which the provinces and cities which took part in the plebiscite are located but that it extends to all regions in Mindanao as necessitated by the establishment of the autonomous region.

In these suits Petitioners challenge the validity of a provision of the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (R.A. No. 6734), authorizing the President of the Philippines to merge by administrative determination the regions remaining after the establishment of the Autonomous Region, and the Executive Order issued by the President pursuant to such authority, “Providing for the Reorganization of Administrative Regions in Mindanao.”

ISSUES:

(1)   Whether the power to merge administrative regions is legislative in character, as petitioners contend, or whether it is executive in character, as respondents claim it is, and, in any event, whether Art. XIX,  section 13 is invalid because it contains no standard to guide the President’s discretion;

(2)   Whether the power granted authorizes the reorganization even of regions the provinces and cities in which either did not take part in the plebiscite on the creation of the Autonomous Region or did not vote in favor of it.

HELD: (1) In conferring on the President the power to merge [by administrative determination] the existing regions following the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Congress merely followed the pattern set in previous legislation dating back to the initial organization of administrative regions in 1972. The choice of the President as delegate is logical because the division of the country into regions is intended to facilitate not only the administration of local governments but also the direction of executive departments which the law requires should have regional offices.

As this Court observed in Abbas, while the power to merge administrative regions is not expressly provided for in the Constitution, it is a power which has traditionally been lodged with the President to facilitate the exercise of the power of general supervision over local governments [see Art. X, section 4 of the Constitution].

The regions themselves are not territorial and political divisions like provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays but are “mere groupings of contiguous provinces for administrative purposes.” The power conferred on the President is similar to the power to adjust municipal boundaries which has been described in Pelaez v. Auditor General or as “administrative in nature.”

There is, therefore, no abdication by Congress of its legislative power in conferring on the President the power to merge administrative regions. The question is whether Congress has provided a sufficient standard by which the President is to be guided in the exercise of the power granted and whether in any event the grant of power to him is included in the subject expressed in the title of the law.

First, the question of standard. A legislative standard need not be expressed. It may simply be gathered or implied. Nor need it be found in the law challenged because it may be embodied in other statutes on the same subject as that of the challenged legislation. 

With respect to the power to merge existing administrative regions, the standard is to be found in the same policy underlying the grant to the President in R.A. No. 5435 of the power to reorganize the Executive Department, to wit: “to promote simplicity, economy and efficiency in the government to enable it to pursue programs consistent with national goals for accelerated social and economic development and to improve the service in the transaction of the public business.”

Indeed, as the original eleven administrative regions were established in accordance with this policy, it is logical to suppose that in authorizing the President to “merge [by administrative determination] the existing regions” in view of the withdrawal from some of those regions of the provinces now constituting the Autonomous Region, the purpose of Congress was to reconstitute the original basis for the organization of administrative regions.

[HISTORY: It will be useful to recall first the nature of administrative regions and the basis and purpose for their creation. On September 9, 1968, R.A. No. 5435 was passed “authorizing the President of the Philippines, with the help of a Commission on Reorganization, to reorganize the different executive departments, bureaus, offices, agencies and instrumentalities of the government, including banking or financial institutions and corporations owned or controlled by it.” The purpose was to promote “simplicity, economy and efficiency in the government.”

Accordingly, the Reorganization Commission prepared an Integrated Reorganization Plan which divided the country into eleven administrative regions. By P.D. No. 1, the Plan was approved and made part of the law of the land on September 24, 1972. P.D. No. 1 was twice amended in 1975, first by P.D. No. 742 which “restructured the regional organization of Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi” and later by P.D. No. 773 which further “restructured the regional organization of Mindanao and divided Region IX into two sub-regions.” In 1978, P.D. No. 1555 transferred the regional center of Region IX from Jolo to Zamboanga City.]

(2) Finally, it is contended that the power granted to the President is limited to the reorganization of administrative regions in which some of the provinces and cities which voted in favor of regional autonomy are found, because Art. XIX, section 13 provides that those which did not vote for autonomy “shall remain in the existing administrative regions.” 

The contention has no merit. Such provision is subject to the qualification that the President may by administrative determination merge the existing regions. This means that while non-assenting provinces and cities are to remain in the regions as designated upon the creation of the Autonomous Region, they may nevertheless be regrouped with contiguous provinces forming other regions as the exigency of administration may require.

The regrouping is done only on paper. It involves no more than are definition or redrawing of the lines separating administrative regions for the purpose of facilitating the administrative supervision of local government units by the President and insuring the efficient delivery of essential services. There will be no “transfer” of local governments from one region to another except as they may thus be regrouped so that a province like Lanao del Norte, which is at present part of Region XII, will become part of Region IX.

The regrouping of contiguous provinces is not even analogous to a redistricting or to the division or merger of local governments, which all have political consequences on the right of people residing in those political units to vote and to be voted for. It cannot be overemphasized that administrative regions are mere groupings of contiguous provinces for administrative purposes, not for political representation.

WHEREFORE, the petitions for certiorari and prohibition are DISMISSED for lack of merit.

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