DENNIS A. B. FUNA, PETITIONER, VS. THE CHAIRMAN, COA, REYNALDO A. VILLAR
G.R. No. 192791, April 24, 2012
FACTS: Funa challenges the constitutionality of the appointment of Reynaldo A. Villar as Chairman of the COA.
Following the retirement of Carague on February 2, 2008 and during the fourth year of Villar as COA Commissioner, Villar was designated as Acting Chairman of COA from February 4, 2008 to April 14, 2008. Subsequently, on April 18, 2008, Villar was nominated and appointed as Chairman of the COA. Shortly thereafter, on June 11, 2008, the Commission on Appointments confirmed his appointment. He was to serve as Chairman of COA, as expressly indicated in the appointment papers, until the expiration of the original term of his office as COA Commissioner or on February 2, 2011. Challenged in this recourse, Villar, in an obvious bid to lend color of title to his hold on the chairmanship, insists that his appointment as COA Chairman accorded him a fresh term of 7 years which is yet to lapse. He would argue, in fine, that his term of office, as such chairman, is up to February 2, 2015, or 7 years reckoned from February 2, 2008 when he was appointed to that position.
Before the Court could resolve this petition, Villar, via a letter dated February 22, 2011 addressed to President Benigno S. Aquino III, signified his intention to step down from office upon the appointment of his replacement. True to his word, Villar vacated his position when President Benigno Simeon Aquino III named Ma. Gracia Pulido-Tan (Chairman Tan) COA Chairman. This development has rendered this petition and the main issue tendered therein moot and academic.
Although deemed moot due to the intervening appointment of Chairman Tan and the resignation of Villar, We consider the instant case as falling within the requirements for review of a moot and academic case, since it asserts at least four exceptions to the mootness rule discussed in David vs Macapagal Arroyo namely:
a. There is a grave violation of the Constitution;
b. The case involves a situation of exceptional character and is of paramount public interest;
c. The constitutional issue raised requires the formulation of controlling principles to guide the bench, the bar and the public;
d. The case is capable of repetition yet evading review.
The procedural aspect comes down to the question of whether or not the following requisites for the exercise of judicial review of an executive act obtain in this petition, viz:
a. There must be an actual case or justiciable controversy before the court
b. The question before it must be ripe for adjudication;
c. The person challenging the act must be a proper party; and
d. The issue of constitutionality must be raised at the earliest opportunity and must be the very litis mota of the case
a. WON the petitioner has Locus Standi to bring the case to court
b. WON Villar’s appointment as COA Chairman, while sitting in that body and after having served for four (4) years of his seven (7) year term as COA commissioner, is valid in light of the term limitations imposed under, and the circumscribing concepts tucked in, Sec. 1 (2), Art. IX(D) of the Constitution
Issue of Locus Standi: This case before us is of transcendental importance, since it obviously has “far-reaching implications,” and there is a need to promulgate rules that will guide the bench, bar, and the public in future analogous cases. We, thus, assume a liberal stance and allow petitioner to institute the instant petition.
In David vs Macapagal Arroyo, the Court laid out the bare minimum norm before the so-called “non-traditional suitors” may be extended standing to sue, thusly:
a. For taxpayers, there must be a claim of illegal disbursement of public funds or that the tax measure is unconstitutional;
b. For voters, there must be a showing of obvious interest in the validity of the election law in question
c. For concerned citizens, there must be a showing that the issues raised are of transcendental importance which must be settled early; and
d. For legislators, there must be a claim that the official action complained of infringes their prerogatives as legislators.
On the substantive issue:
Sec. 1 (2), Art. IX(D) of the Constitution provides that:
(2) The Chairman and Commissioners [on Audit] shall be appointed by the President with the consent of the Commission on Appointments for a term of seven years without reappointment. Of those first appointed, the Chairman shall hold office for seven years, one commissioner for five years, and the other commissioner for three years, without reappointment. Appointment to any vacancy shall be only for the unexpired portion of the term of the predecessor. In no case shall any member be appointed or designated in a temporary or acting capacity.
Petitioner now asseverates the view that Sec. 1(2), Art. IX(D) of the 1987 Constitution proscribes reappointment of any kind within the commission, the point being that a second appointment, be it for the same position (commissioner to another position of commissioner) or upgraded position (commissioner to chairperson) is a prohibited reappointment and is a nullity ab initio.
The Court finds petitioner’s position bereft of merit. The flaw lies in regarding the word “reappointment” as, in context, embracing any and all species of appointment. The rule is that if a statute or constitutional provision is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation.
The first sentence is unequivocal enough. The COA Chairman shall be appointed by the President for a term of seven years, and if he has served the full term, then he can no longer be reappointed or extended another appointment. In the same vein, a Commissioner who was appointed for a term of seven years who likewise served the full term is barred from being reappointed. In short, once the Chairman or Commissioner shall have served the full term of seven years, then he can no longer be reappointed to either the position of Chairman or Commissioner. The obvious intent of the framers is to prevent the president from “dominating” the Commission by allowing him to appoint an additional or two more commissioners.
On the other hand, the provision, on its face, does not prohibit a promotional appointment from commissioner to chairman as long as the commissioner has not served the full term of seven years, further qualified by the third sentence of Sec. 1(2), Article IX (D) that “the appointment to any vacancy shall be only for the unexpired portion of the term of the predecessor.” In addition, such promotional appointment to the position of Chairman must conform to the rotational plan or the staggering of terms in the commission membership such that the aggregate of the service of the Commissioner in said position and the term to which he will be appointed to the position of Chairman must not exceed seven years so as not to disrupt the rotational system in the commission prescribed by Sec. 1(2), Art. IX(D).
In conclusion, there is nothing in Sec. 1(2), Article IX(D) that explicitly precludes a promotional appointment from Commissioner to Chairman, provided it is made under the aforestated circumstances or conditions.
The Court is likewise unable to sustain Villar’s proposition that his promotional appointment as COA Chairman gave him a completely fresh 7- year term––from February 2008 to February 2015––given his four (4)-year tenure as COA commissioner devalues all the past pronouncements made by this Court. While there had been divergence of opinion as to the import of the word “reappointment,” there has been unanimity on the dictum that in no case can one be a COA member, either as chairman or commissioner, or a mix of both positions, for an aggregate term of more than 7 years. A contrary view would allow a circumvention of the aggregate 7-year service limitation and would be constitutionally offensive as it would wreak havoc to the spirit of the rotational system of succession.
In net effect, then President Macapagal-Arroyo could not have had, under any circumstance, validly appointed Villar as COA Chairman, for a full 7- year appointment, as the Constitution decrees, was not legally feasible in light of the 7-year aggregate rule. Villar had already served 4 years of his 7-year term as COA Commissioner. A shorter term, however, to comply with said rule would also be invalid as the corresponding appointment would effectively breach the clear purpose of the Constitution of giving to every appointee so appointed subsequent to the first set of commissioners, a fixed term of office of 7 years. To recapitulate, a COA commissioner like respondent Villar who serves for a period less than seven (7) years cannot be appointed as chairman when such position became vacant as a result of the expiration of the 7-year term of the predecessor (Carague). Such appointment to a full term is not valid and constitutional, as the appointee will be allowed to serve more than seven (7) years under the constitutional ban.
To sum up, the Court restates its ruling on Sec. 1(2), Art. IX(D) of the Constitution, viz:
1. The appointment of members of any of the three constitutional commissions, after the expiration of the uneven terms of office of the first set of commissioners, shall always be for a fixed term of seven (7) years; an appointment for a lesser period is void and unconstitutional. The appointing authority cannot validly shorten the full term of seven (7) years in case of the expiration of the term as this will result in the distortion of the rotational system prescribed by the Constitution.
2. Appointments to vacancies resulting from certain causes (death, resignation, disability or impeachment) shall only be for the unexpired portion of the term of the predecessor, but such appointments cannot be less than the unexpired portion as this will likewise disrupt the staggering of terms laid down under Sec. 1(2), Art. IX(D).
3. Members of the Commission, e.g. COA, COMELEC or CSC, who were appointed for a full term of seven years and who served the entire period, are barred from reappointment to any position in the Commission. Corollarily, the first appointees in the Commission under the Constitution are also covered by the prohibition against reappointment.
4. A commissioner who resigns after serving in the Commission for less than seven years is eligible for an appointment to the position of Chairman for the unexpired portion of the term of the departing chairman. Such appointment is not covered by the ban on reappointment, provided that the aggregate period of the length of service as commissioner and the unexpired period of the term of the predecessor will not exceed seven (7) years and provided further that the vacancy in the position of Chairman resulted from death, resignation, disability or removal by impeachment. The Court clarifies that “reappointment” found in Sec. 1(2), Art. IX(D) means a movement to one and the same office (Commissioner to Commissioner or Chairman to Chairman). On the other hand, an appointment involving a movement to a different position or office (Commissioner to Chairman) would constitute a new appointment and, hence, not, in the strict legal sense, a reappointment barred under the Constitution.
5. Any member of the Commission cannot be appointed or designated in a temporary or acting capacity.