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Dinagat Islands townsfolk saddened by SC declaration of provincehood as 'unconstitutional'

The townsfolk on this island were saddened by the Supreme Court's (SC) decision to declare as "unconstitutional" the law creating the province of Dinagat Islands, Governor Geraldine "Jade" B. Ecleo said on Friday.

"This is not favorable to our people in this already progressive island. We are very saddened about this new development," she said.

The governor said the provincial officials are appealing for a reconsideration of the high court's decision.

Ecleo said even though the provincial capitol has not yet officially received the decision of the SC on Thursday, the legal panel of the provincial capitol here is now preparing a motion for reconsideration.

The officials of Dinagat Islands including the chief executives and Sangguniang Bayan (SB) members in the different towns are also making representations for reconsideration and appeal on SC's ruling.

Dinagat Islands comprises the towns of Dinagat, San Jose, Basilisa, Cagdianao, Libjo, Tubajon and Loreto.

On the other hand, the governor's mother, Dinagat Islands Rep. Glenda Ecleo will also make a representation to reconsider the decision of the highest court.

Dinagat Islands is the home of Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association (PBMA) with more than 1 million members nationwide.

Dinagat Islands was part of the First District of the province of Surigao del Norte until it became a separate province on October 2, 2006 as stated in Republic Act No. 9355 or the Charter of the Province of Dinagat Islands.

However, on Thursday, a 30-page decision was penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, where the SC said Republic Act No. 9355 ("An Act Creating the Province of Dinagat Islands"), as well as Article 9 (2) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Local Government Code of 1991, are null and void.

The said provision states that "the land area requirement shall not apply where the proposed province is composed of one or more islands."

"The requirements for the creation of a province contained in Sec. 461 of the Local Government Code are clear, plain and unambiguous, and its literal application does not result in absurdity or injustice. Hence, the provision in Art. 9(2) of the IRR exempting a proposed province composed of one or more islands from the land-area requirement cannot be considered an executive construction of the criteria prescribed by the Local Government Code. It is an extraneous provision not intended by the Local Government Code and, therefore, is null and void," the SC ruled.

Dinagat Islands province, the SC said, only has an approximate land area of 802.12 square kilometers and thus, failed to comply with the land area requirement of 2,000 square kilometers to allow the creation of a new province.

Moreover, the SC said that Dinagat Islands also failed to comply with the population requirement of not less than 250,000 inhabitants as certified by the National Statistics Office (NSO).

A Census Population conducted by the NSO showed that the Dinagat Islands population as of May 2000 was only 106,951.

"In fine, R.A. No. 9355 failed to comply with either the territorial or the population requirement for the creation of the Province of Dinagat Islands. The Constitution clearly mandates that the creation of local government units must follow the criteria established in the Local Government Code. Any derogation of or deviation from the criteria prescribed in the Local Government Code violates Sec. 10, Art. X of the Constitution," the SC said.

Dinagat Islands is one of the three main groups of islands composing Surigao del Norte.

The other two are Mainland and Surigao City and Siargao Island and Bucas Grande.

Concurring with Peralta are Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Conchita Carpio Morales, Arturo Brion, Mariano Del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Perez and Jose Mendoza.

Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura wrote a dissenting opinion and was joined by Associate Justices Renato Corona, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas Bersamin and Roberto Abad. (PNA)

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