In G.R. No. 177597, Bai Sandra S. A. Sema (Sema), asked the COMELEC "to exclude from the canvassing the votes cast in Cotabato City for representative of the legislative district in question in the Philippine general election, 2007." In G.R. No. 178628, Perfecto Marquez, asked the Court "to order the COMELEC to conduct a special election for representative of the “First District of Maguindanao with Cotabato City.”
The Ordinance appended to the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines apportioned 2 legislative districts for Maguindanao. The first consists of Cotabato City and 8 municipalities. Maguindanao forms part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), created under its Organic Act, Republic Act No. 6734 (RA 6734), as amended by Republic Act No. 9054 (RA 9054). Cotabato City, as part of Maguindanao’s first legislative district, is not part of the ARMM but of Region XII (having voted against its inclusion in November 1989 plebiscite).
On 28 August 2006, the ARMM’s legislature, the ARMM Regional Assembly, exercising its power to create provinces under Section 19, Article VI of RA 9054, enacted Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act No. 201 (MMA Act 201) creating the Province of Shariff Kabunsuan composed of the 8 municipalities in the first district of Maguindanao.
Later, 2 new municipalities were carved out of the original 9, constituting Shariff Kabunsuan, resulting to total of 11. Cotabato City is not part of Maguindanao. Maguindanao voters ratified Shariff Kabunsuan’s creation in 29 October 2006 plebiscite.
On 6 February 2007, Cotabato City passed Board Resolution No. 3999, requesting the COMELEC to “clarify the status of Cotabato City in view of the conversion of the First District of Maguindanao into a regular province” under MMA Act 201. The COMELEC issued Resolution No. 07-0407 on 6 March 2007 "maintaining the status quo with Cotabato City as part of Shariff Kabunsuan in the First Legislative District of Maguindanao.” Resolution No. 07-0407, adopted the COMELEC’s Law Department recommendation under a Memorandum dated 27 February 2007. The COMELEC issued on 29 March 2007 Resolution No. 7845 stating that Maguindanao’s first legislative district is composed only of Cotabato City because of the enactment of MMA Act 201.
On 10 May 2007, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 7902 (subject of these cases), amending Resolution No. 07-0407 by renaming the legislative district in question as “Shariff Kabunsuan Province with Cotabato City (formerly First District of Maguindanao with Cotabato City).”
|In favor for creation||285,372|
|Against the creation||8,802|
Sandra Sema questioned COMELEC Resolution 7902 which combined Shariff Kabunsuan and Cotabato City into a single legislative district during the Philippine general election, 2007. Sema lost to incumbent Congress representative of the Shariff Kabunsuan and Cotabato district, Didagen Dilangalen.
Further, the High Tribunal had to render judgment on "whether COMELEC Resolution No. 7902 is valid for maintaining the status quo in the first legislative district of Maguindanao (as “Shariff Kabunsuan Province with Cotabato City [formerly First District of Maguindanao with Cotabato City]”), despite the creation of the Province of Shariff Kabunsuan out of such district (excluding Cotabato City)."
Carpio stressed that “only Congress can create provinces and cities because the creation of provinces and cities necessarily includes the creation of legislative districts. Creation of province or a city inherently involves the power to create a legislative district. The Constitution mandates that a province or a city with at least 250,000 inhabitants is entitled to at least one representative."
The Court also declared unconstitutional the RLA’s power to create provinces and cities in the region but it did not pass upon the constitutionality of the creation of new municipalities and barangays. Under Republic Act No. 9140 or the Expanded ARMM Law, the RLA has the power to create new LGUs and to set its own criteria in creating, dividing, merging, or abolishing LGUs.
Carpio further ruled that "in the present 14th Congress, there are 219 district representatives out of the maximum 250 seats in the House of Representatives. Since party-list members shall constitute 20 percent of total membership of the House, there should at least be 50 party-list seats available in every election in case 50 party-list candidates are proclaimed winners. This leaves only 200 seats for district representatives, much less than the 219 incumbent district representatives. Thus, there is a need now for Congress to increase by law the allowable membership of the House, even before Congress can create new provinces."
Consequently, we hold that COMELEC Resolution No. 7902, preserving the geographic and legislative district of the First District of Maguindanao with Cotabato City, is valid as it merely complies with Section 5 of Article VI and Section 20 of Article X of the Constitution, as well as Section 1 of the Ordinance appended to the Constitution."
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) leaders on July 16, 2008 warned that the Court ruling would cause leadership problem and unemployment in the province, for it will cause some of the elected officials and government employees in Shariff Kabunsuan to lose their jobs. Sema v. Comelec reduced the number of provinces in ARMM to 5. ARMM is composed of Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Lanao del Sur, Basilan (excluding Isabela City) and the city of Marawi .
Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, however, would welcome the judgment, for it reverted to the old province 2 crucial sources of income covered by Shariff Kabunsuan: the Parang seaport and Awang Airport in Datu Odin Sinsuat.
Shariff Kabunsuan Vice Governor Ibrahim Ibay said that "among those severely affected by the decision are the more than 400 government employees in his province, half of which used to work in the old Maguindanao provincial government. What will happen to them? We dreamed for a separate province and now it is voided."
The ruling may aslo affect the conduct of August automated election in the region, since Shariff Kabunsuan and Maguindanao are expected to use different kinds of machine for the elections. Maguindanao will use a direct recording electronic technology that uses a touch-screen technology for voting, while Shariff Kabunsuan, along with other ARMM provinces, will use optical mark reader technology, which will require voters to use a paper-based ballot to be fed to a machine.