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G.R. No. 163256 - CICERON P. ALTAREJOS v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, ET AL.

G.R. No. 163256 - CICERON P. ALTAREJOS v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, ET AL.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[G.R. NO. 163256 : November 10, 2004]

CICERON P. ALTAREJOS, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, JOSE ALMIÑE and VERNON VERSOZA, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

AZCUNA, J.:

This is a petition for certiorari , with prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or a writ of prohibitory and mandatory injunction, to set aside the Resolution promulgated by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), First Division, on March 22, 2004 disqualifying petitioner Ciceron P. Altarejos from running as mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate, and another resolution of the COMELEC en banc promulgated on May 7, 2004 denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration.

The factual antecedents are as follows:

Petitioner Altarejos was a candidate for mayor in the Municipality of San Jacinto, Masbate in the May 10, 2004 national and local elections.

On January 15, 2004, private respondents Jose Almiñe Altiche and Vernon Versoza, registered voters of San Jacinto, Masbate, filed with the COMELEC, a petition to disqualify and to deny due course or cancel the certificate of candidacy of petitioner on the ground that he is not a Filipino citizen and that he made a false representation in his certificate of candidacy that "[he] was not a permanent resident of or immigrant to a foreign country."

Private respondents alleged that based on a letter1 from the Bureau of Immigration dated June 25, 2001, petitioner was a holder of a permanent U.S. resident visa, an Alien Certificate of Registration No. E139507 issued on November 3, 1997, and an Immigration Certificate of Residence No. 320846 issued on November 3, 1997 by the Bureau of Immigration.2

On January 26, 2004, petitioner filed an Answer3 stating, among others, that he did not commit false representation in his application for candidacy as mayor because as early as December 17, 1997, he was already issued a Certificate of Repatriation by the Special Committee on Naturalization, after he filed a petition for repatriation pursuant to Republic Act No. 8171. Thus, petitioner claimed that his Filipino citizenship was already restored, and he was qualified to run as mayor in the May 10, 2004 elections. Petitioner sought the dismissal of the petition.

On the date of the hearing, the parties were required to submit their Memoranda within three days. Private respondents filed their Memorandum, while petitioner did not file one within the required period.4 Petitioner, however, filed a Reply Memorandum5 subsequently.

Atty. Zacarias C. Zaragoza, Jr., regional election director for Region V and hearing officer of this case, recommended that petitioner Altarejos be disqualified from being a candidate for the position of mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate in the May 10, 2004 national and local elections. He found, thus:

x x x

The provisions of law governing the qualifications and disqualifications of elective local officials are found in Sections 39 and 40 of Republic Act No. 7160 otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, which provide as follows:

SEC. 39. Qualifications. - (a) An elective local official must be a citizen of the Philippines; a registered voter in the barangay, municipality, city or province or, in the case of member of the sangguniang panlalawigan, sangguniang panlungsod, or sangguniang bayan, the district where he intends to be elected; a resident therein for at least one (1) year immediately preceding the day of the election; and able to read and write Filipino or any other local language or dialect.

xxx. crvll

(c) Candidates for the position of mayor or vice-mayor of independent component cities, component cities or municipalities must be at least twenty-one (21) years of age on election day.

[SEC. 40. Disqualifications. - The following persons are disqualified from running for any elective position:]

xxx. crvll

(d) Those with dual citizenship.

xxx. crvll

(f) Permanent residents in a foreign country or those who have acquired the right to reside abroad and continue to avail of the same right after the effectivity of this Code; xxx

Under the terms of the above quoted statutory provisions, it is required that an elective local official must be a citizen of the Philippines, and he must not have a dual citizenship; must not be a permanent resident in a foreign country or must not have acquired the right to reside abroad.

In the present case, it has been established by clear and convincing evidence that respondent is a citizen of the United States of America. Such fact is proven by his Alien Certificate of Registration (ACR) No. E139507 issued on 3 November 1997 and Immigration Certificate of Residence (ICR) with No. 320846 issued on 3 November 1997 by the Alien Registration Division, Bureau of Immigration and Deportation. This was further confirmed in a letter dated 25 June 2001 of then Commissioner ANDREA D. DOMINGO of the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation.

Although respondent had petitioned for his repatriation as a Filipino citizen under Republic Act No. 8171 on 17 December 1997, this did not restore to respondent his Filipino citizenship, because Section 2 of the aforecited Republic Act No. 8171 specifically provides that "repatriation shall be effected by taking the necessary oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and registration in the proper civil registry and in the Bureau of Immigration."

It appears from the records of this case that respondent failed to prove that he has fully complied with requirements of the above-quoted Section 2 of Republic Act 8171 to perfect his repatriation and reacquire his Filipino citizenship. Respondent has not submitted any document to prove that he has taken his oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and that he has registered his fact of repatriation in the proper civil registry and in the Bureau of Immigration. In fact, in a letter date 25 June 2001, Commissioner ANDREA DOMINGO stated that RESPONDENT is still a holder of visa under Section 13 (g) of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 as amended, with an indefinite authorized stay in the Philippines, implying that respondent did not register his supposed Certificate of Repatriation with the Bureau of Immigration otherwise his Alien Visa would have already been cancelled. The rule is that in case of doubt concerning the grant of citizenship, such doubt should be resolved in favor of the State and against the applicant (Cheng v. Republic, L-16999, 22 June 1965).

x x x

Not having been able to prove that he has fully reacquired his Filipino citizenship after being naturalized as a citizen of the United States, it is clear that respondent is not qualified to be candidate for the position of Mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate, in the 10 May 2004 National and Local Elections, pursuant to the aforequoted Sections 39 and 40 of the Local Government Code of 1991.

As a further consequence of his not being a Filipino citizen, respondent has also committed false representation in his certificate of candidacy by stating therein that he is a natural-born Filipino citizen, when in fact, he has not yet even perfected the reacquisition of Filipino citizenship. Such false representation constitutes a material misrepresentation as it relates to his qualification as a candidate for public office, which could be a valid ground for the cancellation of his certificate of candidacy under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code x x x.6

In its Resolution promulgated on March 22, 2004, the COMELEC, First Division, adopted the findings and recommendation of Director Zaragoza. The dispositive portion of said Resolution stated, thus:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, respondent CICERON PEREZ ALTAREJOS is hereby disqualified to run as Mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate. Accordingly, his certificate of candidacy for the position of Municipal Mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate is denied due course and cancelled and his name deleted from the certified list of candidates for the May 10, 2004 elections.7

On March 25, 2004, petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration and attached the following documents to prove that he had completed all the requirements for repatriation which thus entitled him to run for an elective office, viz:

(1) Oath of Allegiance dated December 17, 1997;

(2) Identification Certificate No. 116543 issued by the Bureau of Immigration on March 1, 2004;

(3) Certification from the City Civil Registration Office, Makati City, that the Certificate of Repatriation and Oath of Allegiance of petitioner was received by said office and registered, with the corresponding fee paid, on February 18, 2004;

(4) A letter dated December 17, 1997 from the Special Committee on Naturalization to the Bureau on Immigration and Deportation that it was furnishing said office with the Oath of Allegiance and Certificate of Repatriation of petitioner for the cancellation of petitioner's registration in said office as an alien, and the issuance to him of the corresponding Identification Card as Filipino citizen;

(5) A letter dated December 17, 1997 from the Special Committee on Naturalization to the Local Registrar of San Jacinto, Masbate that it was sending petitioner's Oath of Allegiance and Certificate of Repatriation for registration in their records and for petitioner's reacquisition of his former Philippine citizenship.

On May 7, 2004, the COMELEC en banc promulgated a resolution denying the motion for reconsideration, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Commission (En Banc) RESOLVED as it hereby RESOLVES to DENY the Motion for Reconsideration for UTTER LACK OF MERIT and AFFIRMS the Resolution of the First Division.8

The Comelec en banc held, thus:

The Comelec Rules of Procedure provides that insufficiency of evidence to justify the decision is a ground for a motion for reconsideration (Rule 19, Section 1). The evidence referred to in the above provision and to be considered in the Motion for Reconsideration are those which were submitted during the hearing and attached to the respective Memoranda of the parties which are already part of the records of the case. In this regard, the evidence of the respondent were not able to overcome the evidence of the petitioners.

When the entire records of the case was forwarded to the Commission (First Division) the respondent's only evidence was his Certificate of Repatriation dated 17 December 1977 and marked as Annex 1 of his answer. This piece of evidence was not enough to controvert the evidence of the petitioners which consist of the letter of the then Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo dated 25 June 2001 which stated that as of the even date respondent is a holder of permanent resident visa (page 15 of the records) and the certification of Josephine C. Camata dated 28 January 2004 certifying, that the name of the respondent could not be found in the records of repatriation. (page 42 of the records) The questioned resolution, is therefore, in order as the evidence submitted by the respondent were insufficient to rebut the evidence of the petitioner.

Now, the respondent, in his Motion for Reconsideration, attempted to introduce to the record new pieces of evidence, which introduction is not anymore allowed in a Motion for Reconsideration. These are the following a) Annex "2" - Oath of Allegiance; b) Annex "3" - Bureau of Immigration Identification Certificate; c) Annex "4" - Certification of the City Civil Registrar of Makati City; d) Annex "5" - Letter addressed to the Local Civil Registrar of San Jacinto, Masbate by Aurora P. Cortes of Special Committee on Naturalization; and e) Annex "6" - Letter addressed to the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation by Aurora P. Cortes of Special Committee on Naturalization.

Assuming that the new evidence of the respondent are admitted, with more reason should we cancel his certificate of candidacy for his act of [misrepresenting] himself as a Filipino citizen when at the time he filed his certificate of candidacy, he has not yet perfected the process of repatriation. He failed to comply with the requirements under Section 2 of [Republic Act No.] 8171 which provides that repatriation shall be effected by taking the necessary oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and registration in the proper civil registry and in the Bureau of Immigration.

The certification was issued by the same Ms. Josephine C. Camata, City Civil Registrar, dated February 18, 2004. This time, she certifies that Ciceron Perez Altarejos was registered under Registry No. 1, Page 19, Book No. 1, Series of 2004 and paid under OR nos. 88325/8833256 dated February 18, 2004. (page 65 of the records). Obviously, he was able to register in the proper civil registry only on February 18, 2004.

The respondent was able to register with the Bureau of Immigration only on March 1, 2004 as evidenced by the Bureau of Immigration Identification Certificate attached to the Motion as Annex "3."

This fact confirms the finding of the Commission (First Division) that at the time respondent filed his certificate of candidacy he is yet to complete the requirement under section two (2) of RA 8171.

As a consequence of not being a Filipino citizen, he has committed false representation in his certificate of candidacy. Such false representation constitutes a material misrepresentation as it relates to his qualification as a candidate. As such the certificate of candidacy may be cancelled on such ground. (Ycain v. Caneja, 18 Phil. 778)9

On May 10, 2004, the election day itself, petitioner filed this petition praying that: (1) The petition be given due course and a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction be issued ex parte restraining the respondents and all persons acting on their behalf, from fully implementing the questioned COMELEC Resolutions promulgated on March 22, 2004 and May 7, 2004; (2) a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction be issued ordering the COMELEC and all persons acting on its behalf to allow petitioner to run as Mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate in the May 10, 2004 elections, and to count and canvass the votes cast in his favor and to proclaim him as the winning mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate; and (3) after proper proceedings, judgment be rendered declaring null and void and setting aside the COMELEC Resolutions promulgated on March 22, 2004 and May 7, 2004 and other related Orders of the COMELEC or its representatives which have the effect of illegally preventing petitioner from running as Mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate.

In its Comment,10 the Office of the Solicitor General stated that, based on the information relayed to it by the COMELEC, petitioner's name, as a mayoralty candidate in San Jacinto, Masbate, was retained in the list of candidates voted upon by the electorate in the said municipality. Hence, the cancellation of petitioner's certificate of candidacy was never implemented. The COMELEC also informed the Office of the Solicitor General that petitioner's opponent, Dr. Emilio Aris V. Espinosa, was already proclaimed duly elected Mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate.

The Office of the Solicitor General contends that said supervening event has rendered the instant petition moot and academic, and it prayed for the dismissal of the petition.

In his Reply,11 petitioner opposed the dismissal of his petition. He claims that the COMELEC resolutions disqualifying him from running as a mayoralty candidate adversely affected his candidacy, since his supporters were made to believe that his votes would not be counted. Moreover, he stated that said COMELEC resolutions cast a doubt on his Philippine citizenship.

Petitioner points out that he took his Oath of Allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines on December 17, 1997. In view thereof, he ran and was even elected as Mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate during the 1998 elections. He argues that if there was delay in the registration of his Certificate of Repatriation with the Bureau of Immigration and with the proper civil registry, the same was brought about by the inaction on the part of said offices since the records of the Special Committee on Naturalization show that his Certificate of Repatriation and Oath of Allegiance have long been transmitted to said offices.

Petitioner also asserts that the subsequent registration of his Certificate of Repatriation with the Bureau of Immigration and with the Civil Registry of Makati City prior to the May 10, 2004 elections has the effect of curing the defect, if any, in the reacquisition of his Filipino citizenship as his repatriation retroacted to the date of his application for repatriation as held in Frivaldo v. Comelec.

The pertinent issues raised are the following: (1) Is the registration of petitioner's repatriation with the proper civil registry and with the Bureau of Immigration a prerequisite in effecting repatriation; and (2) whether or not the COMELEC en banc committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction in affirming the Resolution of the COMELEC, First Division.

As stated by the Office of the Solicitor General, where the issues have become moot and academic, there is no justiciable controversy, thereby rendering the resolution of the same of no practical use or value.12 Nonetheless, courts will decide a question otherwise moot and academic if it is capable of repetition, yet evading review.13

First Issue: Is the registration of petitioner's repatriation
with the proper civil registry and with the Bureau of
Immigration a prerequisite in effecting repatriation?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

The provision of law applicable in this case is Section 2 of Republic Act No. 8171,14 thus:

SEC. 2. Repatriation shall be effected by taking the necessary oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and registration in the proper civil registry and in the Bureau of Immigration. The Bureau of Immigration shall thereupon cancel the pertinent alien certificate of registration and issue the certificate of identification as Filipino citizen to the repatriated citizen.

The law is clear that repatriation is effected "by taking the oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and registration in the proper civil registry and in the Bureau of Immigration." Hence, in addition to taking the Oath of Allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines, the registration of the Certificate of Repatriation in the proper civil registry and the Bureau of Immigration is a prerequisite in effecting the repatriation of a citizen.

In this case, petitioner took his Oath of Allegiance on December 17, 1997, but his Certificate of Repatriation was registered with the Civil Registry of Makati City only after six years or on February 18, 2004, and with the Bureau of Immigration on March 1, 2004. Petitioner, therefore, completed all the requirements of repatriation only after he filed his certificate of candidacy for a mayoralty position, but before the elections.

When does the citizenship qualification of a candidate for an elective office apply?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

In Frivaldo v. Commission on Elections,15 the Court ruled that the citizenship qualification must be construed as "applying to the time of proclamation of the elected official and at the start of his term." The Court, through Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, discussed, thus:

Under Sec. 39 of the Local Government Code, "(a)n elective local official must be:

* a citizen of the Philippines;

* a registered voter in the barangay, municipality, city, or province x x x where he intends to be elected;

* a resident therein for at least one (1) year immediately preceding the day of the election;

* able to read and write Filipino or any other local language or dialect."

* In addition, "candidates for the position of governor x x x must be at least twenty-three (23) years of age on election day."

From the above, it will be noted that the law does not specify any particular date or time when the candidate must possess citizenship, unlike that for residence (which must consist of at least one year's residency immediately preceding the day of election) and age (at least twenty three years of age on election day).

Philippine citizenship is an indispensable requirement for holding an elective public office, and the purpose of the citizenship qualification is none other than to ensure that no alien, i.e., no person owing allegiance to another nation, shall govern our people and our country or a unit of territory thereof. Now, an official begins to govern or to discharge his functions only upon his proclamation and on the day the law mandates his term of office to begin. Since Frivaldo re-assumed his citizenship on June 30, 1995 the very day the term of office of governor (and other elective officials) began he was therefore already qualified to be proclaimed, to hold such office and to discharge the functions and responsibilities thereof as of said date. In short, at that time, he was already qualified to govern his native Sorsogon. This is the liberal interpretation that should give spirit, life and meaning to our law on qualifications consistent with the purpose for which such law was enacted. x x x Paraphrasing this Court's ruling in Vasquez v. Giap and Li Seng Giap & Sons, if the purpose of the citizenship requirement is to ensure that our people and country do not end up being governed by aliens, i.e., persons owing allegiance to another nation, that aim or purpose would not be thwarted but instead achieved by construing the citizenship qualification as applying to the time of proclamation of the elected official and at the start of his term.16 (Emphasis supplied.)

Moreover, in the case of Frivaldo v. Commission on Elections, the Court ruled that "the repatriation of Frivaldo RETROACTED to the date of the filing of his application." In said case, the repatriation of Frivaldo was by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 725, which took effect on June 5, 1975. The Court therein declared that Presidential Decree No. 725 was a curative statute, which is retroactive in nature. The retroactivity of Frivaldo's repatriation to the date of filing of his application was justified by the Court, thus:

x x x

'The reason for this is simply that if, as in this case, it was the intent of the legislative authority that the law should apply to past events'i.e., situations and transactions existing even before the law came into being in order to benefit the greatest number of former Filipinos possible thereby enabling them to enjoy and exercise the constitutionally guaranteed right of citizenship, and such legislative intention is to be given the fullest effect and expression, then there is all the more reason to have the law apply in a retroactive or retrospective manner to situations, events and transactions subsequent to the passage of such law. That is, the repatriation granted to Frivaldo x x x can and should be made to take effect as of date of his application. As earlier mentioned, there is nothing in the law that would bar this or would show a contrary intention on the part of the legislative authority; and there is no showing that damage or prejudice to anyone, or anything unjust or injurious would result from giving retroactivity to his repatriation. Neither has Lee shown that there will result the impairment of any contractual obligation, disturbance of any vested right or breach of some constitutional guaranty.

x x x

Another argument for retroactivity to the date of filing is that it would prevent prejudice to applicants. If P.D. 725 were not to be given retroactive effect, and the Special Committee decides not to act, i.e., to delay the processing of applications for any substantial length of time, then the former Filipinos who may be stateless, as Frivaldo having already renounced his American citizenship was, may be prejudiced for causes outside their control. This should not be. In case of doubt in the interpretation or application of laws, it is to be presumed that the law-making body intended right and justice to prevail.17

Republic Act No. 817118 has impliedly repealed Presidential `Decree No. 725. They cover the same subject matter: Providing for the repatriation of Filipino women who have lost their Philippine citizenship by marriage to aliens and of natural-born Filipinos. The Court's ruling in Frivaldo v. Commission on Elections that repatriation retroacts to the date of filing of one's application for repatriation subsists for the same reasons quoted above.

Accordingly, petitioner's repatriation retroacted to the date he filed his application in 1997. Petitioner was, therefore, qualified to run for a mayoralty position in the government in the May 10, 2004 elections. Apparently, the COMELEC was cognizant of this fact since it did not implement the assailed Resolutions disqualifying petitioner to run as mayor of San Jacinto, Masbate.

Second Issue: Whether or not the COMELEC en banc
gravely abused its discretion in affirming the
Resolution of the COMELEC, First Division?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

The Court cannot fault the COMELEC en banc for affirming the decision of the COMELEC, First Division, considering that petitioner failed to prove before the COMELEC that he had complied with the requirements of repatriation. Petitioner submitted the necessary documents proving compliance with the requirements of repatriation only during his motion for reconsideration, when the COMELEC en banc could no longer consider said evidence. As the COMELEC en banc correctly stated:

The Comelec Rules of Procedure provides that insufficiency of evidence to justify the decision is a ground for a motion for reconsideration (Rule 19, Section 1). The evidence referred to in the above provision and to be considered in the Motion for Reconsideration are those which were submitted during the hearing and attached to the respective Memoranda of the parties which are already part of the records of the case. In this regard, the evidence of the respondent were not able to overcome the evidence of the petitioners.19

It is, therefore, incumbent upon candidates for an elective office, who are repatriated citizens, to be ready with sufficient evidence of their repatriation in case their Filipino citizenship is questioned to prevent a repetition of this case.

WHEREFORE, the petition seeking the nullification of the Resolution of the COMELEC en banc of May 7, 2004, affirming the Resolution of its First Division dated March 22, 2004, is hereby DENIED. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Panganiban, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.
Puno, and TINGA, JJ., on official leave.
Quisumbing, J., in the result.
Corona, J., on leave.

Endnotes:


1 COMELEC (First Division) Resolution, Rollo, p. 36.

2 COMELEC en banc Resolution, Rollo, p. 43.

3 Rollo, p. 73.

4 Supra, note 2.

5 Supra, note 3, at 87.

6 Supra, note 1, at 39-40.

7 Id. at 41.

8 Supra, note 3, at 47.

9 Id. at 44-47.

10 Id, at 106.

11 Id. at 112.

12 Albaña v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 163302, July 23, 2004; Garcia v. Commission on Elections, 258 SCRA 754, 757 (1996); Yorac v. Magalona, 3 SCRA 76, 77 (1961).

13 Albaña v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 163302, July 23, 2004, citing Brillantes, Jr. v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 163193, June 15, 2004.

14 REPUBLIC ACT NO. 8171:

"AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE REPATRIATION OF FILIPINO WOMEN WHO HAVE LOST THEIR PHILIPPINE CITIZENSHIP BY MARRIAGE TO ALIENS AND OF NATURAL-BORN FILIPINOS

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Philippines in Congress assembled:

SECTION 1. Filipino women who have lost their Philippine citizenship by marriage to aliens and natural-born Filipinos who have lost their Philippine citizenship, including their minor children, on account of political or economic necessity, may reacquire Philippine citizenship through repatriation in the manner provided in Section 4 of Commonwealth Act No. 63, as amended: Provided, That the applicant is not a:

(1) Person opposed to organized government or affiliated with an association or group of persons who uphold and teach doctrines opposing organized government;

(2) Person defending or teaching the necessity or propriety of violence, personal assault, or association for the predominance of their ideas;

(3) Person convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude; or

(4) Person suffering from mental alienation or incurable contagious diseases.

SEC. 2. Repatriation shall be effected by taking the necessary oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and registration in the proper civil registry and in the Bureau of Immigration. The Bureau of Immigration shall thereupon cancel the pertinent alien certificate of registration and issue the certificate of identification as Filipino citizen to the repatriated citizen.

SEC. 3. All laws, decrees, orders, rules and regulations, or parts thereof inconsistent with this Act are hereby repealed or amended accordingly.

SEC. 4. This Act shall take effect thirty (30) days after its publication in a newspaper of general circulation."

15 257 SCRA 727 (1996).

16 Id. at 748-749.

17 Id. at 754-756.

18 Republic Act No. 8171 took effect on January 12, 1996.

19 Supra, note 3, at 44.

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