G. R. No. 151908 - August 12, 2003
SMART COMMUNICATIONS, INC. (SMART) and PILIPINO TELEPHONE CORPORATION (PILTEL), Petitioners, vs. NATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION (NTC), respondent.
G.R. No. 152063 August 12, 2003
GLOBE TELECOM, INC. (GLOBE) and ISLA COMMUNICATIONS CO., INC. (ISLACOM), Petitioners, vs. COURT OF APPEALS (The Former 6th Division) and the NATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, respondents.
Pursuant to its rule-making and regulatory powers, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued on June 16, 2000 Memorandum Circular No. 13-6-2000, promulgating rules and regulations on the billing of telecommunications services. Among its pertinent provisions are the following:
The Memorandum Circular provided that it shall take effect 15 days after its publication in a newspaper of general circulation and three certified true copies thereof furnished the UP Law Center. It was published in the newspaper, The Philippine Star, on June 22, 2000.2 Meanwhile, the provisions of the Memorandum Circular pertaining to the sale and use of prepaid cards and the unit of billing for cellular mobile telephone service took effect 90 days from the effectivity of the Memorandum Circular.
On August 30, 2000, the NTC issued a Memorandum to all cellular mobile telephone service (CMTS) operators which contained measures to minimize if not totally eliminate the incidence of stealing of cellular phone units. The Memorandum directed CMTS operators to:
This was followed by another Memorandum dated October 6, 2000 addressed to all public telecommunications entities, which reads:
On October 20, 2000, petitioners Isla Communications Co., Inc. and Pilipino Telephone Corporation filed against the National Telecommunications Commission, Commissioner Joseph A. Santiago, Deputy Commissioner Aurelio M. Umali and Deputy Commissioner Nestor C. Dacanay, an action for declaration of nullity of NTC Memorandum Circular No. 13-6-2000 (the Billing Circular) and the NTC Memorandum dated October 6, 2000, with prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order. The complaint was docketed as Civil Case No. Q-00-42221 at the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 77.5
Petitioners Islacom and Piltel alleged, inter alia, that the NTC has no jurisdiction to regulate the sale of consumer goods such as the prepaid call cards since such jurisdiction belongs to the Department of Trade and Industry under the Consumer Act of the Philippines; that the Billing Circular is oppressive, confiscatory and violative of the constitutional prohibition against deprivation of property without due process of law; that the Circular will result in the impairment of the viability of the prepaid cellular service by unduly prolonging the validity and expiration of the prepaid SIM and call cards; and that the requirements of identification of prepaid card buyers and call balance announcement are unreasonable. Hence, they prayed that the Billing Circular be declared null and void ab initio.
Soon thereafter, petitioners Globe Telecom, Inc and Smart Communications, Inc. filed a joint Motion for Leave to Intervene and to Admit Complaint-in-Intervention.6 This was granted by the trial court.
On October 27, 2000, the trial court issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the NTC from implementing Memorandum Circular No. 13-6-2000 and the Memorandum dated October 6, 2000.7
In the meantime, respondent NTC and its co-defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case on the ground of petitioners' failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
Subsequently, after hearing petitioners' application for preliminary injunction as well as respondent's motion to dismiss, the trial court issued on November 20, 2000 an Order, the dispositive portion of which reads:
Defendants filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied in an Order dated February 1, 2001.9
Respondent NTC thus filed a special civil action for certiorari and prohibition with the Court of Appeals, which was docketed as CA-G.R. SP. No. 64274. On October 9, 2001, a decision was rendered, the decretal portion of which reads:
Petitioners' motions for reconsideration were denied in a Resolution dated January 10, 2002 for lack of merit.11
Hence, the instant petition for review filed by Smart and Piltel, which was docketed as G.R. No. 151908, anchored on the following grounds:
Likewise, Globe and Islacom filed a petition for review, docketed as G.R. No. 152063, assigning the following errors:
The two petitions were consolidated in a Resolution dated February 17, 2003.14
On March 24, 2003, the petitions were given due course and the parties were required to submit their respective memoranda.15
We find merit in the petitions.
Administrative agencies possess quasi-legislative or rule-making powers and quasi-judicial or administrative adjudicatory powers. Quasi-legislative or rule-making power is the power to make rules and regulations which results in delegated legislation that is within the confines of the granting statute and the doctrine of non-delegability and separability of powers.16
The rules and regulations that administrative agencies promulgate, which are the product of a delegated legislative power to create new and additional legal provisions that have the effect of law, should be within the scope of the statutory authority granted by the legislature to the administrative agency. It is required that the regulation be germane to the objects and purposes of the law, and be not in contradiction to, but in conformity with, the standards prescribed by law.17 They must conform to and be consistent with the provisions of the enabling statute in order for such rule or regulation to be valid. Constitutional and statutory provisions control with respect to what rules and regulations may be promulgated by an administrative body, as well as with respect to what fields are subject to regulation by it. It may not make rules and regulations which are inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution or a statute, particularly the statute it is administering or which created it, or which are in derogation of, or defeat, the purpose of a statute. In case of conflict between a statute and an administrative order, the former must prevail.18
Not to be confused with the quasi-legislative or rule-making power of an administrative agency is its quasi-judicial or administrative adjudicatory power. This is the power to hear and determine questions of fact to which the legislative policy is to apply and to decide in accordance with the standards laid down by the law itself in enforcing and administering the same law. The administrative body exercises its quasi-judicial power when it performs in a judicial manner an act which is essentially of an executive or administrative nature, where the power to act in such manner is incidental to or reasonably necessary for the performance of the executive or administrative duty entrusted to it. In carrying out their quasi-judicial functions, the administrative officers or bodies are required to investigate facts or ascertain the existence of facts, hold hearings, weigh evidence, and draw conclusions from them as basis for their official action and exercise of discretion in a judicial nature.19
In questioning the validity or constitutionality of a rule or regulation issued by an administrative agency, a party need not exhaust administrative remedies before going to court. This principle applies only where the act of the administrative agency concerned was performed pursuant to its quasi-judicial function, and not when the assailed act pertained to its rule-making or quasi-legislative power. In Association of Philippine Coconut Dessicators v. Philippine Coconut Authority,20 it was held:
The rule of requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies before a party may seek judicial review, so strenuously urged by the Solicitor General on behalf of respondent, has obviously no application here. The resolution in question was issued by the PCA in the exercise of its rule- making or legislative power. However, only judicial review of decisions of administrative agencies made in the exercise of their quasi-judicial function is subject to the exhaustion doctrine.
Even assuming arguendo that the principle of exhaustion of administrative remedies apply in this case, the records reveal that petitioners sufficiently complied with this requirement. Even during the drafting and deliberation stages leading to the issuance of Memorandum Circular No. 13-6-2000, petitioners were able to register their protests to the proposed billing guidelines. They submitted their respective position papers setting forth their objections and submitting proposed schemes for the billing circular.21 After the same was issued, petitioners wrote successive letters dated July 3, 200022 and July 5, 2000,23 asking for the suspension and reconsideration of the so-called Billing Circular. These letters were not acted upon until October 6, 2000, when respondent NTC issued the second assailed Memorandum implementing certain provisions of the Billing Circular. This was taken by petitioners as a clear denial of the requests contained in their previous letters, thus prompting them to seek judicial relief.
In like manner, the doctrine of primary jurisdiction applies only where the administrative agency exercises its quasi-judicial or adjudicatory function. Thus, in cases involving specialized disputes, the practice has been to refer the same to an administrative agency of special competence pursuant to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. The courts will not determine a controversy involving a question which is within the jurisdiction of the administrative tribunal prior to the resolution of that question by the administrative tribunal, where the question demands the exercise of sound administrative discretion requiring the special knowledge, experience and services of the administrative tribunal to determine technical and intricate matters of fact, and a uniformity of ruling is essential to comply with the premises of the regulatory statute administered. The objective of the doctrine of primary jurisdiction is to guide a court in determining whether it should refrain from exercising its jurisdiction until after an administrative agency has determined some question or some aspect of some question arising in the proceeding before the court. It applies where the claim is originally cognizable in the courts and comes into play whenever enforcement of the claim requires the resolution of issues which, under a regulatory scheme, has been placed within the special competence of an administrative body; in such case, the judicial process is suspended pending referral of such issues to the administrative body for its view.24
However, where what is assailed is the validity or constitutionality of a rule or regulation issued by the administrative agency in the performance of its quasi-legislative function, the regular courts have jurisdiction to pass upon the same. The determination of whether a specific rule or set of rules issued by an administrative agency contravenes the law or the constitution is within the jurisdiction of the regular courts. Indeed, the Constitution vests the power of judicial review or the power to declare a law, treaty, international or executive agreement, presidential decree, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation in the courts, including the regional trial courts.25 This is within the scope of judicial power, which includes the authority of the courts to determine in an appropriate action the validity of the acts of the political departments.26 Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.27
In the case at bar, the issuance by the NTC of Memorandum Circular No. 13-6-2000 and its Memorandum dated October 6, 2000 was pursuant to its quasi-legislative or rule-making power. As such, petitioners were justified in invoking the judicial power of the Regional Trial Court to assail the constitutionality and validity of the said issuances. In Drilon v. Lim,28 it was held:
In their complaint before the Regional Trial Court, petitioners averred that the Circular contravened Civil Code provisions on sales and violated the constitutional prohibition against the deprivation of property without due process of law. These are within the competence of the trial judge. Contrary to the finding of the Court of Appeals, the issues raised in the complaint do not entail highly technical matters. Rather, what is required of the judge who will resolve this issue is a basic familiarity with the workings of the cellular telephone service, including prepaid SIM and call cards and this is judicially known to be within the knowledge of a good percentage of our population and expertise in fundamental principles of civil law and the Constitution.
Hence, the Regional Trial Court has jurisdiction to hear and decide Civil Case No. Q-00-42221. The Court of Appeals erred in setting aside the orders of the trial court and in dismissing the case.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the consolidated petitions are GRANTED. The decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 64274 dated October 9, 2001 and its Resolution dated January 10, 2002 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Order dated November 20, 2000 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 77, in Civil Case No. Q-00-42221 is REINSTATED. This case is REMANDED to the court a quo for continuation of the proceedings.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Vitug, and Carpio, JJ., concur.
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