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People v Nazario

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  186SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED  People vs. Nazario No. L-44143. August 31, 1988. * THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff, vs. EUSEBIO NAZARIO, accused-appellant. Statutory Construction; Vague Statutes: A vague statue is onethat lacks comprehensible standards that men of “Commonintelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as toits application.—   As a rule, a statute or act may be said to bevague when it lacks comprehensible standards that men “of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning anddiffer as to its application.” It is repugnant to the Constitution intwo respects: (1) it  ______________  *  EN BANC. 187  VOL. 165, AUGUST 31, 1988187  People vs. Nazario violates due process for failure to accord persons, especially theparties targetted by it, fair notice of the conduct to avoid; and (2)it leaves law enforcers unbridled discretion in carrying out itsprovisions and becomes an arbitrary flexing of the Governmentmuscle. Same; Same; Declaration of Nullity of Statutes; To bedeclared null and void, an act must be utterly vague on its face i.e.  it cannot be clarified by either a saving clause or by construction. —  But the act must be utterly vague on its face, that is to say, itcannot be clarified by either a saving clause or by construction.Thus, in Coates v. City of Cincinnati,  the U.S. Supreme Courtstruck down an ordinance that had made it illegal for “three ormore persons to assemble on any sidewalk and there conductthemselves in a manner annoying to persons passing by.” Clearly,the ordinance imposed no standard at all “because one may neverknow in advance what ‘annoys some people but does not annoyothers.’ ” Same; Same; Same; A “perfectly vague” act is to bedistinguished from a legislation couched in imprecise language.—  Coates highlights what has been referred to as a “perfectly vague”act whose obscurity is evident on its face. It is to be distinguished,however, from legislation couched in imprecise language—butwhich nonetheless specifies a standard though defectivelyphrased—in which case, it may be “saved” by proper construction. Same; Same; Same; Same; A “perfectly vague” act is to bedistinguished also from a statute which is apparently ambiguous, yet fairly applicable to certain types of activities.—  It must furtherbe distinguished from statutes that are apparently ambiguous yetfairly applicable to certain types of activities. In that event, suchstatutes may not be challenged whenever directed against suchactivities. In  Parker v. Levy,  a prosecution srcinally under theU.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice (prohibiting, specifically,“conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman”), the defendant,an army officer who had urged his men not to go to Vietnam andcalled the Special Forces trained to fight there thieves andmurderers, was not allowed to invoke the void for vaguenessdoctrine on the premise that accepted military interpretation andpractice had provided enough standards, and consequently, a fairnotice that his conduct was impermissible. Same; Words and Phrases; “Managers” as used in MunicipalOrdinance No. 4 of Pagbilao, Quezon covers the actual operators of  fishponds who finance their construction, etc.—  In no way may theordinances at bar be said to be tainted with the vice of vagueness.It 188 188SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED  People vs. Nazario  is unmistakable from their very provisions that the appellant fallswithin its coverage. As the actual operator of the fishponds, hecomes within the term “manager.” He does not deny the fact thathe financed the construction of the fishponds, introduced fish friesinto the fishponds, and had employed laborers to maintain them.While it appears that it is the National Government which ownsthem, the Government never shared in the profits they hadgenerated. It is therefore only logical that he shoulders theburden of tax under the said ordinances. Same; Taxation; Tax Ordinances; Dates of payment notambiguous in Ordinance No. 15 and Ordinance No. 12.—  Neitherare the said ordinances vague as to dates of payment. There is nomerit to the claim that “the imposition of tax has to depend uponan uncertain date yet to be determined (three years after the‘approval of the fishpond’ by the Bureau of Fisheries, and upon anuncertain event (if the fishpond started operating before 1964),also to be determined by an uncertain individual or individuals.”Ordinance No. 15, in making the tax payable “after the lapse of three (3) years starting from the date said fishpond is approved bythe Bureau of Fisheries,” is unequivocal about the date of payment, and its amendment by Ordinance No. 12, reckoningliability thereunder “beginning and taking effect from the year1964 if the fishpond started operating before the year 1964,” doesnot give rise to any ambiguity. In either case, the dates of payment have been definitely established. The fact that theappellant has been allegedly uncertain about the reckoning dates —as far as his liability for the years 1964, 1965 and 1966 is con-cerned—presents a mere problem in computation, but it does notmake the ordinances vague. Same; Same; Ex Post Facto Law; Municipal Ordinance No. 4 is not an ex post facto measure since it does not penalize acts orevents occurring before its passage.—  The next inquiry is whetheror not they can be said to be ex post facto  measures. The appellantargues that they are: “Amendment No. 12 passed on September19, 1966, clearly provides that the payment of the imposed taxshall ‘beginning and taking effect from the year 1964, if thefishpond started operating before the year 1964,’ In other words,it penalizes acts or events occurring before its passage, that is tosay, 1964 and even prior thereto.” The Court finds no merit in thiscontention. As the Solicitor General notes, “Municipal OrdinanceNo. 4 was passed on May 14, 1955.” Hence, it cannot be said thatthe amendment (under Ordinance No. 12) is being made to applyretroactively (to 1964) since the reckoning period is 1955 (date of   enactment). Essentially, Ordi- 189  VOL. 165, AUGUST 31, 1988189  People vs. Nazario nances Nos. 12 and 15 are in the nature of curative measuresintended to facilitate and enhance the collection of revenues thesrcinal act, Ordinance No. 4, had prescribed. Moreover, the act(of non-payment of the tax), had been, since 1955, madepunishable, and it cannot be said that Ordinance No. 12 imposesa retroactive penalty. As we have noted, it operates to grantamnesty to operators who had been delinquent between 1955 and1964. It does not mete out a penalty, much less, a retrospectiveone. Taxation; Local Governments; Statutes; Fishpond are not forest lands within the purview of RA 2264, the Local Autonomy Act.—  The appellant assails, finally, the power of the municipalcouncil of Pagbilao to tax “public forest lands.” In Golden RibbonLumber Co., Inc. v. City of Butuan,  we held that localgovernments’ taxing power does not extend to forest products orconcessions under Republic Act No. 2264, the Local Autonomy Actthen in force. (Republic Act No. 2264 likewise prohibitedmunicipalities from imposing percentage taxes on sales.) First of all, the tax in question is not a tax on property, although the ratethereof is based on the area of fishponds (“P3.00 per hectare”).Secondly, fishponds are not forest lands, although we have heldthem to the agricultural lands. By definition, “forest” is “a largetract of land covered with a natural growth of trees andunderbush; a large wood.” (Accordingly, even if the challengedtaxes were directed on the fishponds, they would not have beentaxes on forest products.)  APPEAL from the decision of the Court of First Instance of Quezon, Br. 2.The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.  The Solicitor General  for plaintiff-appellee.  Teofilo Ragodon  for accused-appellant.SARMIENTO, J.:
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