In the 1987 Philippine Constitution, Section 1 of Article X (Local Government) says: "The territorial and political subdivisions of the Republic of the Philippines are the provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays."
Corollary to that provision, the bicameral Congress enacted the local Government Code of 1991 or Republic Act 7160 which provides that "a municipality or a cluster of barangays may be converted into a city" if such an area has the prescribed annual income, number of population and territorial jurisdiction.
Encouraged by this provision, most of the country's first class municipalities have been aspiring for the conversion of their status as a city since the 1990s due to a higher share from the national government's Internal Revenue Allotment or IRA -- now called the National Tax Allotment.
Even the former town of Novaliches, missing from the national map since 1903 and presently divided between Quezon City and Caloocan City, has been lured to join the bandwagon of LGUs seeking cityhood. And this is the story of Novaliches, the supposed 11th city of Metro Manila in 1998 but never was.
Early in the morning of Feb. 23, 1998, or 25 years ago, enthusiastic Novaliches residents on board at least 10 buses went to Malacañang to witness the signing by then President Fidel V. Ramos of Republic Act 8535, or the so-called Novaliches cityhood bill.
Present on that historic occasion at the Ceremonial Hall of the Palace were former Senate President Neptali A. Gonzales, House Speaker Jose C. de Venecia Jr., QC Second District Rep. Dante V. Liban (main author of the bill); the Senate Local Government Committee chairman, Senator Vicente C. Sotto III; councilors of the then QC second district; barangay officials; and leaders of the Novaliches Cityhood Movement, Concerned Citizens of Novaliches Inc., Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Knights of Columbus members, among others.
Conspicuously absent were then QC Mayor Ismael A. Mathay Jr., who was very much against granting autonomy to Novaliches, and most of the other members of the city council.
The creation of Novaliches as a separate local government unit (LGU) had been a dream of the Novaliches people since the Philippines gained independence from the United States in 1946.
RA 8535 provided for the creation of the new city of out of 15 barangays located in Quezon City’s then populous second congressional district, otherwise referred to as the Novaliches area. These are barangays Talipapa, Sauyo, Bagbag, San Bartolome, Nagkaisang Nayon, Gulod, Novaliches Proper or Poblacion, San Agustin, Kaligayahan, Sta. Monica, Capri, Sta. Lucia, Pasong Putik Proper, Greater Lagro and North Fairview.
In a message Liban issued in connection with that occasion, he said: “Republic Act 8535 signed by President Fidel V. Ramos on February 23, 1998 represents the fulfillment of the Novaleños’ long cherished dream for the rebirth of Novaliches. R.A. 8535 is deemed a most fitting Centennial gift by the Ramos presidency to the Filipino people in general and to the people of Novaliches in particular.
“Finally, the people of Novaliches now stand at the threshold of seeing their town – born in 1855, reduced into a barrio during the American Occupation, and unceremoniously divided between Quezon City and Caloocan City in 1948 – given back their birthright of self-governance. I consider it my great privilege and honor to have been one of the instruments of Novaliches’ rebirth.”
The signing of the Novaliches cityhood law actually came just four months before the celebration of the centennial of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1998.
The original bill that originated from the House of Representatives provided that only the voters of the 15 barangays comprising the new city were to participate in the plebiscite to be conducted by the Commission of Elections (Comelec) for the ratification of the Novaliches City Charter.
The bill, however, was amended in the Senate to include the voters of QC’s 142 barangays upon Mathay’s representation. He also ordered a QC councilor to question before the Supreme Court the legality of the creation of Novaliches City out of QC’s existing territory.
The case delayed the holding of the plebiscite by more than one year instead of the 60 days provided under Section 50 of RA 8535. After the Supreme Court ruled on the legality of the bill, the required plebiscite still could not be conducted due to lack of funds to be used by the Comelec for the activity.
Normally, the expenses for such plebiscites were provided by the LGU. However, since Novaliches was separating from QC, the city government refused to provide the needed fund.
In October 1999, the new administration of then President Joseph E. Estrada finally provided a PHP10-million budget for the conduct of the plebiscite. Its result, however, was devastating for the cityhood proponents because of the participation of voters from the entire Quezon City, including those from informal communities.
In spite of the 46,800 “yes” votes for the cityhood, the proponents still turned out losers. It is worth mentioning that the Comelec proclaimed the results although there were at least 100 ballot boxes “missing” at the time, saying their contents, granting that they were “yes” votes, were still inadequate to change the outcome of the plebiscite.
By the way, Feb. 23, 1998 was carried on page 75 by the 1998 Centennial Edition of Filway's Philippine Almanac for Children this way for posterity: "Novaliches declared a city by virtue of Republic Act No. 8535. Formerly a part of Quezon City, Novaliches became the eleventh city of Metro Manila."
However, as the almanac was printed long before the plebiscite, it did not carry the additional information that the Novaliches cityhood bill failed ratification by the Novaliches people.
For the record, those affirmative votes were the biggest ever given by voters in any of the over 140 cities of the country at present. The cityhood bills of most of these cities were ratified by “yes” votes ranging from 11,000 to 22,000. This was because they did not experience the problem of Novaliches. Being existing towns, they just changed status to cityhood, a move supported by all their local officials -- from mayor, vice mayor, congressmen and councilors.
The case of Novaliches is very much different: It seeks separation from Quezon City although with a very much reduced territory comprising just 15 barangays from Quezon City’s vast and very populous former second congressional district. The district was eventually divided by Congress into three congressional districts in 2013 due to its big population representing half of QC’s estimated 3 million people.
The 15 barangays envisioned to comprise Novaliches City are on the northernmost and westernmost fringes of Quezon City, bordering with Valenzuela City, North Caloocan City and San Jose del Monte City. Their average distance from the QC Hall is 16 kilometers.
Earlier in the Ramos presidency, at least seven new cities were created by Congress in Metropolitan Manila and approved by him. These were: Mandaluyong (Feb. 9, 1994); Makati (Jan. 2, 1995); Pasig (Jan. 27, 1995); Muntinlupa (March 1, 1995); Marikina (Dec. 8, 1996); Las Piñas (Feb. 12, 1997); and Parañaque (Feb. 13, 1997). Other new cities were born in various regions of the country.
Valenzuela became a city on Dec. 30, 1998; Malabon on April 21, 2001; Navotas on May 7, 2001; Taguig on Dec. 8, 2004; and San Juan on June 16, 2007.
At present, of the 17 LGUs in Metro Manila, only the small town of Pateros has not yet been converted into a city because it lacks the necessary number of population and area as well as amount of income.
The creation of cities was stopped abruptly after the declaration of martial law in the country on Sept. 21, 1972 by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. There were then 60 cities nationwide, including only four in the National Capital Region or NCR: Manila, Quezon City, Caloocan and Pasay.
There was no creation of new city in the country during the martial law years and the six-and-a-half-year term of President Corazon C. Aquino (Feb. 25, 1986-June 30, 1992).