The statutes of the Philippines are found in the various enactments of the Philippine legislature since its creation in 1900. From the establishment of the American civil government in 1900 to 1935, there were 4,275 laws passed by the Philippine Commission and its bicameral successor, the Philippine Legislature. The Commonwealth period witnessed the enactment of 733 statutes while 6,635 Republic Acts were legislated from 04 July 1946 to 21 September 1972. During the martial law period, a total of 2,035 Presidential Decrees were promulgated as of 20 February 1986. A total of 302 Executive Orders have been issued by President Corazon C Aquino. The Philippine Congress convened on 27 July 1987 and has enacted considerable Republic Acts to date. (http://www.aseanlawassociation.org/papers/phil_chp2.pdf)
Among the more notable laws in force today are the Civil Code (R.A. No. 386, as amended), the Revised Penal Code (Act No. 3815), Election Code (Batas Pambansa Bilang 88), The Family Code of the Philippines (Executive Order No. 209), Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines (Presidential Decree No. 1083), the Labor Code of the Philippines (Presidential Decree No. 442), The Local Government Code (Republic Act No. 7160), The General Banking Law (Republic Act No. 337), and others.
The main sources of Philippine law are:
- the Constitution – the fundamental and supreme law of the land
- Statutes – including Acts of Congress, municipal charters, municipal legislation, court rules, administrative rules and orders, legislative rules and presidential issuances.
- Treaties and conventions – these have the same force of authority as statutes.
- Judicial decisions – Article 8 of the Civil Code of the Philippines provides that ‘judicial decisions applying to or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system of the Philippines’. Only decisions of its Supreme Court establish jurisprudence and are binding on all other courts.
To some extent, customary law also forms part of the Filipino legal system. Art XIV, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution provides that ‘the State shall recognise, respect, and protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to preserve and develop their cultures, traditions and institutions’.
Introduction to the Legal System
The legal system of the Philippine is a mixture of Roman (civil law) and Anglo-American (common law) systems, customary usage, and Islamic law. The civil law operates in areas such as family relations, property, succession, contract and criminal law while statutes and principles of common law origin are evident in such areas as constitutional law, procedure, corporations law, taxation, insurance, labour relations, banking and currency.
Philippine Court System
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction. It exercises original jurisdiction (cases are directly filed with the SC in the first instance without passing through any of the lower courts) over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus. (Art. VIII, §5(1)). It also has original jurisdiction over writs of amparo, habeas data and the environmental writ of kalikasan. It exercises appellate jurisdiction to review, revise, reverse, modify, or affirm final judgments, and orders of the lower courts in:
- All cases in which the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation is in question.
- All cases involving the legality of any tax, impost, assessment, or toll, or any penalty imposed in relation thereto.
- All cases in which the jurisdiction of any lower court is in issue.
- All criminal cases in which the penalty imposed is reclusion perpetua or higher.
- All cases in which only an error or question of law is involved.
The Supreme Court has administrative supervision over all courts and court personnel. (Article VIII, §6) It exercises this power through the Office of the Court Administrator.
Composition of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court shall be composed of a Chief Justice and fourteen Associate Justices. It may sit en banc or, in its discretion, in divisions of three, five, or seven members. (Art. VIII, §4) Its members shall be appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy, without need of confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. (Art. VIII, §9) Members of the Supreme Court are required to have proven competence, integrity, probity and independence; they must be natural-born citizens of the Philippines, at least forty years old, with at least fifteen years of experience as a judge of a lower court or law practice in the country. (Art. VIII, §7) Justices shall hold office during good behavior until they reach the age of seventy years, or become incapacitated to discharge the duties of office. (Art. VIII, §11)
The Supreme Court has the exclusive power to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar, and legal assistance to the underprivileged. Any such rules shall provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases, shall be uniform for all courts of the same grade, and shall not diminish, increase, or modify substantive rights. Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court. (Art. VIII, §54(5))
The Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals was established on February 1, 1936 by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 3 and is considered as the second highest tribunal in the country. It is composed of one presiding justice and 68 associate justices, all of which are appointed by the President from a shortlist submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council. The associate justices shall have precedence according to the dates (or order, in case of similar appointment dates) of their respective appointments. The qualifications for the justices of the Supreme Court also apply to members of the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals’ principal mandate is to exercise appellate jurisdiction on all cases not falling within the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Its decisions are final except when appealed to the Supreme Court on questions of law. The jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals are as follows:
- Original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus, prohibition, certiorari, habeas corpus, and quo warranto, and auxiliary writs or processes, whether or not in aid of its appellate jurisdiction;
- Exclusive original jurisdiction over actions for annulment of judgements of Regional Trial Courts; and
- Exclusive appellate jurisdiction over all final judgements, resolutions, orders or awards of Regional Trial Courts and quasi-judicial agencies, instrumentalities, boards or commission.
The Court of Appeals shall also have the power to try cases and conduct hearings, receive evidence and perform acts necessary to resolve factual issues raised in cases falling within its original and appellate jurisdiction, including the power to grant and conduct new trials or proceedings.
Both the 1973 and 1987 Constitution contain provisions on the present anti-graft court known as the Sandiganbayan. It has jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases involving graft and corrupt practices and such other offenses committed by public officers and employees, including those in government-owned or controlled corporations, in relation to their office as may be determined by law. The jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan is perhaps one of the most often amended provision from the 1973 Constitution to Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8249. Before R.A. No. 8249, jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan was determined on the basis of the penalty imposable on the offense charged. Thereafter, it was amended such that regardless of the penalty, so long as the offense charged was committed by a public officer, the Sandiganbayan was vested with jurisdiction. Under R.A. No. 8249, to determine whether the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction, a person must look into two (2) criteria, namely, the nature of the offense and the salary grade of the public official.
The Court of Tax Appeals
The Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) was created on June 16, 1954, through the enactment of Republic Act No. 1125 (R.A. 1125). Its jurisdiction and composition have been increased with passage of several legislations. With the enactment of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9282 on April 23, 2004, the CTA became an appellate Court, equal in rank to the Court of Appeals. The composition of the Court increased to six (6) Justices with one (1) Presiding Justice and five (5) Associate Justices.
R.A. No. 9503 took effect on July 5, 2008, which further enlarged the organizational structure of the CTA. The CTA is now composed of one (1) Presiding Justice and eight (8) Associate Justices. The CTA may sit en banc or in three (3) divisions with each division consisting of three (3) Justices. A decision of a division of the CTA may be appealed to the CTA En Banc, and the latter’s decision may further be appealed by verified petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court.
The Second Level Courts
Regional Trial Courts are also known as Second Level Courts, which were established among the thirteen Judicial regions in the Philippines consisting of Regions I to XII and the National Capital Region (NCR). There are as many Regional Trial Courts in each region as the law mandates. RTCs were formerly called as the Court of First Instance since the Spanish era. It was only in the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980 that its name was changed from being called the Court of First Instance to Regional Trial Court.
The First Level Courts
Each city and municipality in the Philippines has its own trial court. These First Level Courts are more commonly referred to as Metropolitan Trial Courts (MeTC), Municipal Trial Courts in Cities (MTCC), Municipal Trial Court (MTC), and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (MCTC). The MeTCs are the first level courts in the Metropolitan Manila area. First level courts in cities outside Metropolitan Manila are referred to as the MTCCs. The MTCs are first level courts that cover only one municipality, whereas MCTCs cover multiple municipalities.
The Shari'a District & Circuit Courts
The Shari’a District Courts are equivalent to the Regional Trial Courts in rank, which were established in certain provinces in Mindanao where the Muslim Code on Personal Laws is being enforced. On the other hand, the Shari’a Circuit Courts are the counterpart of the Municipal Circuit Trial Courts established in certain municipalities in Mindanao.
A Constitutional History Of The Supreme Court Of The Philippines
The Supreme Court of the Philippines is the progeny of the tribunal established by Act No. 136 of the Philippine Commission on June 11, 1901. There is no umbilical cord joining the Supreme Court to the Real Audiencia de Manila set up by the Spaniards or the Audiencia Territorial de Manila constituted by Major General Elwell Otis.
These audiencias, however, serve as backdrops and proper perspectives in retelling the history of the present Supreme Court.
The Judicial System of the Pre-Spanish Filipinos
When the Spanish colonizers first arrived in the Philippine archipelago, they found the indigenous Filipinos without any written laws. Mainly, the laws enforced were derived from customs, usages and tradition. These laws were believed to be God-given and were orally transmitted from generation to generation.
A remarkable feature of these customs and traditions was that they were found to be very similar to one another notwithstanding that they were observed in widely dispersed islands of the archipelago. There were no judges and lawyers who were trained formally in the law, although there were elders who devoted time to the study of the customs, usages and traditions of their tribes to qualify them as consultants or advisers on these matters.
The unit of government of the indigenous Filipinos was the barangay, which was a family-based community of 30 to 100 families, occupying a pook (“locality” or “area”) Headed by a chieftain called a datu who exercised all functions of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—a barangay was not only a political but also a social and economic organization. In the exercise of his judicial authority, the datu acted as a judge (hukom) in settling disputes and deciding cases in his barangay.
The Judicial System Under the Spanish Regime
During the early Spanish occupation, King Philip II established the Real Audiencia de Manila which was given not only judicial but legislative, executive, advisory, and administrative functions as well. Composed of the incumbent governor general as the presidente (presiding officer), four oidores (equivalent to associate justices), an asesor (legal adviser), an alguacil mayor (chief constable), among other officials, the Real Audiencia de Manila was both a trial and appellate court. It had exclusive original, concurrent original and exclusive appellate jurisdictions.
Initially, the Audiencia was given a non-judicial role in the colonial administration, to deal with unforeseen problems within the territory that arose from time to time—it was given the power to supervise certain phases of ecclesiastical affairs as well as regulatory functions, such as fixing of prices at which merchants could sell their commodities. Likewise, the Audiencia had executive functions, like the allotment of lands to the settlers of newly established pueblos. However, by 1861, the Audiencia had ceased to perform these executive and administrative functions and had been restricted to the administration of justice.
When the Audiencia Territorial de Cebu was established in 1886, the name of the Real Audiencia de Manila was changed to Audiencia Territorial de Manila.
The Judicial System During the American Occupation
As expected, the subsequent occupation by the Americans of the Philippine Islands in the late 1890s after Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War paved the way for considerable changes in the control, disposition, and governance of the Islands.
The judicial system established during the regime of the military government functioned as an instrument of the executive—not of the judiciary—as an independent and separate branch of government.
Secretary of State John Hay, on May 12, 1899, proposed a plan for a colonial government of the Philippine Islands which would give Filipinos the largest measure of self-government. The plan contemplated an independent judiciary manned by judges chosen from qualified locals and Americans.
On May 29, 1899, General Elwell Stephen Otis, Military Governor for the Philippines, issued General Order No. 20, reestablishing the Audiencia Teritorial de Manila which was to apply Spanish laws and jurisprudence recognized by the American military governor as continuing in force.
The Audiencia was composed of a presiding officer and eight members organized into two divisions: the sala de lo civil or the civil branch, and the sala de lo criminal or the criminal branch.
It was General Otis himself who personally selected the first appointees to the Audiencia. Cayetano L. Arellano was appointed President (equivalent to Chief Justice) of the Court, with Manuel Araullo as president of the sala de lo civil and Raymundo Melliza as president of the salo de lo criminal. Gregorio Araneta and Lt. Col. E.H. Crowder were appointed associate justices of the civil branch while Ambrosio Rianzares, Julio Llorente, Major R.W. Young and Captain W.E. Brikhimer were designated associate justices of the criminal branch. Thus, the reestablished Audiencia became the first agency of the new insular government where Filipinos were appointed side by side with Americans.
The Establishment of the Supreme Court of the Philippines
On June 11, 1901, the Second Philippine Commission passed Act No. 136 entitled “An Act Providing for the Organization of Courts in the Philippine Islands” formally establishing the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands and creating Courts of First Instance and Justices of the Peace Courts throughout the land. The judicial organization established by the Act was conceived by the American lawyers in the Philippine Commission and was patterned in its basic structures after similar organizations in the United States.
The Supreme Court created under the Act was composed of a Chief Justice and six Judges. Five members of the Court could form a quorum, and the concurrence of at least four members was necessary to pronounce a judgment.
Act No. 136 abolished the Audiencia established under General Order No. 20 and declared that the Supreme Court created by the Act be substituted in its place. This effectively severed any nexus between the present Supreme Court and the Audiencia.
The Anglo-American legal system under which the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands was expected to operate was entirely different from the old Spanish system that Filipinos were familiar with. Adjustments had to be made; hence, the decisions of the Supreme Court during its early years reflected a blend of both the Anglo-American and Spanish systems. The jurisprudence was a gentle transition from the old order to the new.
The Supreme Court During the Commonwealth
Following the ratification of the 1935 Philippine Constitution in a plebiscite, the principle of separation of powers was adopted not by express and specific provision to that effect, but by actual division of powers of the government—executive, legislative, and judicial—in different articles thereof.
As in the United States, the judicial power was vested by the 1935 Constitution “in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as may be established by law.” It devolved on the Judiciary to determine whether the acts of the other two departments were in harmony with the fundamental law.
The Court during the Commonwealth was composed of “a Chief Justice and ten Associate Justices, and may sit en banc or in two divisions, unless otherwise provided by law.”
The Supreme Court of the Second Republic
After the Japanese occupation during the Second World War and the subsequent independence from the United States, Republic Act No. 296 or the Judiciary Act of 1948 was enacted. This law grouped together the cases over which the Supreme Court could exercise exclusive jurisdiction to review on appeal, certiorari or writ of error.
The Supreme Court Under the 1973 Constitution
The declaration of Martial Law through Proclamation No. 1081 by former President Ferdinand E, Marcos in 1972 brought about the transition from the 1935 Constitution to the 1973 Constitution. This transition had implications on the Court’s composition and functions.
This period brought in many legal issues of transcendental importance and consequence. Among these were the legality of the ratification of a new Constitution, the assumption of the totality of government authority by President Marcos, the power to review the factual basis for a declaration of Martial Law by the Chief Executive. Writ large also during this period was the relationship between the Court and the Chief Executive who, under Amendment No. 6 to the 1973 Constitution, had assumed legislative powers even while an elected legislative body continued to function.
The 1973 Constitution increased the number of the members of the Supreme Court from 11 to 15, with a Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices. The Justices of the Court were appointed by the President alone, without the consent, approval, or recommendation of any other body or officials.
The Supreme Court Under the Revolutionary Government
Shortly after assuming office as the seventh President of the Republic of the Philippines after the successful People Power Revolution, then President Corazon C. Aquino declared the existence of a revolutionary government under Proclamation No. 1 dated February 25, 1986. Among the more significant portions of this Proclamation was an instruction for “all appointive officials to submit their courtesy resignations beginning with the members of the Supreme Court.”
The call was unprecedented, considering the separation of powers that the previous Constitutions had always ordained, but understandable considering the revolutionary nature of the post-People Power government. Heeding the call, the members of the Judiciary—from the Supreme Court to the Municipal Circuit Courts—placed their offices at the disposal of the President and submitted their resignations. President Corazon C, Aquino proceeded to reorganize the entire Court, appointing all 15 members.
On March 25, 1986, President Corazon Aquino, through Proclamation No. 3, also abolished the 1973 Constitution and put in place a Provisional “Freedom” Constitution.
Under Article I, section 2 of the Freedom Constitution, the provisions of the 1973 Constitution on the judiciary were adopted insofar as they were not inconsistent with Proclamation No. 3.
Article V of Proclamation No. 3 provided for the convening of a Constitutional Commission composed of fifty appointive members to draft a new constitution; this would be implemented by Proclamation No. 9.
The output of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 was submitted to the people for ratification, under Filipino people then ratified the Constitution submitted to them by the Constitutional Commission on February 2, 1987.
The Supreme Court Under the 1987 Constitution
As in the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, the 1987 Constitution provides that “[t]he judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.” (Art. VII, Sec. 1). The exercise of judicial power is shared by the Supreme Court with all the courts below it, but it is only the Supreme Court’s decisions that are vested with precedential value or doctrinal authority, as its interpretations of the Constitution and the laws are final and beyond review by any other branch of government.
Unlike the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, however, the 1987 Constitution defines the concept of judicial power. Under paragraph 2 of Section 1, Article VIII, “judicial power” includes not only the “duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable” but also “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.” This latter provision dilutes the effectivity of the “political question” doctrine which places specific questions best submitted to the political wisdom of the people beyond the review of the courts.
Building on previous experiences under former Constitutions, the 1987 Constitution provides for specific safeguards to ensure the independence of the Judiciary. These are found in the following provisions:
- The grant to the Judiciary of fiscal autonomy. “Appropriations for the Judiciary may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year, and, after approval, shall be automatically and regularly released.” (Art. VIII, Sec. 3).
- The grant to the Chief Justice of authority to augment any item in the general appropriation law for the Judiciary from savings in other items of said appropriation as authorized by law. (Art. VI, Sec. 25)
- The removal from Congress of the power to deprive the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction over cases enumerated in Section 5 of Article VIII.
- The grant to the Court of the power to appoint all officials and employees of the Judiciary in accordance with the Civil Service Law (Art. VIII, Sec. 5 )
- The removal from the Commission of Appointments of the power to confirm appointments of justices and judges (Art. VIII, Sec. 8)
- The removal from Congress of the power to reduce the compensation or salaries of the Justices and judges during their continuance in office. (Art. VIII, Sec. 10)
- The prohibition against the removal of judges through legislative reorganization by providing that “(n)o law shall be passed reorganizing the Judiciary when it undermines the security of tenure of its members. (Art. VIII, Sec. 2)
- The grant of sole authority to the Supreme Court to order the temporary detail of judges. (Art. VIII, Sec. 5)
- The grant of sole authority to the Supreme Court to promulgate rules of procedure for the courts. (Art. VIII, Sec. 5)
- The prohibition against designating members of the Judiciary to any agency performing quasi-judicial or administrative function. (Art. VIII, Sec. 12)
- The grant of administrative supervision over the lower courts and its personnel in the Supreme Court. (Art. VIII, Sec. 6)
The Supreme Court under the present Constitution is composed of a Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices.
The members of the Court are appointed by the President from a list prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council of at least three nominees for every vacancy. This new process is intended to “de-politicize” the courts of justice, ensure the choice of competent judges, and fill existing vacancies without undue delay.
The Philippine Judiciary Foundation, 2011. The History of the Supreme Court. Supreme Court of the Philippines, Manila.
The 1935 Constitution.
The 1973 Constitution.
The 1986 Freedom Constitution
The 1987 Constitution.
Overview of the Philippine Judiciary
Under Article VIII, §1 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be provided by law. This power includes the duty to settle actual controversies involving rights that are legally demandable and enforceable and to determine if any branch or instrumentality of government has acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of excess of jurisdiction.