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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:

  1. 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.

  2. All cases involving the legality of any tax, impost, assessment, or toll, or any penalty imposed in relation thereto.

  3. All cases in which the jurisdiction of any lower court is in issue.

  4. All criminal cases in which the penalty imposed is reclusion perpetua or higher.

  5. 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)

Rule-Making Powers

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:

  1. 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;

  2. Exclusive original jurisdiction over actions for annulment of judgements of Regional Trial Courts; and

  3. 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.

The Sandiganbayan

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.

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