Supreme Court of the Philippines

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The Supreme Court of the Philippines (Filipino: Kataas-taasang Hukuman ng Pilipinas) is the country's highest judicial court, as well as the court of last resort. The court consists of 14 Associate Justices and 1 Chief Justice. Pursuant to the Constitution, the Supreme Court has "administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof".<ref> See Section 6, Article VIII, Constitution</ref>

The Supreme Court complex occupies the corner of Padre Faura Street and Taft Avenue in Manila, with the main building directly fronting the Philippine General Hospital. Until 1945, the Court held office within Intramuros.


Constitutional role


Supreme Court Building, Manila

A person must meet the following requirements in order to be appointed to the Supreme Court: (1) natural-born citizenship; (2) at least 40 years old; (3) must have been for fifteen years or more a judge of a lower court or engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines.<ref> See Section 7(1), Article VIII, Constitution</ref> An additional constitutional requirement, though less precise in nature, is that a Justice “must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.” <ref> See Section 7(3), Article VIII, Constitution</ref> Upon a vacancy in the Court, whether for the position of Chief Justice or Associate Justice, the President fills the vacancy by appointing a person from a list of at least 3 nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council. <ref> See Section 9, Article VIII, Constitution </ref>

Beginning with the 1935 Constitution, Supreme Court Justices are obliged to retire upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. <ref>Changed to 65 during 1973-1978, but since restored to 70.</ref> Just a few Justices had opted to retire before reaching the age of 70, such as Florentino Feliciano, who retired at 67 to accept appointment to the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization.


See also: Judicial review in the Philippines

The powers of the Supreme Court are defined in Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution. These functions may be generally divided into two – judicial functions and administrative functions. The administrative functions of the Court pertain to the supervision and control over the Philippine judiciary and its employees, as well as over members of the Philippine bar. Pursuant to these functions, the Court is empowered to order a change of venue of trial in order to avoid a miscarriage of justice and to appoint all officials and employees of the judiciary.<ref> See Sections 5(4) & (5), Article VIII, Constitution</ref> The Court is further authorized to promulgate the rules for admission to the practice of law, for legal assistance to the underprivileged, and the procedural rules to be observed in all courts.<ref> See Sections 5(5), Article VIII, Constitution</ref>

The more prominent role of the Court lies in the exercise of its judicial functions. Section 1 of Article VIII contains a definition of judicial power that was not found in previous constitutions. The provision states in part that:

Judicial power includes the duty of 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.

The definition reaffirms the power of the Supreme Court to engage in judicial review, a power that traditionally belonged to the Court even before this provision was enacted. Still, this new provision effectively dissuades from the easy resort to the political question doctrine as a means of declining to review a law or state action, as was often done by the Court during the rule of President Ferdinand Marcos.<ref>See J. Bernas, The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary (1996 ed.), at 831</ref> As a result, the existence of “grave abuse of discretion” on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government is sufficient basis to nullify state action.


The Court is authorized to sit either en banc or in divisions of 3, 5 or 7 members. Since the 1970s, the Court has constituted itself in 3 division with 5 members each. A majority of the cases are heard and decided by the divisions, rather than the court en banc. However, the Constitution requires that the Court hear en banc “[a]ll cases involving the constitutionality of a treaty, international or executive agreement,” as well as “those involving the constitutionality, application, or operation of presidential decrees, proclamations, orders, instructions, ordinances, and other regulations”. <ref> See Section 9, Article VIII, Constitution</ref> The Court en banc also decides cases originally heard by a division when a majority vote cannot be reached within the division. The Court also has the discretion to hear a case en banc even if no constitutional issue is involved, as it typically does if the decision would reverse precedent or presents novel or important questions.

Appellate review

Far and away the most common mode by which a case reaches the Supreme Court is through an appeal from a decision rendered by a lower court. Appealed cases generally originate from lawsuits or criminal indictments filed and tried before the trial courts. These decisions of the trial courts may then be elevated on appeal to the Court of Appeals, or more rarely, directly to the Supreme Court if only “questions of law” are involved. Apart from decisions of the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court may also directly review on appeal decisions rendered by the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals. Decisions rendered by administrative agencies are not directly appealable to the Supreme Court; they must be first challenged before the Court of Appeals. However, decisions of the Commission on Elections may be elevated directly for review to the Supreme Court, although the procedure is not, strictly speaking, in the nature of an appeal.

Review on appeal is not as a matter of right, but "of sound judicial discretion and will be granted only when there are special and important reasons therefor".<ref>See Section 6, Rule 45, 1997 Rules on Civil Procedure </ref> In the exercise of appellate review, the Supreme Court may reverse the decision of lower courts upon a finding of an "error of law". The Court generally declines to engage in review the findings of fact made by the lower courts, although there are notable exceptions to this rule. The Court also refuses to entertain cases originally filed before it that should have been filed first with the trial courts.

Original jurisdiction

The other mode by which a case reaches the Supreme Court is through an original petition filed directly with the Supreme Court, in cases where the Constitution establishes “original jurisdiction” with the Supreme Court. Under Section 5(1), Article VIII of the Constitution, these are “cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus”. Resort to certiorari, prohibition and mandamus may be availed of only if "there is no appeal, or any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law".<ref>See" Sections 1, 2, & 3, Rule 65, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure </ref>

However, notwithstanding this grant of original jurisdiction, the Court has, through the years, assigned to lower courts such as the Court of Appeals the power to hear petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto and habeas corpus. As a result, the Court has considerable discretion to refuse to hear these petitions filed directly before it on the grounds that such should have been filed instead with the Court of Appeals or the appropriate lower court. Nonetheless, cases that have attracted wide public interest, or where a speedy resolution is of the essence, have been accepted for decision by the Supreme Court without hesitation.

In cases involving the original jurisdiction of the Court, there must be a finding of "grave abuse of discretion" on the part of the respondents to the suit to justify favorable action on the petition. The standard of "grave abuse of discretion", a markedly higher standard than "error of law", has been defined as "a capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment amounting to lack of jurisdiction" <ref>See, e.g., Toh v. CA, G.R. No. 140274, November 15, 2000.</ref>


Pre-Hispanic and Hispanic periods

In the years prior to the official establishment of the Supreme Court, institutions exercising judicial power were already in existence. Before the Spaniards came, judicial authority “in its primitive form” was in the hands of barangay chiefs. During the early years of the Spanish regime, these powers were vested upon Miguel López de Legazpi, the first governor-general of the Philippines. He administered civil and criminal justice under the Royal Order of August 14, 1569.

The present Supreme Court was preceded by the Royal Audiencia, a collegial body established on May 5, 1583 and composed of a president, four oidores (justices), and a fiscal, among others. It was the highest tribunal in the Philippines, below only the Consejo de Indias of Spain. However, this body also exercised administrative functions, not just judicial functions.

The Audiencia’s functions and structure underwent substantial modifications in 1815 when its president was replaced by a chief justice and the number of justices was increased. It then came to be known as the Audiencia Territorial de Manila with two branches, civil and criminal, later renamed sala de lo civil and sala de lo criminal. The Audiencia was converted to a purely judicial body by a Royal Decree issued on July 4, 1861, but its decisions were appealable to the Supreme Court of Spain sitting in Madrid.

On February 26, 1886, a territorial Audiencia was organized in Cebu, followed by an Audiencia for criminal cases in Vigan. However, the preeminence of the Supreme Court as the sole interpreter of the law was not recognized during the Spanish regime.

American period

The Supreme Court of the Philippines was officially established on June 11, 1901 through the passage of Act No. 136, otherwise known as the Judiciary Law of the Second Philippine Commission. By virtue of that law, judicial power in the Philippine Islands was vested in the Supreme Court, Courts of First Instance and Justice of the Peace courts. Other courts were subsequently established.

The judicial structure introduced by Act No. 136 was reaffirmed by the US Congress with the passage of the Philippine Bill of 1902. The Administrative Code of 1917 ordained the Supreme Court as the highest tribunal with nine members: a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices.

From 1901 to 1935, though a Filipino was always appointed chief justice, the majority of the members of the Supreme Court were Americans. Complete Filipinization was achieved only with the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935. Claro M. Recto and Jose P. Laurel were among the first appointees to replace the American justices. With the ratification of the 1935 Constitution in a plebiscite held on May 14, 1935, the membership in the Supreme Court increased to 11: a chief justice and ten associate justices, who sat en banc or in two divisions of five members each.

An independent Philippines

Under the 1973 Constitution, the membership of the Supreme Court was increased to 15. The justices sat en banc or in divisions. The 1973 Constitution also vested in the Supreme Court administrative supervision over all lower courts which heretofore was under the Department of Justice.

After the overthrow of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, President Corazon C. Aquino, using her emergency powers, promulgated a transitory charter known as the “Freedom Constitution” which did not affect the composition and powers of the Supreme Court. The Freedom Charter was replaced by the 1987 Constitution which is the fundamental charter in force in the Philippines at present. Section 1 Article VIII of the Constitution vests the judicial power “in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.”

The present Supreme Court

Name Date of Appointment Date of Birth Date of Retirement Appointing President

Maria Lourdes A. Sereno
Chief Justice

August 13, 2010
(as Associate Justice)
August 25, 2012
(as Chief Justice)
July 2, 1960 July 2, 2030 Benigno Aquino III
(both as Associate Justice and Chief Justice)

Antonio T. Carpio
Senior Associate Justice

October 26, 2001 October 26, 1949 October 26, 2019 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.
Associate Justice

March 31, 2006 August 8, 1948 August 8, 2018 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Teresita Leonardo-de Castro
Associate Justice

December 3, 2007 October 8, 1948 October 8, 2018 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Arturo D. Brion
Associate Justice

March 17, 2008 December 29, 1946 December 29, 2016 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Diosdado M. Peralta
Associate Justice

January 14, 2009 March 27, 1952 March 27, 2022 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Lucas P. Bersamin
Associate Justice

April 3, 2009 October 18, 1949 October 18, 2019 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Mariano C. del Castillo
Associate Justice

July 29, 2009 July 29, 1949 July 29, 2019 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Roberto A. Abad
Associate Justice

August 7, 2009 May 22, 1944 May 22, 2014 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Martin S. Villarama, Jr.
Associate Justice

November 6, 2009 April 14, 1946 April 14, 2016 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Jose P. Perez
Associate Justice

December 26, 2009 December 14, 1946 December 14, 2016 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Jose C. Mendoza
Associate Justice

January 4, 2010 August 13, 1947 August 13, 2017 Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Bienvenido Reyes
Associate Justice

August 20, 2011 July 6, 1947 July 6, 2017 Benigno Aquino III

Estela Perlas-Bernabe
Associate Justice

September 16, 2011 May 14, 1952 May 14, 2022 Benigno Aquino III

The Philippine Court System

Judicial regions

See also

External links



  1. See Section 6, Article VIII, Constitution
  2. See Section 7(1), Article VIII, Constitution
  3. See Section 7(3), Article VIII, Constitution
  4. See Section 9, Article VIII, Constitution
  5. Changed to 65 during 1973-1978, but since restored to 70.
  6. See Sections 5(4) & (5), Article VIII, Constitution
  7. See Sections 5(5), Article VIII, Constitution
  8. See J. Bernas, The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary (1996 ed.), at 831
  9. See Section 9, Article VIII, Constitution
  10. See Section 6, Rule 45, 1997 Rules on Civil Procedure
  11. See"Sections 1, 2, & 3, Rule 65, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure
  12. See, e.g., Toh v. CA, G.R. No. 140274, November 15, 2000.

Original Source

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