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With Due Respect

Unclogging the Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals (CA), under the leadership of Presiding Justice (PJ) Andres B. Reyes Jr., has quietly been unclogging its dockets. While it has not yet completely updated its cases, it has significantly advanced its reform program to deliver quality justice speedily. Let me explain.

Expanded jurisdiction. To begin with, per its yearbook celebrating its 80th anniversary last year, the CA handles “around 90 percent of all cases elevated to the third level courts,” namely, the CA, the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals.

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In addition, it also has jurisdiction over appeals from decisions and final orders of 1) quasi-judicial agencies including the Civil Service Commission and the Office of the President “in the exercise of their quasi-judicial functions,” 2) the Office of the Ombudsman in administrative disciplinary cases per Fabian vs Desierto, Sept. 16. 1998, 3) the National Labor Relations Commission per St. Martin vs NLRC, Sept 16, 1998, 4) the National Commission on Indigenous People, per Republic Act No. 8371, 5) automatic review of criminal convictions imposing the capital penalty, per People vs Mateo, July 7, 2004, 6) issuance of freeze orders on petition of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, per RA 9160 and on ex-parte inquiries into bank accounts, per RA 10167, (7) issuance of the Writs of Amparo, Habeas Data and Kalikasan, and 8) exclusive appellate review of corporate rehabilitation, per RA 10142.

Enlarged CA membership. Because of its expanded jurisdiction, the CA’s membership has been steadily increased from the original 11 judges upon its creation in 1936 to its present 69 justices divided into 23 divisions. Three divisions are stationed in Cebu City and another three in Cagayan de Oro City. Each division is composed of three associate justices.

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Despite its enlarged membership, many cases remained undecided within the constitutional prescription of 12 months from the date of their submission for decision, “unless reduced by the Supreme Court.” A case is “deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself.”

Per a report of CA Clerk of Court (COC) Teresita R. Marigomen, the CA, prior to the elevation of PJ Reyes, received more cases than it decided, thereby aggravating its backlog year after year. For example, in 2008, 11,589 cases were filed but only 10,982 were disposed of, “for a -5.93 percent performance.” Similarly, in 2009, 11,549 cases were filed but only 10,335 were disposed of, “for a -9.81 percent court performance.”

Upon his appointment as PJ on Feb. 22, 2010, Reyes—with the active cooperation of his colleagues—immediately instituted his “Zero Backlog” program and reengineered the existing “Initial Case Load” formula of the CA.

Unparalleled results. His effort drew immediate results. During his first year in office (2010), the CA disposed of 12,002 cases compared with 11,556 cases filed, for a “performance of +4 percent.” The succeeding years continued the positive percentages, at +17 percent for 2011, +17 also for 2012, +13 for 2013, +8 for 2014, +11 for 2015 and +13.19 for 2016.

Overall, the CA steadily reduced its total number of pending cases from 25,781 in 2010 to 19,555 at the end of 2016.

COC Marigomen happily advised me that “of the cases that are submitted for decision, 80 percent are less than one year old. This means that the Court of Appeals is on its way towards complying with its constitutional mandate to decide cases within twelve months from the time they are submitted for decision.”

Thus, she effusively concluded, “with these unparalleled results, the dashboard and computerized monitoring of cases conceptualized by Presiding Justice Reyes Jr. have now been adopted by the Supreme Court for the rest of the courts in the country.”

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As a retired jurist and citizen, I commend the CA. May it continue its herculean effort to solve its backlog. Truly, our people need and deserve the speedy delivery of quality justice.

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