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With Due Respect

Confronting SC’s mounting backlog

I didn’t realize how seriously aggravated the docket congestion of the Supreme Court has become until I read its recent decision in Gio-Samar vs DOTC (March 12, 2019) penned by Justice Francis H. Jardeleza, with a separate concurring opinion by Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen joined by Senior Justice Antonio T. Carpio.

The unanimous Court en banc candidly declared, “As of December 31, 2016, 6,526 new cases were filed in the Court. Together with the reinstated/revived/reopened cases, the Court has a total of 14,491 cases in its docket. Of the new cases, 300 (were) raffled to the Court En Banc and 6,226 to the three Divisions of the Court. The Court En Banc disposed of 105 cases by decision or signed resolution, while the Divisions of the Court disposed of a total of 923 by decision or signed resolutions.”

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“These, clearly, are staggering numbers,” the Court added. I note, however, that it spoke only of the cases “disposed of by decision or signed resolution.” It did not include those by unsigned resolutions. Nonetheless, the situation is far worse than I calculated by extrapolating from the previous statistics I knew. During my term as CJ, the Court had about 6,000 cases and we were already struggling to cope. In 10 years since then (2006-2016), the number has more than doubled!

The 14,491 pending cases translate to an average of 966 (and counting) for each of the 15 justices. Worse, more cases accumulate (6,526) than those disposed of (105 + 923 = 1028). That’s the really bad news.

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The good news, however, is that the Court is trying its best to confront the problem and find remedies. The cited decision itself warned “the bench and the bar” to observe the hierarchy of courts and to file cases with factual issues in the proper lower courts, otherwise they would be summarily dismissed. At another time, I will write on the Court’s other initiatives to decongest its docket.

For now, however, given that a vast majority of the high court’s decisions simply reiterate old doctrines and affirm the lower courts’ judgments, may I suggest that the Court reject outright all appeals which, on their face, are obviously unmeritorious and merely add to the congestion.

Note that, in comparison, the US Supreme Court received 6,305 filings in 2016 but immediately threw out over 6,000 for being unmeritorious on their face, gave due course to less than 100 and issued only 61 signed decisions in that year. Hence, it has no backlog.

During my term, the Court undertook “Operation Zero Backlog,” a kind of judicial “bayanihan” whereby old cases were surrendered to a pool from which the justices who had light caseloads voluntarily took them out and decided them. However, for reasons I am not aware of, this practice was discontinued after I retired.

The Asean Law Institute will be formally launched by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in a luncheon-meeting on Saturday, April 13, at the New World Hotel in Makati. To assist him are Singapore Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon (president of the Asean Law Association or ALA), CJ Lucas P. Bersamin, Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea, Ambassador Avelino V. Cruz and yours truly as chair of the ALA Philippine Chapter.

On the day before, April 12, CJ Menon and his delegation of 11 Singapore justices and lawyers will honor my household with a courtesy call at my Makati home.

The Asean Law Institute was created by ALA to help harmonize the national laws of the 10 Asean member-countries and thereby facilitate trade, industry, investments, labor exchanges and professional services in our region through research, publications, training and conferences.

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The launch is hosted by the ALA Philippine National Committee (equivalent to the board of directors of a corporation) composed of Supreme Court Justices Carpio and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Emilio B. Aquino, Pagcor President Alfredo C. Lim, Ambassador Cruz, UP President Danilo C. Concepcion, retired Court of Appeals Justice Magdangal M. De Leon, practicing lawyers Jerry Z. Parulan and  Regina P. Geraldez and Sen. Franklin M. Drilon, with me as chair and CJ Bersamin as honorary chair.

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@ hotmail.com

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, case backlog, Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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