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With Due Respect

Why SC’s plan to end backlog failed

On July 31, 2007, the Supreme Court approved a noteworthy plan to end its backlog in six and a half years. Yet, the Court itself recently admitted unanimously in Gio-Samar vs DOTC (March 12, 2019) that its backlog has worsened nine and a half years later, with a “total of 14,491 cases in its docket” as of Dec. 31, 2016. Why?

To begin with, let us take up the background. In a resolution identified as “A.M. No. 06-2-10-SC,” dated July 31, 2007, the Court approved a plan drafted by Justice Antonio T. Carpio and called it “INTERNAL POLICY TO ACHIEVE AND MAINTAIN A ZERO BACKLOG,” which I will refer to simply as the “plan.”

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The plan started with the premise that the Court is capable of promulgating only an “average of 1,000 signed decisions per year. If in a given year, the Court accepts more than 1,000 cases for signed decisions, a backlog will result for that year…”

Thus, the plan segued, “To maintain a zero backlog in a given year, the cases accepted for signed decisions should not exceed 1,000 cases. All other cases reaching the Court should be dismissed through minute resolutions.”

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To quote footnote 2 of the plan, “The total caseload of the Court as of 31 January 2007 (was) 8,741.” It estimated that at the end of that year, “the backlog (would) be 3,201 cases.”

To “wipe out the 3,201 accumulated backlog, the Court should accept only 500 cases for signed decisions in the next 6.5 years… 102 for the En Banc, and 166 [should be 133 only, otherwise the total would exceed 500] per Division, per year.” Then, the plan instructed (1) the clerk of court to monitor monthly the number of cases accepted by the Banc, (2) the three deputy clerks of court to do likewise for the three Divisions, and (3) judicial staff heads of each justice to do likewise for their respective bosses.

To achieve its goal, the plan urged the Court “to maintain its output of 1,000 signed decisions per year until the backlog is cleared. Thereafter, the Court may decide to accept anywhere from 500 to 1,000 cases per year for signed decisions,” provided that the “number of cases accepted for signed decisions in a given year shall not exceed the number of signed decisions promulgated for that year.”

The plan also painstakingly issued guidelines to quickly dispose by minute resolutions the petitions that (1) “do not involve novel questions of law,” (2) “merely reiterate settled doctrines,” (3) “in substance raise questions of fact,” and (4) “do not show grave abuse of discretion.”

I did not know this plan until two weeks ago, when I got a copy of “A.M. No. 06-2-10-SC” which by its own provision was an

“internal resolution—not for release.”

Though the plan, in my humble opinion, was viable and workable, the backlog got worse given that as of Dec. 31, 2016, the Court — by its own reckoning — had amassed “14,491 cases in its docket” compared with only 8,741 as of Jan. 31, 2007. In short, the plan was not implemented properly.

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Obviously, the Court took in more cases for decision than what was deemed acceptable under the plan. Worse, the cases were not disposed of by signed decisions and minute resolutions in the detailed manner described in the plan. Some retiring justices merely left the backlog to their successors who probably did not even know about the plan, considering that it was promulgated “not for release” in 2007 prior to their assumption of office.

To the best of my knowledge, some incumbents like Justices Carpio, Diosdado M. Peralta, Mariano C. Del Castillo and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe faithfully followed the plan and have no backlog, even if the Court itself carries a hefty caseload.

With due respect, I think the resolution should be made public, instead of being kept in the Court’s labyrinths. In this way, new justices would be made aware of the plan, given a chance to follow it diligently and help ease the backlog. Also, I think the caseload of the Court and each member should be made more transparent so they could be monitored more closely.

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No. 1 bar topnotcher Sean James B. Borja and No. 5 Katrina Monica C. Gaw, both of Ateneo de Manila, were among the first batch of law scholars of the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity. They will receive P200,000 and P100,000 in cash, respectively, in addition to their scholarships. Cheers!

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@ hotmail.com

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