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With Due Respect

SC disregards Charter in making decisions

Reacting to last Sunday’s column titled “Conversation with ICJ Judge Iwasawa,” superlawyer Estelito P. Mendoza texted: “Our Constitution, and incidentally the PET [Presidential Electoral Tribunal] rules, have similar requirements as the ICJ [International Court of Justice] in the writing of decisions but are disregarded.”

Specifically, Mendoza was referring to this portion of my column, “…the ICJ does not assign the writing of a decision to one member whom we locally call ‘ponente.’ Instead, after oral arguments are held and written briefs or memorials are submitted, the 15 judges carefully discuss, deliberate and vote en banc… Thereafter, the Court elects a committee to write collegially a draft of the decision that would again be discussed, scrutinized, corrected and voted upon part by part.”

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Later on, Mendoza sent me a formidable 42-page, 12-font article he wrote in the Philippine Law Journal (March 2013 issue, but still relevant today) centering on the constitutional requirement that the “conclusions of the Supreme Court… shall be reached in consultation before the case is assigned to a Member for the writing of the opinion of the Court.”

He stressed that, under this “unequivocal” requirement, the “member of the Court who writes the decision shall only be designated or ‘assigned’ after the vote is taken. The ‘ponente’ shall only be designated after the issues in the case are ‘deliberated’ upon and a vote is taken on the decision. Only then would the decision of the Court be written.” (bold types in original)

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In contrast, under the Internal Rules of the Court, promulgated on May 4, 2010, new petitions are immediately raffled, before the case is deliberated and voted upon, to a “Member-in-charge.” This member shall “oversee the progress and disposition” of the case and shall later submit to the other justices “a report that shall contain the facts, the issue or issues involved, the arguments of the contending parties, and the laws and jurisprudence that can aid the Court in deciding or resolving the case.”

In actual practice, this “report” takes the form of a draft decision, to which the other justices may concur by affixing their signatures or otherwise dissent from or write separate opinions on.

Mendoza argued that the Internal Rules and the actual practice in making or rendering decisions do not merely “disregard” the Constitution; they also fail to mandate the justices to first read, study and deliberate on the pleadings before voting; instead they simply rely on the draft decisions submitted by the “Members-in-charge.”

The superlawyer also lamented the violation of another constitutional provision mandating that decisions “must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from the date of submission.”

Indeed, in this space and elsewhere, I have repeatedly bewailed the insidious plague of delayed justice, the latest being on May 5, with a piece titled “Why SC’s plan to end backlog failed.”

Even the Court, in a formal decision, Gio-Samar v. DOTC (March 12, 2019), frankly admitted that despite its best effort, its backlog has worsened to “total of 14,491 cases in its docket” as of Dec. 31, 2016 from 8,741 as of Jan. 31, 2007, of which 3,201 have breached the 24-month constitutional deadline.

Aware of its overwhelming and ever-increasing backlog, the Court accepted a plan devised by Justice Antonio T. Carpio in 2007 which called for a limitation of the cases that it should accept, and a disposition by minute resolution of petitions that, on their face, do not deserve review (they raise no novel question, merely reiterate old doctrines, show no grave abuse of discretion, etc),

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While some justices have worked diligently to dispose of the cases raffled to them, some others have obviously not done their part. I hope the new chief justice—who will succeed CJ Lucas P. Bersamin after he retires on Oct. 18—will implement this plan, or craft a better one, to end the Court’s backlog.

Perhaps, a little transparency to show the load “assigned” to each justice and his/her monthly outputs by minute resolutions and signed decisions should be made public, so this odious lament of “justice delayed is justice denied” can be supplanted with “prompt at last.”

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, artemio v. panganiban, delayed rulings, estelito mendoza, Supreme Court, With Due Respect
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