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With Due Respect

CJ Peralta to eliminate SC’s backlog

Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta ushered 2020 with a resounding plea for support for his 10-point program which is “geared towards providing swift, efficient, fair and responsive justice for all…”

Worded simply and clearly, his program dives deep into the festering problems of delivering speedy justice. I think he would be acclaimed even if he achieves only the first of his 10 points: the “Elimination of backlog in the Supreme Court and all other courts.” In fact, for today, I will focus only on the backlog in the Supreme Court and will tackle “all other courts” in another column.

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In an earlier piece (4/7/19), I cited Gio-Samar v. DOTC (March 12, 2019) which said that in 2016, the Court received 6,526 new cases, of which 300 were raffled to the Banc and 6,226 to the three Divisions. And yet, “(t)he Court En Banc disposed of 105 cases by decision or signed resolution, while the Divisions… disposed of a total of 923 by decision or signed resolution.”

To repeat, the Court decided only 1,028 (105+923) cases, though it received six times more, 6,526! Moreover, for that year (2016), it had “a total of 14,491 cases in its docket” including the 6,526 new ones. This means that each of the 15 justices had an average load of 966 cases, plus new cases of 400 (6,000/15=400) each. The stats must have worsened after 2016. I am not aware of any new anti-backlog program since then.

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In the past, the Court strived to reduce its backlog. During my term as CJ that ended on Dec. 7, 2006, 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.

To avoid the charge that the ponente was a laggard, we included a footnote saying that the case was picked out voluntarily from the pool and that it was not in the original docket of the decision writer. We were successful in reducing the backlog to about 200.

After my term, the project was discontinued and a new “plan” was hatched via a formal resolution, dated July 31, 2007, titled “INTERNAL POLICY TO ACHIEVE AND MAINTAIN A ZERO BACKLOG.”

The new 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… 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.”

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 the same for their respective bosses.

The plan 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.”

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

Obviously, the Court took in more cases than intended. Worse, they were not disposed of 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 which was promulgated “not for release” in 2007 prior to their assumption of office.

Already, super lawyer Estelito P. Mendoza has written the CJ a letter, dated Dec. 5, 2019, reiterating his complaint that a case he is handling (Republic v. Lucio C. Tan, GR 203592) “remains unresolved, clearly now in violation of” the constitutional deadline.

Having been a CJ myself, I sympathize with and support Peralta’s program. Though his personal docket is up to date, he will need a doable and transparent plan to rally the full cooperation of his colleagues to attain his first goal of eliminating the backlog of the Supreme Court.

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