Hear ye, hear ye: the Bersamin Court approach in Supreme Court litigation

Published March 27, 2019, 12:19 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



J. Art D. Brion (RET.)
J. Art D. Brion (RET.)

With hardly any exception, foremost in the mind of every chief justice and his
Court is the speedy disposition of pending cases. No court or magistrate ever wants to be accused of delay, for justice delayed is justice denied.

Yet year after year, the court’s case load keeps increasing, not necessarily because the magistrates lack diligence or competence in the disposition of cases. Various causes contribute to the accumulation. The simple truth, among others, is that  our litigating population is expanding, at the same time that legal literacy is fast gaining ground, breeding litigiousness and law suits.

To illustrate this point, in 2016, the court’s case load was 14,491.  Year 2017 saw this load lessened to 14,441 case or a drop of 50 cases from 2016. The decrease, while commendable, is nevertheless not significant, given the court’s clearance rate of only 87%, i.e., the proportion of cases resolved to the number of new cases filed.  In concrete numbers, the court disposed of only 5,685 cases or 87% of the 6,564 new cases filed in 2017.  At this rate, recurring year after year, the total case load over the years is bound to rise.

This reality apparently brought home to the Bersamin Court that the resolution of cases is not the only key to the effective management of the court’s docket. While the Justices indeed must increase their disposal rates without sacrificing the quality of their decisions, better overall numbers can be achieved if the inflow of cases can also be seriously considered and limited to the extent allowed by law.

This is the filtration approach that the court, through J. Francis Jardeleza, discussed and applied in Gios-Samar, Inc. v. Gerardo Malinao, G.R. No. 217158, March 12, 2019.

The petitioner in this case sought the direct intervention of the court to question the constitutionality of the bundling of several airport improvement projects that were to be publicly bidded. The petition’s justification for direct access to the court was the alleged transcendental importance of the case and the issues raised.

Citing the Constitution, the petitioner claimed violations of the anti-dummy prohibitions and the denial of the opportunity to invest in public utilities; lack of legal basis for the bundling; violations of the constitutional provisions on monopolies and restraint of trade – all of which would allegedly render the requirement of public bidding in government projects a mockery.

The court duly acknowledged that the petition did indeed raise constitutional questions, but at the same time recognized that these questions were “inextricably intertwined with underlying questions of fact” whose determination would require reception of evidence.

Since it is not a trier of fact, the court concluded that it had no option but to dismiss, as it did dismiss, the petition.

Drawing lessons from the case, the court likewise sent the litigating public and the members of the Bar a very clear message: respect the rule on hierarchy of courts as it would no longer allow the commonly claimed “transcendental importance” of the issues raised to serve as basis to secure the court’s direct intervention.

Interestingly, the court did not invent a new rule or issue a new policy in this message. Hierarchy of courts has been a principle that the court established and has been citing early on. Transcendental importance, on the other hand, is a justification originally used to justify the “standing” of parties before the court; in the course of its application, it has metamorphosed into a justification for the Court’s direct intervention.

In Gios-Samar, the court found that while the petitioner claimed constitutional violations, he failed to sufficiently state a cause of action by failing to plead ultimate facts to support his conclusion that bundling is a constitutionally flawed arrangement.

In layman’s terms, a petitioner cannot simply state conclusions of law in his pleadings, i.e., he cannot simply claim that constitutional violations had transpired; he must allege and prove facts as supporting basis to conclude that constitutional violations did indeed take place. He cannot likewise allege his supporting facts at the level of the Supreme Court because the Court is not a trier of facts. To use the court’s own words:

“We are not equipped, either by structure or rule, to receive and evaluate evidence in the first instance; these are the primary functions of the lower courts or regulatory agencies. This is the raison d’être behind the doctrine of hierarchy of courts. It operates as a constitutional filtering mechanism designed to enable this court to focus on the more fundamental tasks assigned to it by the Constitution. It is a bright-line rule which cannot be brushed aside by an invocation of the transcendental importance or constitutional dimension of the issue or cause raised.”

For the benefit of the lawyers who represent the litigating public as well as the law students who will sooner or later face the Bar examinations, the court took pains in Gios-Samar to discuss the constitutional and statutory evolution of the court’s original and concurrent jurisdiction, and its interplay with related doctrines, pronouncements, and even the court’s own rules.

Significantly and In very candid words, J. Jardeleza also impliedly made a mea culpa for the court with the statement that ”no overhaul would be necessary if this court commits to be more judicious with the exercise of its original jurisdiction by strictly implementing the doctrine of hierarchy of courts.”

For the guidance of the bench and the bar, he thereafter reiterated: When a question before the Court involves determination of a factual issue indispensable to the resolution of the legal issue, the Court will refuse to resolve the question regardless of the allegation or invocation of compelling reasons, such as the transcendental or paramount importance of the case. Such question must first be brought before the proper trial courts or the CA, both of which are specially equipped to try and resolve factual questions.

Hear ye, hear ye, therefore to avoid future mistakes or misunderstandings. The Bersamin Court has spoken in a clear and loud voice of the approach it shall henceforth strictly follow in litigations before the court.  Indeed both the public and the court itself must toe this line to achieve the prompt disposition of cases that the public seeks.

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