How the SC decides cases (2)

THIS IS a continuation of last week’s primer on how the Supreme Court decides litigations.

Sessions and titles. During their internal sessions – those held among themselves only – the justices wear either business suits or barong Filipino. But they don their all-black working robes during oral arguments, whether en banc or in division, and their maroon-stripped ceremonial robes during official functions other than oral arguments.

The Court sits en banc on Tuesdays, and in division on Mondays and Wednesdays. The justices take turns in leading the opening prayer. Sometimes, the justice who is scheduled to report on the first item in the agenda leads the prayer.

The members of the Court are formally addressed as “Your Honor” or “Mr. Justice” or “Madam Justice” or simply “Justice.” The head is addressed as “Mr. Chief Justice,” or fondly – by the members of the Court – as “Chief” or “CJ.” Various formal resolutions of the Court restrict the use of these titles to current and retired members of the Supreme Court (and the three appellate courts).

Trial magistrates are called “judges.” Only officials belonging to the judiciary are allowed to use the titles “Chief justice,” “Justice” or “Judge.” Hence, officials to whom the law grants judicial ranks and privileges, like the solicitor general and the government corporate counsel, are prohibited from using these appellations.

Three rounds. There are “three rounds” in the Supreme Court. The first usually begins upon the filing of a petition, or a motion for extension of time to file a petition, or a notice of appeal.

The acceptance of any appeal or petition is addressed to the sound discretion of the Supreme Court. With few exceptions, like appeals of decisions imposing life imprisonment, it may summarily dismiss motu proprio worthless petitions. In this way, the Court saves its time and resources for more important cases that are ripe for resolution.
Although the Court has the discretion to deny or dismiss a petition during the “First Round,” in general it does so for (1) procedural errors, like violations of the Rules of Court or Supreme Court circulars; or (2) failure of the petition to demonstrate prima facie a “reversible” error or a grave abuse of discretion, or (3) prematurity. Orders dismissing petitions based on these grounds are known as minute resolutions and are normally couched in standard forms.

Second round. Once a petition passes these procedural and substantive tests, the first round ends. The “Second Round” begins when the Court requires the respondents to file their “comment.” After receipt of the comment, the Court may direct the petitioner(s) to file their “reply.” No pleading may be filed at this stage, unless ordered by the Court.

After this exchange, the Court may grant due course to the petition and ask the parties to file their memoranda. Alternatively, it may issue a resolution denying or dismissing the petition, usually unsigned by the justices but certified by the clerk of court (or deputy clerk of court).

Only the justices are present during the sessions. The minutes of the session are prepared by the division chairman or, in case of en banc sessions, by the chief justice. Some lawyers and litigants wrongly believe that the clerk of court or his/her deputies compose the unsigned resolutions. No, the justices themselves prepare them. They are included in the minutes of the sessions, from which they are excerpted and then sent to the parties.

Third round. If the Court believes that, on the basis of the comment and/or reply, the questions raised in the petition deserve a full-length decision, the second round ends and the Court generally issues a resolution, giving due course to the petition and requiring the parties to submit their respective memoranda.

On rare occasions, oral arguments are held after the Court grants due course to the petition. At the end of the oral arguments, the Court usually requires the parties to submit written memoranda to summarize their arguments or to answer questions raised during the hearing.

After the memoranda are received, the Court deliberates on the report of the justice to whom the petition had been earlier raffled. Once signed by the justices, the decision is promulgated by the clerk of court and then made public. Copies are sent to the parties. The parties have 15 days – with no extension allowed – from receipt of the decision or resolution, within which to file a motion for reconsideration. If no such motion is filed within the prescribed period, the decision becomes final.

Undeserved treatment. Had the Court followed normal procedure, it could have “short shrifted” the plainly unmeritorious petitions against House Resolution 1109 by dismissing them at sight through its usual one-sentence minute resolution saying that they were premature, that the petitioners lacked legal standing and that, in any event, they failed to show – at that point – any grave abuse of discretion.

In other words, it could have simply declined to review them. By showing off a full-length ponencia that is normally issued only after the “three rounds” described above are undertaken, the Court accorded what it said “cerebral deficits” did not deserve: its valuable time and attention. Worse, it may have cornered itself to a precedent that can be invoked by similarly worthless petitions in the future.

In damning the petitions garrulously, the Court relished the gallery more than its own time-tested profundity.

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