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Powers and Functions of the Philippine Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, being the highest judicial authority in the Philippines, has unique powers as a result of the country's bitter experiences in the past.

Renato Bautista, Jr.

Supreme Court in Session|Supreme Court

The judicial branch of government is made up of the Supreme Court and several other lower courts established by law. Only the Supreme Court, however, is a constitutional court - its creation being provided by the Constitution under Section1, Article VIII. The 1987 Constitution, which was adopted after the overthrow of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos's totalitarian regime, conferred unique powers on the

Supreme Court to afford greater protection to the individual's fundamental rights and guard against governmental abuses.

Composition of the Supreme Court

The Philippine Supreme Court is composed of one chief justice and 14 associate justices. The justices are allowed to hear cases en banc, which means all of them sitting together, or in divisions of three, five or seven members. Under Sec. 4(2), Art. VIII of the Constitution, however, the following cases are required to be decided en banc:

Those involving the constitutionality of a treaty, international or executive agreement, or law Those involving the constitutionality, application, or operation of presidential decrees, proclamations, orders, instructions, ordinances and other regulations Those required by the Rules of Court to be decided en banc The modification or reversal of doctrines laid down by the Court sitting in division or en banc

Definition of Judicial Power

The chief function of the judicial branch is the exercise of judicial power. Unlike the US Constitution, Sec. 1, par. 2, Art. VIII of the Philippine Constitution defines judicial power as "the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government." According to retired Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz in his bookPhilippine Political Law, this provision of the 1987 Constitution expanded the definition of judicial power by including not only the

traditional exercise of judicial power - which is the settlement of conflicting legal rights - but also giving the judiciary the power to review the exercise of discretion by the political branches of government. Justice Cruz contends that the Supreme Court can now rule even on the wisdom of the president and congress's decision (political questions) if they are guilty of grave abuse of discretion. Former Constitutional Commission (body that drafted the 1987 Philippine Constitution) delegate Fr. Joaquin Bernas, however, was careful to point out in his book The 1987 Philippine Constitution: A Reviewer-Primer that the expanded definition of judicial power (also known as expanded certiorari jurisdiction) did not do away with the political question doctrine (the rule that courts cannot rule on the exercise of discretion by the political branches under the principle of separation of powers), but to prevent the judiciary from shying away in its duty to review acts of the executive and legislature at the mere invocation of the political question doctrine even when there is clear abuse in the exercise of power by these branches. At any rate, in Francisco, Jr. v. House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, in denying the plea for the Court not to review the impeachment proceeding brought before the House of Representatives against former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., has ruled that it is not only a power but a duty on the courts to rule on actions of the other branches of government whenever there has been a grave abuse of discretion in the exercise of their powers.

Rule-Making Power of the Supreme Court

One of the most innovative features of the 1987 Philippine Constitution is the grant of rule-making power to the Supreme Court. Not to be confused with the exercise of legislative powers by

Congress, Section 5(5), Art. VIII of the Constitution grants the Supreme Court the power to promulgate rules concerning (1) the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights (2) pleading (3) practice (4) admission to the practice of law (5) the integrated bar (6) procedure in all courts, and legal assistance to the under-privileged.

Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court

Jurisdiction refers to the authority and extent by which courts decide cases. Sec. 5, Art. VIII of the Constitution enumerates two kinds of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, namely: original and appellate. Original jurisdiction refers to the power of the Supreme Court to hear and decide cases brought directly to it, while appellate to cases which have already been decided by lower courts. Under Section 5, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction over "cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus." The same section enumerates the following as falling within the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court: 1. All cases in which the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation is in question. 2. All cases involving the legality of any tax, impost, assessment, or toll, or any penalty imposed in relation thereto. 3. All cases in which the jurisdiction of any lower court is in issue. 4. All criminal cases in which the penalty imposed is reclusion perpetua or higher. 5. All cases in which only an error or question of law is involved.

Section 5 also provides that Congress may not reduce or deprive the foregoing jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as a guarantee to its independence.

Auxiliary Administrative Powers

Aside from its judicial functions, the Supreme Court exercises administrative supervision over all lower courts established by law, as well as judges thereof, including the power to discipline them. It also has the power to appoint employees of the judiciary.