SC to shun 'premature, misfiled' cases - Bersamin

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 29 2019 02:07 PM | Updated as of Mar 29 2019 02:08 PM

ILOILO CITY – Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin on Thursday said the Supreme Court will no longer accept cases directly filed with the high court if there are factual issues involved, avoiding what the top magistrate described as “shortcuts” to the judicial process.

“Many people are of that belief that it is best to shortcut the process by going directly to the Supreme Court…And so we thought that it is high time that the court should assert itself and should no longer welcome any of these premature or misfiled cases,” he told around 3,000 lawyers gathered here for the national convention of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

Citing a case recently decided by the high court, Bersamin said: “The hierarchy of courts will be strictly enforced when you bring a case to the Supreme Court, despite all the constitutional issues that you pretend to raise, if there are factual issues that still have to be settled, you cannot anymore go directly to the Supreme Court.”

Bersamin was referring to the high court’s March 12, 2019 ruling in the case of GIOS-SAMAR Inc. vs. the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), which strictly enforced a doctrine known as the “hierarchy of courts.”

The doctrine requires that a case should be filed first with lower courts before resorting to higher courts.

Under the Philippine court system, lower level courts like the municipal, metropolitan and regional trial courts decide on questions of fact and law at the first instance. 

Appellate courts like the Court of Appeals can review the findings of fact and law while the Supreme Court is treated as the “court of last resort,” which can only decide on questions of law. 

In the decision penned by Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, the high court dismissed the petition filed by GIOS-SAMAR Inc., a non-government organization composed of farmers and fisherfolk from Samar, which questioned the then DOTC’s and CAAP’s bundling of several airports in the bidding of rehabilitation projects.

In 2015, the DOTC and CAAP bundled together the Bacolod-Silay and Iloilo airports costing P50.66 billion and the Davao, Laguindingan and Bohol airports amounting to P59.66 billion. A third project for the Puerto Princesa airport was also bidded out.

GIOS-SAMAR objected to the bundling, arguing that companies with shaky financial background may join a consortium to undertake a project which are beyond their financial capability, and the award of bundled projects to a consortium may result in monopoly and undue restraint of trade and put mid-sized Filipino companies at a disadvantage. It also claimed there might be potential anti-dummy law violations.

But the Supreme Court, after finding that the arguments raised by petitioner were “inextricably intertwined” with underlying questions of fact, dismissed the petition, saying that the high court is not a “trier of fact." 

“Accordingly, for the guidance of the bench and the bar, we reiterate that 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 importance or paramount importance of the case,” the SC decision read.

“Such questions must first be brought before the proper trial courts or the CA, both of which are specially equipped to try and resolve factual questions,” it added.

All 14 justices voted unanimously in support of the decision, with Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen registering their opinion that the Supreme Court should not abandon the “doctrine of transcendental importance.”

The Supreme Court had previously allowed direct recourse to the high court when there are constitutional issues of transcendental importance which deserve its attention in view of their “seriousness, novelty and weight as precedents.”

But in GIOS-SAMAR, the Court pointed out that in these previous instances, there were “no disputed facts and the issues involved were ones of law.”

The Court justified strict adherence to the doctrine to filter the “staggering” number of cases which reaches the high court.

It said that as of Dec. 31, 2016, 6,526 new cases were filed before the Court, contributing to a total of 14,491 cases pending in the docket. 

Of the new cases, 300 were raffled to the en banc while 6,226 were raffled the Court’s 3 divisions. The Court en banc managed to dispose of 105 cases while divisions ruled on 923.

“Considering the immense backlog facing the court, this begs the question: What is really the Court’s work? What sort of cases deserves the Court’s attention and time?,” said the decision.

Bersamin, however, clarified that there would still be exceptions to this rule such as petitions for the writ of amparo, writ of habeas data, and similar extraordinary writs.