By J. Art D. Brion (ret.)
(3rd of a Series)
Newspaper and TV accounts of Supreme Court decisions are mostly extended one-liners or very short summaries that only convey the main thrust of Court rulings. Extended discussions of these decisions, if at all, are few and far between.
Thus, many times, the important aspects of decisions remain hidden. These aspects include the underlying considerations that led to the majority’s conclusions, the opposing views the minority held, and the trends that the inter-play of views and opinions within the Court set.
An abbreviated news account may not also mention the identity of the magistrate who penned the ruling and those who contributed their separate views and opinions, the members of the Court who participated in the collegial decision, and the Court officials and staff members whose invaluable administrative support the decision making process cannot do without. At times, the identity of the writer of the decision (or the ponente), by itself, explains a lot and gives character to the ruling made.
In appreciating Court rulings, the reading public should be aware that these rulings are not made overnight. Behind every promulgated decision is a long process starting from the initial filing of the petition, complaint, or appeal with the Supreme Court’s Receiving Section. Filing means the physical delivery of the hard copy of the initiatory pleading and the simultaneous submission of a compact disk containing a soft copy of the pleading.
Following the physical filing of the petition is the payment of docket fees. These fees are not cheap. Aside from the straight fees to be paid based on the nature of the initiatory pleading, an extra amount has to be paid when a temporary restraining order is prayed for. Sad to state, these fees become wasted expenditures when petitions are dismissed outright for the lawyers’ failure to observe procedural requirements, or for technical lapses, or because of the lack of merit patent from the face of the petition. As many as 30% of petitions with the Court end up this way.
Once the docket fees are paid, the Court assigns the case a docket or General Register (G.R.) number. The G.R. number serves to identify the case for record purposes until its termination. When no docket fee has been paid (e.g., for pauper-litigants), the case is assigned an undocketed or UDK number. The case is thereafter indexed, entered in the Court’s logbook and in its Case Administration System (CAS), and transmitted to the Docket Division.
A Court Attorney in the Docket Division preliminarily classifies whether the case will go to the en banc or to the division based on Section 5, Article VIII, of the 1987 Constitution and Section 3 of Rule II of the Supreme Court Internal Rules. Three of the five justices in a division, however, may still vote to elevate a division case to the Court en banc; the latter allows the transfer if the case in fact properly belongs to the en banc under the established standards, or if the Court en banc finds the case sufficiently important to warrant its consideration.
A next significant step in the life of case is the preparation of the Rollo. A Rollo is a book-like file containing all the pleadings, Court actions and other material records of a case. Pages are consecutively numbered, stitched together and covered by a color-coded cartolina that indicates the case title, the G.R. or UDK number, the filing date, and the nature of the case. Rollos are kept in the Rollo Room that the Office of the Chief Justice controls.
After the rollos are prepared, the Docket Division prepares and transmits a list of all en banc and division cases to the Raffle Committees for raffling and assignment.
The Court has two raffle committees: one for the en banc cases and another for the division cases. Each committee is composed of a senior justice as chairperson and two other Justices as members. The justices composing these committees are designated by the Chief justice from among the justices on the basis of seniority.
The en banc committee holds its raffles on Mondays while the division committee’s regular raffles take place on Mondays and Wednesdays. For extremely urgent cases (such as when the pleading prays for the issuance of a Writ of Habeas Corpus or Amparo or a TRO, or if the initiatory pleading indicates on its face the need for urgent action), the Clerk of Court immediately calls the attention of the Chief Justice or, in his/her absence, the most senior member of the Court present. The Chief Justice or the senior member of the Court directs the holding of a special raffle.
A special raffle is conducted immediately. The clerk of court thereafter also immediately sets the case in motion, among others, by providing copies of the special raffle result to the justice to whom the case has been raffled (the member-in-charge) and to the Office of the Chief Justice. The member-in-charge, who oversees the progress and disposition of the case, is also immediately furnished a copy of the pleading for his/her consideration and immediate action, as called for.
After the raffle, the rollos are forwarded to the clerk of court of the division or the en banc, as the case may be, for the preparation of the agenda. The Chief Justice plays a major role in this preparation as he/she controls the flow of the official business of the Court.
The agenda calendars the cases that the Court shall discuss during its sessions, and outlines the relevant matters that the Court is asked to act upon. It lists the pending pleadings, communications, documents, and other papers in the rollo submitted to the Court or its division for action. The agenda, for example, may list (i) the newly filed petitions, complaints, or the appeals; (ii) motions for extension of time; (iii) prayers for the issuance of an injunction or a temporary restraining order; or (iv) other pleadings or communications requiring the Court’s attention.
Together with the listed matters for consideration is the member-in-charge’s specific recommended action or actions. At the en banc or division meetings, all the justices participate in considering and acting on these recommendations, unless one or some of them formally inhibit from participation and the inhibition is accepted by the Court.
The justices may fully agree with the recommendation made, or may seek its modification, or may propose recommendations of their own. In every case, the en banc or the division acts as a body, hence the use of the term “collegial” in describing the Court. This approach, too, renders the adjudicatory process deliberative in character from its earliest stage all the way to the final ruling resolving the case on the merits.
The next installment of this series shall discuss the roles of justices and the Court deliberations.
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