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SC increases even more in 2021, with a clearance rate of 110 percent.

According to figures released on Tuesday by the Office of the Clerk of Court En Banc and the Divisions Clerk, the Supreme Court (SC) disposed of a record number of cases this year — more than the number of new cases filed — for a clearing rate of 110 percent.

The SC received 3,603 new cases and one reinstatement, but it was able to settle 3,975 of them, including those in the backlog.

Out of 1,116 new cases, the SC resolved 1,176 administrative and bar issues cases, resulting in a 105 percent clearing rate.

Last year, SC had a clearance rate of 95%.

“The Supreme Court’s 110 percent clearance rate for 2021 comes as a ray of hope in a year marred by work suspensions, limited movement, and restrictions as a result of the pandemic, and speaks volumes of the Court’s strength in staying true to its commitment of service to the nation and its people,” Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said in a statement.

Gesmundo stated when he took office in April that he would focus on two things: decluttering the Court’s dockets and making the Judiciary more technology-driven.

“I have resolved to decide all petitions, cases, or matters presented before the Supreme Court after April 5, 2021, strictly within the said 24-month timeframe from the date of filing pursuant to Section 15(1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution,” he remarked at the time.

Anti-terror legislation

The Supreme Court also resolved a number of contentious matters this year, including over three dozen lawsuits challenging Republic Act (RA) 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Aside from portions of Sections 4 and 25, the top court ruled that all of RA 11479’s other provisions are constitutional.

Section 4 deals with the exclusion of mass actions and comparable civil and political rights exercises from the concept of terrorism, whereas Section 25 deals with petitions by foreign agencies to designate individuals or organizations as terrorists.

PRRD policy on territory vs. petition

In June, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the president’s authority to choose the appropriate course of action in dealing with territorial disputes with other countries, especially in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The high court dismissed the petition of lawyer Romeo Esmero, who accused President Rodrigo Duterte of “inaction/failure” to discharge his obligations in relation to the WPS conflict with China, in a nine-page judgement by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda.

According to Esmero, submitting diplomatic protests against China is “not a defense,” and that the right course of action for the Philippines is to request UN patrol boats, sue China in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and seek reimbursement and damages for the seizure of Kalayaan Island.

The Supreme Court stated that no legislation warrants the petitioner’s request for the President to sue China at the UN or the ICJ, nor is there any law that specifies how the President should respond to a threat from another country.

The Supreme Court noted that a decision in the case against China before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was issued on July 12, 2016, but “if President Duterte now sees fit to take a different approach with China despite the said ruling, this does not mean that he has unlawfully abdicated his duty to protect and defend our national territory,” according to the SC.

“As the head of state, he is free to exercise his judgment in this subject, accountable exclusively to his country in his political character and to his personal conscience,” the court added.

The criteria for legal education have been clarified.

In November, the Supreme Court confirmed the Legal Education Board’s (LEB) jurisdiction but declared the requirement that students pass the Philippine Law School Admission Test (PhiLSAT) before being allowed to pursue a law degree to be unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court declared LEB Memorandum Order (LEBMO) No. 7-2016 on the PhiLSAT requirement unconstitutionally discriminatory, restricted, and qualifying in its whole.

The Court emphasized that LEB’s mandate that prospective students take the PhiLSAT is not inherently unconstitutional as long as the results are purely advisory, and law schools maintain the authority to accept or reject the applicant based on their policies and criteria.

However, as an eligibility condition, the PhiLSAT is not a legal means of obtaining the State’s legitimate subject.

The verdict upheld a 2019 decision that was deemed unconstitutional paragraph 9 of the LEBMO, which requires all college graduates or graduating students to pass the PhiLSAT in order to be admitted to any law school in the Philippines.

A respite is given to indigenous peoples.

The Supreme Court issued its decision on a petition challenging the conviction of members of a Mindoro-based indigenous peoples group for violating Section 77 of Presidential Decree No. 705 of the Philippines’ Revised Forestry Code.

On January 5, the Supreme Court acquitted the group, stating that the Iraya-Mangyan tribe is an officially recognized indigenous cultural community that can live anywhere in Oriental Mindoro.

The complaint arose from an incident in March 2005 in Barangay Calangatan, Municipality of San Teodoro, Oriental Mindoro, in which the IP group cut down a dita tree with an aggregate volume of 500 board feet without authority.

They defended themselves by claiming that the dita tree was established within their ancient property and that they hacked it down to build a community toilet as their chiefs had commanded.

What can you expect?

Gesmundo stated that the country’s courts must be “consistently efficient and accountable havens for the disadvantaged, the aggrieved, and the injured” in 2022 and beyond.

Reforms are also required in order to keep up with the times.

He stated, “The Filipino people deserve a judiciary that is competent, honesty, probity, and independent.”

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