By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The heirarchy of courts
posted 21-Apr-2016  ·  
10,955 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

The 1987 Constitution provides that “The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.” As the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court (SC) has the last word on what the law is, and its decisions applying or interpreting the Constitution and laws form part of this country’s legal system. What the SC says then is definitive and authoritative, binding on those occupying the lower ranks in the judicial heirarchy. All courts of the land must speak with one voice to assure stability in legal relations and avoid confusion. “They have to defer and to submit.” 

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The regular courts below the SC established by law are: the Court of Appeals, the Regional Trial Courts, the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts in Cities, Municipal Trial Courts, and the Municipal Circuit Trial Courts. The Court of Appeals reviews the decisions and orders of the Regional Trial Courts. Standing between the trial courts and the Supreme Court, the appellate court was precisely created to take over much of the work that used to be previously done by the SC.  Accordingly, the CA has been of great help to the Highest Court in synthesizing facts, issues, and rulings in an orderly and intelligible manner and in identifying errors which ordinarily might have escaped detection.  Statistics will show that the great majority of petitions to review the decisions of the appellate court have been denied due course for lack of merit in minute resolutions.  The appellate court has, therefore, freed the SC to better discharge its constitutional duties and perform its most important work which, in the words of Dean Vicente G. Sinco, "is less concerned with the decision of cases that begin and end with the transient rights and obligations of particular individuals but is more intertwined with the direction of national policies, momentous economic and social problems, the delimitation of governmental authority and its impact upon fundamental rights." 

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Regional Trial Courts (RTC), also known as Second Level Courts, are the highest regular trial courts in the Philippines. It was formerly called as the Court of First Instance since the Spanish era. It continued throughout its colonization under Spanish and Americans. After World War II, Republic Act No. 296 or the Judiciary Act of 1948 was enacted to reinforce the jurisdictional powers of the Court of First Instance. The Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, which reorganized the lower and intermediate courts in the country, included the change of Court of First Instance to Regional Trial Court.

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Lowest in the heirarchy of courts are the First Level Courts which every city or municipality in the Philippines has. Municipal Trial Courts in the towns and cities in the Metropolitan Manila area are called Metropolitan Trial Courts. When the court covers two or more municipalities it is called a Municipal Circuit Trial Court.

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The first contact of people seeking judicial redress for their grievances begins with the first and second level trial courts. The lower courts nationwide are the ones that directly bring the concept of justice to the majority of the people. It is the face of the Judiciary which people see every day. That is why, in a 2000 case involving an RTC Judge, Justice Ynares-Santiago had occasion to say that “… besides the basic equipment of possessing the requisite learning in the law, a magistrate must exhibit that hallmark judicial temperament of utmost sobriety and self-restraint which are indispensable qualities of every judge. A judge anywhere should be the last person to be perceived as a petty tyrant holding imperious sway over his domain. xxx It has time and again been stressed that the role of a judge in relation to those who appear before his court must be one of temperance, patience and courtesy. A judge who is commanded at all times to be mindful of his high calling and his mission as a dispassionate and impartial arbiter of justice is expected to be ‘a cerebral man who deliberately holds in check the tug and pull of purely personal preferences which he shares with his fellow mortals.’”

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In another case, the SC held that: “. . . it will be prudent for such courts, if only out of a becoming modesty, to defer to the higher judgment of this Court in the consideration of its validity, which is better determined after a thorough deliberation by a collegiate body and with the concurrence of the majority of those who participated in its discussion.”  In a case where the lower Court, disagreeing with the principles laid down by the Supreme Court, preferred to impose his own criterion, the Highest Court said: “Now, if a Judge of a lower Court feels, in the fulfillment of his mission of deciding cases, that the application of a doctrine promulgated by this Superiority is against his way of reasoning, or against his conscience, he may state his opinion on the matter, but rather than disposing of the case in accordance with his personal views he must first think that it is his duty to apply the law as interpreted by the Highest Court of the Land, and that any deviation from a principle laid down by the latter would unavoidably cause, as a sequel, unnecessary inconveniences, delays and expenses to the litigants. And if despite of what is here said a Judge, by delicate or acute qualms of conscience, still believes that he cannot follow Our rulings, then he has no other alternative than to place himself in the position that he could properly avoid the duty of having to render judgment on the case concerned (Art. 9, C. C), and he has only one legal way to do that.”

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The SC did not say what that one “legal way” is. The concept of “becoming modesty” is not new. As early as 1922, and reiterated in subsequent cases, the Supreme Court pointed out that “if each and every Court of First Instance could enjoy the privilege of overruling decisions of the Supreme Court, there would be no end to litigation, and judicial chaos would result.” A becoming modesty of inferior courts demands conscious realization of the position that they occupy in the interrelation and operation of the integrated judicial system of the nation.

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