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Welcome to the Supreme Court of the Philippines
Welcome to the Supreme Court of the Philippines
READ: Infographics on Bar Bulletin No. 2-2023 Re: Application Requirements for the 2023 Bar Examinations sc.judiciary.gov.ph/files/bar-2023 #WeCanDoIt #HernanDoIt #Bar2023

The 2023 Bar Exams: Positive Changes in Bar Admission Through Digitalized and Regionalized Examinations

December 21, 2023

Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, Associate Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando (Chairperson of the 2023 Bar Examinations), and the other Associate Justices of the Supreme Court pose for posterity with the 2023 Bar Examiners shortly after Justice Hernando announced the Bar results at the courtyard of the Supreme Court of the Philippines in Ermita, Manila on December 5, 2023. (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)

Friday, December 22, 2023, will mark a special day in the legal profession. For the first time in the history of the Bar Examinations, the new lawyers will take their oath as members of the Bar and sign the Roll of Attorneys in the same Ceremonies. The inductees will be the first batch of lawyers who have complied with the Clinical Legal Education Program requirement (CLEP) for admission to the Bar, which was pushed by then Associate Justice, now Chief Justice, Alexander G. Gesmundo during the 2019 Legal Education Summit as one of the major Bar reforms of the Court.

This will also be the second time this year that the Supreme Court will administer the mass oath taking and signing of the Roll of Attorneys, this time to the examinees who hurdled the 2023 Bar Examinations. Indeed, 2023 is proving to be a historic year for the Philippine Bar as it is also the year when the Supreme Court released the results of both the 2022 and the 2023 Bar Exams.

All of these reforms are part of the Supreme Court’s Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027 (SPJI), led by Chief Justice Gesmundo.

A more efficient conduct of exams

The 2023 Bar Examinations, led by Supreme Court Associate Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando with Bar Team Hernando, has become even more meaningful as it has brought positive changes in the Bar admission through the digitalized and regionalized examinations that promoted efficiency, innovation, and inclusivity.

Along with the digitalization and regionalization of this year’s exams, the designation of four examiners for each of the six core subjects ensured the prompt checking of the Bar applicants’ answers as the examiners were afforded the opportunity to review the examinations anywhere at any given time.

Bar examiners were spared the difficulty of reading poorly handwritten answers. Additionally, there was no more need to physically transport the examination booklets, which were used in the then traditional mode of Bar Examinations.

Dean Ma. Ngina Teresa V. Chan-Gonzaga, Ateneo de Manila School of Law Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and one of the four examiners this year in Civil Law, can attest to this, having been an examiner in both the traditional mode and the digitalized Bar Exams.

In 2018, Dean Chan-Gonzaga was the Bar Examiner in Civil Law. Back then, there was only one examiner per subject and the exams were answered by traditional handwritten format in thick booklets, which were then covertly picked up and delivered in batches by a representative of the Office of the Bar Confidant. While her 2018 experience as an examiner proved to be interesting, Dean Chan-Gonzaga shared that it also proved to be taxing and draining at the same time. She admitted that she found it very challenging to check the more or less 8,200 booklets even with approximately five months lead time.

Fast-forward to the present year. Four examiners were assigned per subject area in the digitalized exams, which worked in favor of the Bar examiners.

“From the viewpoint of an examiner, the three major advantages of the digitalized Bar Exams over the traditional ones are: 1) being able to check all answers to a specific question one after the other, which I personally feel reduces or minimizes the margin of grade variance for similar answers; 2) being able to maximize or optimize the use of time since one can check via the computer platform in various places even abroad without fear of discovery which would not have been possible with exam booklets; and 3) not having to strain oneself with deciphering the handwriting of examinees,” said Dean Chan-Gonzaga.

It took her five months to finish checking all test booklets in the 2018 Bar Exams, but this year, she finished checking ahead of the Bar Chair’s deadline. “The 2023 experience has been much faster than I expected. I exceeded my daily quotas. I finished with 10 days to spare before the deadline,” she shared.

First time Bar Examiner and 2012 Bar topnotcher Prof. Ignatius Michael D. Ingles, of the Ateneo Law School, underscored that the main advantage of the digitalized and regionalized Bar Exams is accessibility.

“With the digitalized and regionalized bar exams, it’s easier for those outside Manila to take the exam. It’s one less thing for them to worry about, as they don’t have to spend precious mental energy figuring out where to stay, how to get to the exam venues, and other logistical issues,” said Prof. Ingles, who was one of this year’s examiners in Commercial and Taxation Laws.

He added that another advantage is that it “removes the factor of handwriting” unlike in the traditional mode of exams. He quipped: “Handwriting has always been a difficult part of checking, and with things digitalized, those with not-so-neat handwriting are given a chance to show off their legal knowledge in a more legible manner.”

Prof. Ingles said that he found the experience of checking of the exams very efficient. “Since everything was online, I was able to check the Bar Exams anytime and anywhere. No need to wait for exam booklets to be delivered for checking. I was even able to check papers while I was traveling in Seoul or in between office meetings. So it gives the examiners more flexibility to check, and it did wonders for time management,” he said of his experience. Prof. Ingles added that he finished checking all the exams in less than two months as he started on September 26 and finished on November 23.

The six core subjects were Political and Public International Law (15%); Commercial and Taxation Laws (20%); Civil Law (20%); Labor Law and Social Legislation (10%); Criminal Law (10%); and Remedial Law, Legal and Judicial Ethics with Practical Exercises (25%).

A level playing field for examinees

Septuagenarian Damaso C. Pasilbas (left) takes the Bar Exams using the traditional handwritten modality at the local testing center (LTC) in University of San Jose – Recoletos in Cebu City, while Martsu Ressan M. Ladia (right) takes the exams at the LTC at Ateneo de Davao University through the use of the Digital Booklet Method for the 2023 Bar, where a Court-issued laptop with installed Non-Visual Desktop Access served as his examination booklet. Both Pasilbas and Ladia are successful Bar examinees. (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)

A total of 3,812 out of the 10,387 who completed all the tests during the three days of the exams passed the 2023 Bar Examinations. This translates to a passing rate of 36.77%. The exams were held at 14 local testing centers nationwide on September 17, 20, and 24, and the results were released last December 5.

The early release of the Bar results, barely three months after the conduct of the exams and within the same year, has provided the successful Bar examinees the opportunity to become full-fledged lawyers and start their legal practice in the same year they took the examinations. At the same time, it provides those who did not pass an opportunity to start early their preparations for the next Bar Exams, should they decide to give it another try.

As 2023 Bar Chairperson, Justice Hernando stood firm in his commitment to promote accessibility and inclusivity within the framework of a digitalized and regionalized Bar Examinations. Upon his recommendation, the Court, through separate issuances, has allowed select examinees with special needs to take this year’s Examinations under exceptional accommodations, either through the traditional handwritten modality, with an encoder’s assistance, or with the use of the novel Digital Booklet Method. This paid off as two of those examinees succeeded in passing the Bar.

Martsu Ressan M. Ladia, who finished law school through the use of software programs such as Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) and OpenBook, is among this year’s Bar passers. NVDA is a screen reader that “reads aloud” scanned text of Ladia’s books and testing booklets, which enabled him to study his books and take his exams through ear reading.

Previously, individuals with visual impairment took their tests with the assistance of a special encoder. But this year, the Court allowed the use of the NVDA application, with Ladia as its beneficiary. Through the initiative of Justice Hernando and Bar Team Hernando, and in coordination with the Office of the Bar Confidant and the Management Information and Systems Office, the NVDA application was carefully studied for use in the Bar examinations. The final product was the proposed Digital Booklet Method, which incorporated the use of the NVDA application and additional security measures, and developed for the use of Mr. Ladia and other similarly situated examinees. The proposed method was later approved by the Court En Banc. Finally, Ladia took the exams at the Ateneo de Davao University through the use of the Digital Booklet Method for the 2023 Bar, where a Court-issued laptop with installed NVDA served as his examination booklet.

Ladia said that he felt relieved, happy, and grateful to God for having passed the Bar in his first try. The first lawyer in the family, he shared that he invested in time for his review. He shared that it took him six years to finish law, which “was a blessing in disguise” because he started preparing for the 2023 Bar while he was still enrolled in law school in 2022 because he only had a few law subjects left then.

Ladia urged those who have any form of impairment but still dream of becoming a lawyer to not be discouraged nor intimidated by the legal profession. He said that one should be fueled by his or her dream to become a lawyer and consider this dream to be a necessity in order to make it.

Ang gusto kong sabihin sa mga visually-impaired individuals or sa mga may ibang form of impairment, huwag nilang katakutan na pasukin ang legal profession kasi natatakot sila na baka ma-discriminate sila or baka ma-hurt sila. Madaling paliwanagan ang lawyers. Secondly, on a moral aspect, they have to make their dream a necessity as well para ipaglaban nila araw-araw. Iyon ang magiging fuel nila to wake up and to move forward because without their dream, they will not survive life because their dream is their necessity, parang tubig at hangin,” Ladia stressed.

Ladia, who plans to practice litigation soon, said that he is thankful to the Supreme Court for accommodating his request to take the Bar Exams using the NVDA software.

Damaso C. Pasilbas, a septuagenarian, had previously failed the Bar Exams twice, but this did not stop him from trying for the third time. Twenty years after his first attempt in 2003, Pasilbas finally hurdled the examinations.

Pasilbas, who took the exams using the traditional handwritten modality at the LTC in University of San Jose – Recoletos in Cebu City, expressed his gratitude to the Supreme Court for heeding his request on highly exceptional and meritorious grounds.

“Do not surrender. Passing the Bar is a matter of sacrifice,” was Pasilbas’s advice to those who were unsuccessful in hurdling the examinations. As for his immediate plans after becoming a full-fledged lawyer, he said: “I want to pay my God through service. I would like to do service to the poor. I plan to offer pro bono services.”

Making an impact

A simple tab on “Preferred Gender Pronouns” in the Bar Applicant Registration Information System and Tech Assistance or BARISTA (https://barista.judiciary.gov.ph/) application makes a positive impact on the minority.  (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)

There are indeed times when big things come in small packages, for who would have thought that a simple tab in the Bar Applicant Registration Information System and Tech Assistance or BARISTA would make a huge, strong, and perhaps, a lasting impact on some examinees.

BARISTA, the first Bar-related online platform fully developed by the Court through the Office of the 2023 Bar Chairperson, the Management and Information Systems Office, and the Office of the Bar Confidant, now features a tab on “Preferred Gender Pronouns” in the Registration for applicants. The tab was specifically requested by Bar Team Hernando during the development of BARISTA, in line with the use of gender-fair language in the Judiciary.

Ja Lanzona, Kaye de Guzman, and Ianne Gamboa have two things in common — all three have successfully passed the 2023 Bar Exams, and are all transgender women.

Lanzona, who worked in the Land Registration Authority from 2019 until her resignation from the same early this year, commended the Supreme Court for “giving opportunity and opening doors” to the members of the LGBTQAI+ community, citing that simple tab in the BARISTA.

“To my LGBT community, the Supreme Court itself is giving us this opportunity and opening doors for us na ina-accept tayo. We are, little by little, being accepted and understood. Doon sa pag-apply ko sa BARISTA account, I saw the preferred pronouns. And with that very simple tab in creating an account, it made a lot of difference and made an impact to Supreme Court and most especially to the LGBT community na we are getting accepted by the Supreme Court. Ina-address na nila na nag-exist tayo and that we are welcome to practice or to enter the legal profession. So let’s continue to break the rainbow ceiling, the rainbow barriers with flying colors. We are seeing every effort that the Supreme Court is making,” said Lanzona.

Lanzona’s advice to those who want to become lawyers: “I would want to tell every aspiring barrister to be ready – emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually – in all aspects. You need to equip yourself with sufficient tools in order to slay the Bar.” She said that she will be an advocate of the LGBTQAI+ community to fight the widespread discrimination against its members. “We want to break that barrier and that stereotype. We can enter any profession that we want to enter especially if our passion is calling for us to that calling,” she stressed.

De Guzman said she plans to engage in private practice but would also like to do volunteer work especially to cases relating to their community.

“To help the LGBT community, iyan ang aking priority. I also would like to be a public defender as I also want to help other people,” said De Guzman.

She has this advice for the LGBTQAI+ community: “I want to encourage them, to show other people, that we are more than our sexual orientation and gender identity. That we are also capable of being competitive just like others, and that it does not matter what’s between our legs (but) what is within our hearts and our passion to serve other people and to inspire others.”

Gamboa, who works as legal assistant at the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), said that said she plans to continue working in the government after she becomes a full-fledged lawyer. She said that she wants to work in the OSG as an associate solicitor, and also in the Judiciary.

“Whatever God or the universe would give to me, I would gladly accept it,” said Gamboa, who is the first trans woman valedictorian of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Like Lanzona and De Guzman, Gamboa’s advocacies include the visibility of trans women like her in the government. She shared that since she was featured in the news for having passed the Bar, people have been asking why there was a need to place an emphasis on the fact that she is a trans woman. “I would like to advocate that I think the visibility and representation of trans women in our general media is not accurate because throughout history, trans women are played by men, by male actors, so the trans women are being perceived as men dressing up as women, men with wigs and beautiful make up. The reason why I am actively participating in news to be posted on general media is because I want visibility of trans women. As trans women, we can also be lawyers, we can be doctors, we can be professionals,” she explained.

Her advice to the younger generation of trans women or to other people who belong in the minority: “Keep on dreaming the impossible dream. It was really my goal and dream to become the first openly transgender woman Bar topnotcher. I did not achieve that dream, but at least I passed the 2023 Bar.”

“So just like me, I want the younger generation of trans women to dream the impossible dream. Libre lang ang mangarap. Taasan na natin, itodo na natin. And while we dream, we must be disciplined and remain focused on our goal to achieve it,” concluded Gamboa.

Future reforms for Bar admission

The Supreme Court En Banc is set to welcome the successful 2023 Bar Examinees to the legal profession tomorrow, December 22, 2023. This day will mark the end of the 2023 Bar Examinations and Justice Hernando’s tour of duty as Bar Chair.

Justice Hernando noted the challenge in the regionalized and digitalized Bar, and emphasized the opportunity for reform within its framework: “Conducting the digitalized and regionalized examinations remains a herculean endeavor and a collective effort. However, the current modality and the technology at our disposal was also a unique opportunity for us to craft reforms; to lend thorough assistance and ensure a more level playing field for all Bar examinees, who are faced with various challenges; and to further streamline admission to the Bar. The doors to the legal profession must remain wide open for all Bar hopefuls who are ethically and intellectually qualified to serve. In this aspect, I am glad to report that the 2023 Bar Examinations has been a success.”

Justice Hernando also reiterated the Court’s commitment in continuing these reforms beyond 2023: “Even now, the Court, under the strong leadership of the Chief Justice, is tirelessly working towards the implementation of more reforms in Bar admission, in faithful compliance to its constitutional mandate and in accordance with the Court’s Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations. The Court is fully committed to see this through.”(Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)

Privacy Notice for the Supreme Court website

Statement of Commitment to Data Privacy and Security

The Supreme Court of the Philippines respects your privacy and your data privacy rights, as well as employs reasonable measures to protect your personal data in accordance with Republic Act No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (DPA), its Implementing Rules and Regulations, and the various issuances of the National Privacy Commission (NPC) (collectively, the Data Privacy Regulations).

Brief Service Description and Its General Purpose

Use of the Supreme Court Website

The Supreme Court website serves as the online repository of Supreme Court information, references, and resources accessible to the public. By agreeing to use the Supreme Court website, you agree to the collection, use, disclosure, processing, and storage of your non-personal identification information to enable the Supreme Court to monitor the website’s engagement.

What personal data do we collect?

The Supreme Court website, other than the Email Form (see separate Privacy Notice – Email Form), does not collect personal data or cookies. The following non-personal identification information, however, are collected and stored by WordPress Statistics, a third-party service, to enable the Supreme Court to monitor the website’s performance through its engagement with visitors:

(a) Browser;

(b) Device; and

(c) Internet Protocol address.

The information collected by WordPress Statistics are limited to the foregoing.

For further understanding, please see the brief discussion on WordPress Statistics below.

Why do we collect your non-personal identification information?

The information collected through WordPress Statistics shall be processed to enable the Supreme Court, not only to effectively manage its website, but also to efficiently disseminate information to the public.

How do we process your non-personal identification information?

Where you have provided us with your non-personal identification information, you agree to our collection, use, disclosure, storage, and other processing for the purposes and in the manner set forth in this Privacy Notice.

WordPress Statistics

The Supreme Court website uses a third-party website, WordPress Statistics, to gather anonymous statistical information from site visitors and analyze the web traffic data. Such data is not shared with any other party. WordPress Statistics collects the following:

  • Browser;
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  • Internet Protocol address.

For more information, you may visit: https://wp-statistics.com/2018/08/16/wp-statistics-gdpr/

How do we protect your non-personal identification information?

The foregoing information, which are encrypted, shall be captured, stored, and retrieved by the Supreme Court through the third-party server, WordPress Statistics, solely for the specific purposes stated in this Privacy Notice, i.e., for reference in helping the Supreme Court in effectively managing its website. The data shall be processed and stored with utmost security and confidentiality.

Only authorized website administrators of the Supreme Court have access to the collected data stored and reported in WordPress Statistics as installed in the Supreme Court website, which in turn are subject to strict security protocols.

How long will we keep your non-personal identification information?

The collected information shall be stored in the Supreme Court website database. The Public Information Office (PIO) directly administers and maintains the database and the Supreme Court website. Only the PIO website administrators and authorized personnel shall be granted access to the database of the Supreme Court website. Sharing of any information that are contained in the said database with unauthorized persons is strictly prohibited.

The non-personal identification information collected by WordPress Statistics is stored in its database and is accessible to the Supreme Court at any time via statistics reports until WordPress Statistics is uninstalled.

In all cases, the information will be stored in a secure manner to ensure its confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Upon expiration of the period of retention, the information collected through the Supreme Court website shall be disposed of and discarded in a secure manner that would prevent further processing, unauthorized access, or disclosure of your data.

Changes to our Privacy Notice:

The Privacy Notice may be updated from time to time. If material changes are required, any revisions shall be published on the Supreme Court website under the News and Announcements page for your immediate guidance. Therefore, we encourage you to review this Privacy Notice periodically so that you are up to date on our most current policies and practices.

This Privacy Notice was last updated on February 20, 2024.

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If you have any privacy concerns or questions about your data privacy rights or our Privacy Notice, please contact us through:

Supreme Court of the Philippines
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The Supreme Court Under
the 1987 Constitution

As in the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, the 1987 Constitution provides that “[t]he judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.” (Art. VII, Sec. 1). The exercise of judicial power is shared by the Supreme Court with all lower courts, but it is only the Supreme Court’s decisions that are vested with precedential value or doctrinal authority, as its interpretations of the Constitution and the laws are final and beyond review by any other branch of government.

Unlike the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, however, the 1987 Constitution defines the concept of judicial power. Under paragraph 2 of Section 1, Article VIII, “judicial power” includes not only the “duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable” but also “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.” This latter provision dilutes the effectivity of the “political question” doctrine which places specific questions best submitted to the political wisdom of the people beyond the review of the courts.

Building on previous experiences under former Constitutions, the 1987 Constitution provides for specific safeguards to ensure the independence of the Judiciary. These are found in the following provisions:

    • The grant to the Judiciary of fiscal autonomy. “Appropriations for the Judiciary may not be reduced by the legislature below the amount appropriated for the previous year, and, after approval, shall be automatically and regularly released.” (Art. VIII, Sec. 3).
    • The grant to the Chief Justice of authority to augment any item in the general appropriation law for the Judiciary from savings in other items of said appropriation as authorized by law. (Art. VI, Sec. 25[5])
    • The removal from Congress of the power to deprive the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction over cases enumerated in Section 5 of Article VIII.
    • The grant to the Court of the power to appoint all officials and employees of the Judiciary in accordance with the Civil Service Law (Art. VIII, Sec. 5 [6])
    • The removal from the Commission of Appointments of the power to confirm appointments of justices and judges (Art. VIII, Sec. 8)
    • The removal from Congress of the power to reduce the compensation or salaries of the Justices and judges during their continuance in office. (Art. VIII, Sec. 10)
    • The prohibition against the removal of judges through legislative reorganization by providing that “(n)o law shall be passed reorganizing the Judiciary when it undermines the security of tenure of its members. (Art. VIII, Sec. 2)
    • The grant of sole authority to the Supreme Court to order the temporary detail of judges. (Art. VIII, Sec. 5[3])
    • The grant of sole authority to the Supreme Court to promulgate rules of procedure for the courts. (Art. VIII, Sec. 5[5])
    • The prohibition against designating members of the Judiciary to any agency performing quasi-judicial or administrative function. (Art. VIII, Sec. 12)
    • The grant of administrative supervision over the lower courts and its personnel in the Supreme Court. (Art. VIII, Sec. 6)

The Supreme Court under the present Constitution is composed of a Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices. The members of the Court are appointed by the President from a list, prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council, of at least three nominees for every vacancy. This new process is intended to “de-politicize” the courts of justice, ensure the choice of competent judges, and fill existing vacancies without undue delay.


The Supreme Court Under
the Revolutionary Government

Shortly after assuming office as the seventh President of the Republic of the Philippines after the successful People Power Revolution, then President Corazon C. Aquino declared the existence of a revolutionary government under Proclamation No. 1 dated February 25, 1986. Among the more significant portions of this Proclamation was an instruction for “all appointive officials to submit their courtesy resignations beginning with the members of the Supreme Court.” The call was unprecedented, considering the separation of powers that the previous Constitutions had always ordained, but understandable considering the revolutionary nature of the post-People Power government. Heeding the call, the members of the Judiciary—from the Supreme Court to the Municipal Circuit Courts—placed their offices at the disposal of the President and submitted their resignations. President Corazon C, Aquino proceeded to reorganize the entire Court, appointing all 15 members.

On March 25, 1986, President Corazon Aquino, through Proclamation No. 3, also abolished the 1973 Constitution and put in place a Provisional “Freedom” Constitution. Under Article I, Section 2 of the Freedom Constitution, the provisions of the 1973 Constitution on the judiciary were adopted insofar as they were not inconsistent with Proclamation No. 3.

Article V of Proclamation No. 3 provided for the convening of a Constitutional Commission composed of 50 appointive members to draft a new constitution; this would be implemented by Proclamation No. 9. Under the leadership of retired SC Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma as its President, the Constitutional Commission of 1986 submitted its output of to the people for ratification.

By a vote of 76.30%, the Filipino people then ratified the Constitution submitted to them in a national plebiscite on February 2, 1987.

President Aquino, other civilian officials, and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, upon the announcement of the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, swore allegiance to the new charter on February 11, 1987 thereby putting an end to the revolutionary government.


The Supreme Court Under
the 1973 Constitution

The declaration of Martial Law through Proclamation No. 1081 by former President Ferdinand E, Marcos in 1972 brought about the transition from the 1935 Constitution to the 1973 Constitution. This transition had implications on the Court’s composition and functions.

This period also brought in many legal issues of transcendental importance and consequence. Among these were the legality of the ratification of a new Constitution, the assumption of the totality of government authority by President Marcos, and the power to review the factual basis for a declaration of Martial Law by the Chief Executive, among others. Also writ large during this period was the relationship between the Court and the Chief Executive who, under Amendment No. 6 to the 1973 Constitution, had assumed legislative powers even while an elected legislative body continued to function.

The 1973 Constitution increased the number of the members of the Supreme Court from 11 to 15, with a Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices. The Justices of the Court were appointed by the President alone, without the consent, approval, or recommendation of any other body or officials.


The Supreme Court of
the Second Republic

Following liberation from the Japanese occupation at the end of the Second World War and the Philippines’ subsequent independence from the United States, Republic Act No. 296 or the Judiciary Act of 1948 was enacted. This law grouped together the cases over which the Supreme Court could exercise exclusive jurisdiction for review on appeal, certiorari, or writ of error.


The Supreme Court During
the Commonwealth

Following the ratification of the 1935 Philippine Constitution in a plebiscite, the principle of separation of powers was adopted, not by express and specific provision to that effect, but by actual division of powers of the government—executive, legislative, and judicial—in different articles of the 1935 Constitution.

As in the United States, the judicial power was vested by the 1935 Constitution “in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as may be established by law.” It devolved on the Judiciary to determine whether the acts of the other two departments were in harmony with the fundamental law.

The Court during the Commonwealth was composed of “a Chief Justice and ten Associate Justices, and may sit en banc or in two divisions, unless otherwise provided by law.”


The Establishment of
the Supreme Court of the Philippines

On June 11, 1901, the Second Philippine Commission passed Act No. 136 entitled “An Act Providing for the Organization of Courts in the Philippine Islands” formally establishing the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands and creating Courts of First Instance and Justices of the Peace Courts throughout the land. The judicial organization established by the Act was conceived by the American lawyers in the Philippine Commission, with its basic structures patterned after similar organizations in the United States.

The Supreme Court created under the Act was composed of a Chief Justice and six Judges. Five members of the Court could form a quorum, and the concurrence of at least four members was necessary to pronounce a judgment.

Act No. 136 abolished the Audiencia established under General Order No. 20 and declared that the Supreme Court created by the Act be substituted in its place. This effectively severed any nexus between the present Supreme Court and the Audiencia.

The Anglo-American legal system under which the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands was expected to operate was entirely different from the old Spanish system that Filipinos were familiar with. Adjustments had to be made; hence, the decisions of the Supreme Court during its early years reflected a blend of both the Anglo-American and Spanish systems. The jurisprudence was a gentle transition from the old order to the new.


The Judicial System During
the American Occupation

After Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War in the late 1890s, The subsequent occupation by the Americans of the Philippine Islands paved the way for considerable changes in the control, disposition, and governance of the Islands.

The judicial system established during the regime of the military government functioned as an instrument of the executive—not of the judiciary—as an independent and separate branch of government. Secretary of State John Hay, on May 12, 1899, proposed a plan for a colonial government of the Philippine Islands which would give Filipinos the largest measure of self-government. The plan contemplated an independent judiciary manned by judges chosen from qualified locals and Americans.

On May 29, 1899, General Elwell Stephen Otis, Military Governor for the Philippines, issued General Order No. 20, reestablishing the Audiencia Teritorial de Manila which was to apply Spanish laws and jurisprudence recognized by the American military governor as continuing in force.

The Audiencia was composed of a presiding officer and eight members organized into two divisions: the sala de lo civil or the civil branch, and the sala de lo criminal or the criminal branch.

It was General Otis himself who personally selected the first appointees to the Audiencia. Cayetano L. Arellano was appointed President (equivalent to Chief Justice) of the Court, with Manuel Araullo as president of the sala de lo civil and Raymundo Melliza as president of the salo de lo criminal. Gregorio Araneta and Lt. Col. E.H. Crowder were appointed associate justices of the civil branch while Ambrosio Rianzares, Julio Llorente, Major R.W. Young, and Captain W.E. Brikhimer were designated associate justices of the criminal branch. Thus, the reestablished Audiencia became the first agency of the new insular government where Filipinos were appointed side by side with Americans.


The Judicial System Under
the Spanish Regime

During the early Spanish occupation, King Philip II established the Real Audiencia de Manila which was given not only judicial but legislative, executive, advisory, and administrative functions as well. Composed of the incumbent governor general as the presidente (presiding officer), four oidores (equivalent to associate justices), an asesor (legal adviser), an alguacil mayor (chief constable), among other officials, the Real Audiencia de Manila was both a trial and appellate court. It had exclusive original, concurrent original, and exclusive appellate jurisdictions.

Initially, the Audiencia was given a non-judicial role in the colonial administration, to deal with unforeseen problems within the territory that arose from time to time—it was given the power to supervise certain phases of ecclesiastical affairs as well as regulatory functions, such as fixing of prices at which merchants could sell their commodities. Likewise, the Audiencia had executive functions, like the allotment of lands to the settlers of newly established pueblos. However, by 1861, the Audiencia had ceased to perform these executive and administrative functions and had been restricted to the administration of justice.

When the Audiencia Territorial de Cebu was established in 1886, the name of the Real Audiencia de Manila was changed to Audiencia Territorial de Manila.


The Judicial System of the
Pre-Colonization Filipinos

When the Spanish colonizers first arrived in the Philippine archipelago, they found the indigenous Filipinos without any written laws. The laws enforced were mainly derived from customs, usages, and tradition. These laws were believed to be God-given and were orally transmitted from generation to generation.

A remarkable feature of these customs and traditions was that they were found to be very similar to one another notwithstanding that they were observed in widely dispersed islands of the archipelago. There were no judges and lawyers who were trained formally in the law, although there were elders who devoted time to the study of the customs, usages, and traditions of their tribes to qualify them as consultants or advisers on these matters.

The unit of government of the indigenous Filipinos was the barangay, which was a family-based community of 30 to 100 families, occupying a pook (“locality” or “area”) headed by a chieftain called datu who exercised all functions of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—a barangay was not only a political but a social and an economic organization. In the exercise of his judicial authority, the datu acted as a judge (hukom) in settling disputes and deciding cases in his barangay.

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