Two Chief Justices in less than a year
This year, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed two top magistrates of the High Court following a tumultuous upheaval over its decision last June on questions clouding the leadership of Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Meeting the press for the first time last November, Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, the SC's 25th top magistrate, vowed to do his best to institute long-standing reforms in the judiciary even as his term will last for only a year. He will reach the mandatory retirement age next year days apart on the same month as Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
Bersamin, in his public appearances, has echoed calls for dedication in public service by those in the judiciary and urged subordinates to forgo even checking their social media accounts during office hours which he insists are minutes in work which had been paid for by taxpayers.
Speaking at a recent event for children in conflict with the law, Bersamin consoled the minors who had run afoul with the law pointing out that rehabilitation and reform is a fresh chance and reminded them not to let it define the rest of their lives.
Bersamin is the most senior justice in the judiciary in terms of length of service, at the time of his appointment.
He succeeded another veteran, Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro.
De Castro, who served as chief magistrate for less than two months, implemented key programs and projects.
These include increasing the monthly salary of first-level court judges all over the country; increasing the cost of living allowance for justices, judges and court personnel for the month of August chargeable to the 80 percent judiciary development fund (JDF) as well as additional grant of rice subsidy allowance for the first and second quarters of this year.
She also worked for the creation of technical working groups on planning, budgeting, data reconciliation and evidence management system. De Castro was an associate justice at the high court for 10 years and eight months prior to her appointment as top magistrate.
The Sereno debacle and new faces
The appointment of Chief Justice de Castro brought to a somber conclusion one of the dramatic turn of events in the high court's history involving its Chief Justice.
What would have been an 18-year term from her appointment by President Benigno Aquino III abruptly ended for Sereno after the Court en banc on May 11, 2018, voted 8-6 , to grant a the petition for quo warranto filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to declare her appointment as void from the beginning for her failure to comply with the mandatory legal requirements for her appointment in 2012.
The Court also ruled Sereno was disqualified for the Chief Justice post when she failed to submit her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) from 2002 to 2011.
This year, President Duterte appointed three new members of the SC following the retirement of Chief Justice De Castro, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., and the appointment of Associate Justice Samuel Martires as Ombudsman.
These are Court of Appeals Associate Justices Jose Reyes Jr., Ramon Paul Hernando and Rosmari Carandang.
Earlier in December, the High Court ruled that government agencies can regulate the motorcycle transport-for-hire mobile phone application.
In a two-page order dated Dec. 5, the SC's Second Division ruled in favor of a petition filed by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) seeking to stop the operations of Angkas run by DBDOYC Inc.
This reversed the Mandaluyong City Regional Trial Court's order dated Aug. 20, 2018 against the LTFRB and in favor of Angkas.
In October, the SC upheld the constitutionality of two laws -- Republic Act 10533 (K to 12 Law) and Republic Act 10157 (Kindergarten Education Act, which overhaul the country's basic education system and expanding basic education from 10 to 12 years. The SC denied the consolidated petitions questioning them.
RA 10157, or the Kindergarten Education Act insitutionalized kindergarten education, which is one year of preparatory education for children at least five years old, as part of basic education and is made mandatory and compulsory before entering Grade 1.
The law was passed in fulfillment of the country's commitments to improve education standards in the country during the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal, where 164 governments, including the Philippines, pledged "Education for All" goals.
Likewise, to adjust to international standards, the K to 12 Law was enacted. Prior to this, the Philippines, along with Djibouti and Angola, were the only countries in the world with a 10-year basic education system.
In November, the tribunal upheld the legality of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) memorandum excluding Filipino, Panitikan, and Philippine Constitution among the core subjects in the general education curriculum in college.
It held that Section 6, Article XIV of the Constitution on the use of the Filipino language as medium of instruction is not “self-executory.”
The SC ruled that the assailed CHED memorandum does not violate any existing laws such as Republic Act 7104 or the Commission on the Filipino Language Act, RA No. 7356 or the Law Creating the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and the Education Act of 1982.
In criminal law, the Court declared that the “good faith” doctrine it laid down in its previous ruling cannot be used as an absolute defense to escape criminal prosecution for graft.
The Court made the clarification in a ruling which affirmed the decision of the Sandiganbayan finding three officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) guilty of several counts of violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act involving anomalous transactions for the implementation of the PHP615 million regional and provincial infrastructure projects for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The Court had ruled that its earlier ruling that heads of offices may, in good faith, rely to a certain extent on the acts of their subordinates "who prepare bids, purchase supplies, or enter into negotiations" does not exempt a public official to inquire more closely into transactions he processes when there are circumstances that should have prompted a closer look.
In a separate case this year, the SC also allowed the Quezon City government to implement an ordinance increasing the existing fair market values (FMVs) of land, buildings, and other structures in the city from 100 percent to as much as 500 percent.
The Supreme Court (SC) ruled that the petitioner in the case, the Alliance of Quezon City Homeowners' Association, Inc. (AQCHI) has not legal standing to file the suit.
In February, the High Court also upheld the legality of the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao until the end of 2018.
Voting 10-5, the SC dismissed the four petitions filed by congressmen led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman et al; another group led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, et al; former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales; and a group led by Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the Constitution seeking to declare the martial law extension in Mindanao as unconstitutional.
The Court pointed out that Congress had discretionary authority to formulate, adopt and promulgate its own rules.
It also rejected the argument of petitioners that the extension should have only been limited to 60 days, saying the Constitution did not fix a period of duration for such extension and was also actually silent as to how many times the Congress could extend martial law declaration by the President.
Even the alleged undue haste in granting the request for extension, according to the Court, cannot be a ground to nullify the extension
However, the SC noted that it can only intervene when there is a clear showing of such arbitrary and improvident use of the power such as would constitute a “denial of due process.”
The Court explained that it can only step in once there is clear showing of arbitrary and improvident use of such power by Congress under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, which it said is lacking in this case.