The judiciary and Philippine policy making

Posted: April 8, 2010 in Judiciary/courts, Philippine politics, Political institutions

Judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court and in lower courts as may be established by law. According to the Constitution, judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights that are legally demandable and enforceable and the power of judicial review to determine whether or not an abuse of discretion occurred that amounted to a lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or government agency.

In 2006 for instance, the Supreme Court ruled adversely against several presidential orders including the so-called ‘calibrated pre-emptive response’ policy used by the security forces vis-à-vis public rallies and other forms of mass action, and the prohibition of executive branch officials from testifying before Congress without the President’s permission. On the other hand, it also upheld a presidential order placing the country under the state of emergency in February 2006 when the military foiled an alleged military coup. However, it ruled that the arrest of a university professor and the police raid on a newspaper office in relation to the state of emergency order violated the law.

During the same period, it also had to rule on the legal adequacy of efforts to amend the Constitution through the so-called ‘people’s initiative’. In previous years, the Court has been repeatedly asked if laws passed by Congress and signed by the President or treaties ratified by the Senate were constitutional. However, the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review over the acts of other governmental branches is activated only by a petition filed by other parties. On its own and absent such a petition, the Court cannot exercise its power of judicial review. Subject to these parameters, a majority of the Court’s justices (at least eight) serves as a veto player.

The Supreme Court is composed of a chief justice and fourteen (14) associate justices. The members of the Supreme Court and judges of lower courts are appointed by the president without need for confirmation and hold office during good behavior until they are 70 years of age or cannot discharge their duties due to incapacitation. Judges are chosen from a list of nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council, whose principal function is to recommend appointees. The Supreme Court exercises original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors and other public ministers and consuls and petitions for certiorari , prohibition , mandamus , quo warranto , and habeas corpus . The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over final judgments and orders of lower courts in such cases enumerated in the Constitution. It promulgates rules on pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts and admission to the practice of law. In addition, the Supreme Court exercises administrative supervision over all courts and their personnel.

The Constitution vests the judiciary with fiscal autonomy and decrees that budgetary appropriations for the judiciary may not be reduced by Congress below the amount appropriated for the previous years and, after approval, shall be automatically and regularly released. It also provides that no law can be passed to reorganize the judiciary when it undermines the security of tenure of its members.

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