Senate OKs bill expanding jurisdiction of RTCs, MTCs

Facade of the Senate of the Philippines in its present location. Photo from Wikimedia.

MANILA – The Senate on Monday approved on final reading a measure that would expand the jurisdiction of first and second level courts, which would amend Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, or the Batas Pambansa Blg. 129.

With 22 votes favoring the measure, two negative votes, with no abstention, Senate Bill No. (SBN) 1886, or An Act Further Expanding the Jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Courts (MeTCs)/ Municipal Trial Courts In Cities, Municipal Trial Courts (MTCs), And Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (MCTCs) is now a couple of steps away before becoming a law.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of the measure, heaved a sigh of relief as SBN 1866 could hopefully unclog the court dockets of the Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) and to speed up the disposition of cases.

Gordon said unclogging the court’s dockets can be attained by expanding the jurisdictional threshold amount of the first level courts or MTCs, citing higher number of pending cases at the second level courts or RTCs.

One of the amendments included in the proposed measure is the increase in the jurisdictional amount under the RTCs in all civil actions involving the title to, or possession of, real property from PHP20,000 (PHP50,000 in Metro Manila) to PHP400,000.

The RTCs shall also have jurisdictional supervision “in all matters of probate, both testate and intestate, where the gross value of the estate exceeds PHP2 million” from PHP100,000 to PHP200,000, the measure stated.

According to the Office of the Court Administrator of the Supreme Court (SC), there are 21,269 pending civil cases at the first level courts, while there are 108,484 pending civil cases at the second level courts as of December 2018.

“The data shows that our first level courts have a lower number of pending cases at the end of the year compared to that of our second level courts. To help unclog the dockets of our second level courts and to equalize the burden between the first level courts and the second level courts, we are proposing to raise the jurisdictional threshold of our second level and first level courts,” Gordon explained during the period of interpellation of the bill.

Gordon said the proposed bill will also address the delay in the disposition of cases due to overloading of cases assigned per judge. As Gordon pointed out, there are so many cases to be heard but very few judges are deciding on the cases.

The measure further delegates to the Supreme Court (SC) the power to further increase or decrease the jurisdictional threshold of the first and second level courts in line with the SC’s power of administrative supervision over all courts.

It was an amendment proposed, and accepted during plenary deliberations, by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, saying the adjustment of the jurisdictional amounts for the first and second level courts is necessary “to reflect extraordinary supervening events, or deflation of the currency, or change in the land valuation, or to maintain the proportion of the case load between the first and second level courts.”

Senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Francis Tolentino have questioned the provision, citing its unconstitutionality. They cited Section 2, Article VIII of the Constitution which states that: “The Congress shall have the power to define, prescribe, and apportion the jurisdiction of the various courts.”

“We are treading the dark alley of unconstitutionality that may lead us to trip and tumble in abdicating our Constitutionally-lodged legislative function,” Tolentino said during the period of amendments.

Both Pimentel and Tolentino voted against the measure.

But Gordon and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who introduced the amendment, said nothing in the Constitution that would prevent the delegation of the power of Congress.

SBN 1886 is a consolidated measure of SBN 1359 filed by Gordon and SBN 1353 filed by Sen. Manuel “Lito” M. Lapid. (PR)