The Supreme Court of the Philippines was established in 1901 after Second Philippine Commission passed Act No. 136. The Court then was composed of a Chief Justice and six Judges. Following the passage of the 1973 Constitution, the number of the Court’s members was increased to 15, with a Chief Justice and 14 Associate Justices. The composition of the Court was retained in subsequent constitutions.
The members of the Court are appointed by the President from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council. This process was intended to depoliticize the courts of justice and ensure the choice of competent judges. Members of the Court must be natural born-citizens of the Philippines, at least forty years old, with at least fifteen years of experience as a judge of a lower court or law practice in the country. Moreover, they are required to proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence. The Court may sit en banc or in divisions of three, five, or seven members, at its discretion.
Under the 1987 Constitution, judicial power is shared by the Supreme Court and all lower courts. However, only the Supreme Court’s decisions are vested with doctrinal value as its interpretations of the Constitution and the laws are final and beyond review by any branch of the government.
Judicial power involves the duty to settle actual controversies involving rights that are legally demandable and enforceable and to determine whether 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. The second aspect of judicial power is proven to have diluted the effectivity of the “political question” doctrine, which places certain questions to the wisdom of the other branches of government.
The Supreme Court of the Philippines has both original and appellate jurisdictions. It exercises original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, habeas corpus, writs of amparo, habeas data, and the writ of kalikasan.
On the other hand, it has appellate jurisdiction to review, revise, reverse, modify, or affirm final judgments, and orders of the lower courts in the following: (1) all cases in which the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation is in question; (2) all cases involving the legality of any tax, impost, assessment, or toll, or any penalty imposed in relation thereto; (3) all cases in which the jurisdiction of any lower court is in issue; (4) all criminal cases in which the penalty imposed is reclusion perpetua or higher; and (5) all cases in which only an error or question of law is involved.
Aside from its power of judicial review, the Supreme Court of the Philippines also has the exclusive power to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar, and legal assistance to the underprivileged. It enjoys fiscal autonomy and exercises administrative supervision over the lower courts and its personnel.
Presently, the Supreme Court of the Philippines is based at Padre Faura Street, Ermita, Manila.