The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines vests the judicial power in the Supreme Court and the lower courts as may be established by law. The Judiciary consists of various courts. Where the crime was committed or the official address of the plaintiff, or the one filing the case, in civil suits determines the location of the court that will handle the case. The amount of money involved or the jail term are also among the deciding factors on which goes where.
Municipal and City Courts
The MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURTS (MTC) and MUNICIPAL CIRCUIT TRIAL COURTS (MCTC) are found in municipalities. The law provides for 436 MTCs and 482 MCTCs. If the court covers one municipality, it is called Municipal Trial Court, and if the court covers two or more municipalities, it is called Municipal Circuit Trial Court.
In Metro Manila, the equivalents of MTC are called METROPOLITAN TRIAL COURTS (Metro TC), and in the cities outside Metropolitan Manila, the courts are called MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURTS IN CITIES (MTCC). There are 82 Metro TCs and 124 MTCCs.
Cases filed with these courts include those involving violations of city or municipal ordinances, as well as offenses that are punishable with imprisonment not exceeding more than six years or a fine of not more than P4,000. But a charge that carries a fine of not more than P20,000 can be tried in these courts if the case involves damage to property arising from criminal negligence. Cases involving bouncing checks are also filed before first-level courts.
Civil proceedings that involve a demand or property valued at not more than P100,000 fall within the jurisdiction of MTCs as well, while Metro TCs accept those involving amounts not exceeding P200,000.
Regional Trial Courts
The law provides for 720 Regional Trial Courts (RTCs). Cases that have been decided by the MTC, MCTC, MTCC and Metro TCs appealed to the RTCs. In addition, RTCs exercise exclusive and original jurisdiction in all criminal cases not within the exclusive jurisdiction of any court, tribunal or body, except those now falling under the exclusive and concurrent jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan which are taken cognizance of by the Sandiganbayan. They are also the designated courts for actions affecting ambassadors, consuls, and other public ministers. These courts can issue the following writs or orders for cases within their territorial jurisdiction:
As to jurisdiction in civil cases, generally, they exercise exclusive original jurisdiction in all civil actions in which the subject of the litigation is incapable of pecuniary estimation and in all actions where the demand or claim exceed P20,000.00.
Some Mindanao provinces have SHARI’A CIRCUIT COURTS (SCC) and SHARI’A DISTRICT COURTS (SDC). The SCC is equivalent in rank to the MCTC, and the SDC to the RTC. These courts interpret and apply the Muslim Code on Personal Laws in Muslim Mindanao, including petitions made by Muslims for a change of name, the commitment of a person to an insane asylum, or the constitution of a family home.
The law provides for five SDCs, which are equivalent to the RTCs in rank, and for 51 SCCs in the municipalities, which give them the rank and level of MCTCs.
Decisions handed down by SCCs and SDCs may be elevated to the Shari’a Appellate Court for review.
Court of Tax Appeals
The COURT OF TAX APPEALRS (CTA) is the court of specialized appellate jurisdiction which has the exclusive appellate jurisdiction to review by appeal the decisions of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue and the Commissioner of Customs on certain matters. It is composed of the presiding judge and two associate judges.
The Sandiganbayan is the so-called graft court which has exclusive jurisdiction over violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019), the Unexplained Wealth Act (RA 1379), and other offenses or felonies committed by public officials and employees in relation to their office, including those employees in government-owned or -controlled corporations. It has exclusive jurisdiction in all cases where the penalty prescribed by law is more than six years imprisonment or a fine of P6,000. It has also appellate jurisdiction over the decisions of the MTCs and RTCs in cases of the same nature where the penalty prescribed by law is six years or less of imprisonment and fine of less than P6,000. The decisions of the Sandiganbayan are appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Sandiganbayan is is a collegial body that at present has six divisions, with three members each.
The presiding justice has the rank of the presiding justice of the Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan associate justice that of an associate justice of the Court of Appeals.
Court of Appeals
To the Court of Appeals (CA) are generally brought appeals from the RTC. The CA also handles appeals regarding decisions from quasi-judicial agencies such as the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as well as decisions handed down by the Court of Tax Appeals. In proper cases, the decisions of the Court of Appeals are appealable to Supreme Court. The CA has one presiding justice and 50 justices, and it has 17 divisions that have three members each.