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A History of the Court of Appeals

by: Justice Mario L. Guariña III

The Court of Appeals was created on December 31, 1935 with the passage of Commonwealth Act No. 3 introducing a new appellate layer between the Supreme Court and the courts of first instance. The measure was intended to relieve the Supreme Court of a growing caseload and convert it into a court of cessation and dwelt more on settling issues of national significance and establishing doctrine. Organized on February 1, 1936, the Court of Appeals was composed of eleven magistrates originally called appellate judges and appointed by the President of the Philippine Commonwealth with the consent of the Commission on Appointments of the National Assembly. They sat en banc or in two divisions. When en banc, they acted not only on administrative matters, but heard and decided cases forwarded to it by the presiding judge or the division. Appeals were resolved by an affirmative vote of a majority of the division or at least six judges of the court en banc.

The first head of the court was Pedro Concepcion. In less than a year after his appointment, he was promoted to the Supreme Court, taking the place of Claro M. Recto who retired to private practice. Manuel Moran followed suit in 1938 to replace Jose Abad Santos.

Further changes were brought to the court in 1938 through Commonwealth Act No. 259. The members of the court were now called associate justices, and its head was the presiding justice. They were increased to 15 and sat en banc or in three divisions.

A practice distinctive of the period was the privilege given a CA justice to sit temporarily in the Supreme Court in order to form a quorum or render a judgment. When a CA justice was absent or a vacancy occurred in the court, a judge of first instance was in turn designated to serve in a temporary capacity in the court.

War clouds soon loomed in the horizon. On Christmas eve, 1941, President Quezon issued Executive Order 395 instituting some changes in the courts. In particular, he increased the number of CA justices to 19. With the dawn of a new order, these moves seemed almost surreal. The courts did not escape total subjection to the Japanese military. In his very first order in the Philippines, General Honma declared: “the Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Forces shall exercise jurisdiction over courts.”

An executive commission created under the authority of Honma proceeded to reorganize the government. The Court of Appeals was reconstituted with a membership of 17 justices headed by Jose Generoso as the presiding justice, and a provision of the commonwealth statute permitting CA justices to sit in the Supreme Court was now made use of to augment the depleted composition of the High Court. In March 1941, Justice Generoso was tasked to dispose of 6 criminal cases. In May, he was given 5 cases, together with Hontiveros who had six, Imperial six, and Lopez Vito ten.

The Court of Appeals underwent another reorganization in January 1944 under Executive Order 27 which President Jose Laurel issued pursuant to Act No. 10 of the Japanese-sponsored republic. The court was for the first time regionalized. Five district courts of appeals were established throughout the country composed of a presiding justice and two associate justices each. The luminaries of the second highest court of the land were dispatched far and wide, Marceliano Montemayor to Northern Luzon, Cesar Bengson, Central Luzon, Fernando Jugo and Jose Vera, Southern Luzon, Jose Generoso, Sabino Padilla and Pedro Tuason, Manila and Fernando Hernandez and Patricio Ceniza, Visayas, Mindanao and Sulu.

Ironically, the Court of Appeals was abolished with the restoration of the Commonwealth government in 1945. President Osmeña justified this action as an emergency measure to reduce the expenses of the government. Decisions from the trial courts were made directly appealable to the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeals was to be restored only after independence. In October 1946, Republic Act No. 52 was passed reviving the Court of Appeals with a presiding justice and 14 associate justices appointed by the President with the consent of the Commission on Appointments of Congress. Marceliano Montemayor was the first post-war presiding justice.

The rule was formulated making the unanimous vote of the division necessary for the pronouncement of a judgment. The presiding justice was authorized, in cases where a unanimity was not reached, to designate two other justices to sit with the original three, forming a division of five to decide by majority vote.

The first comprehensive post-war legislation on the judiciary was Republic Act No. 296, otherwise known as the Judiciary Act of 1948. A major innovation in this statute was the introduction of the petition for review as the mode of review of decisions of the courts of first instance rendered in the exercise of their appellate jurisdiction over the municipal or city courts. The appellate decisions of these courts were deemed final, subject to a limited recourse to the Court of Appeals that was not a matter or right but of discretion conditioned upon a prima facie showing that a reversible error was committed below.

The next decades saw a steady rise in the composition of the Court of Appeals. In 1956, the CA justices were increased to 18, then 24 in 1968, 36 in 1973, and 45 in 1978. The center of gravity of the court was its main building at Ma. Orosa Street, Ermita, Manila from where it dispensed justice throughout the land – a four-story concrete structure with an impressive neo-classical facade of high pillars and wide arching doors. The building rose in 1956 on the ruins of the pre-war College of Engineering of the University of the Philippines. It initially housed the 15 justices of the court, whose presiding justice Alfonso Felix and six others, Gutierrez David, Arsenio Dizon, Dionisio De Leon, Felipe Natividad, Conrado Sanchez and Querube Makalintal would eventually be in the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals had become a virtual training ground of Supreme Court justices.

In April 1979, the Court of Appeals met en banc to approve its very first code of internal rules. This was called the Rules of Internal Operating Procedures of the Court of Appeals. The importance of the undertaking could not be overstated. Until the code came into existence, the internal rules of the court were only made up of customs and practices and scattered resolutions of the court en banc or circulars of the presiding justices which were not known to many. Justice Andres Reyes, then the PJ, was able to persuade Justice Conrado Vasquez who was about to retire to hammer out the first draft. His work went through a committee of his peers in the court and along with the comments and suggestions of the Integrated Bar was considered in the preparation of the final draft that became the code.

Under the shadow of President Marcos' constitutional authoritarianism, another judicial reorganization was in the offing. In 1983, BP No. 129 was enacted converting the Court of Appeals into the Intermediate Appellate Court and increasing its number to 51. Before the court could be entirely filled up, however, a change of government took place, and in Executive Order No. 33, issued by President Corazon Aquino in 1986, the old name of the Court of Appeals was restored. It was decreed that the two additional justices needed to form the division of five be chosen by raffle.

1996 was another watershed in the history of the court. In response to a growing clamor for the creation of regional stations of the Court of Appeals, Republic Act No. 8256 was enacted increasing the number of its divisions from 17 to 23 and its membership from 51 to 69. The first 17 divisions were to be stationed in Manila for cases coming from the First to Fifth Judicial Region, the 18th to 20th divisions in Cebu City for cases from the 6th to 8th Judicial Region, and the 21st to 23rd divisions in Cagayan de Oro City for cases from the 9th to 12th Judicial Region.

It would take another eight years before the law would be implemented. In the meantime, the search for suitable offices of the regional stations was underway. In 2004, the regional stations were opened with the appointments of 18 new justices to those places.

The Court of Appeals enters the 21st century aware of its history, proud of its traditions and ready for new challenges ahead.

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