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On 30 July 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11576, which expanded the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (“first level courts”). This also effectively increased the jurisdictional value under the Regional Trial Courts (“second level courts”) for civil actions involving title to, or possession of, real property, or any interest therein. Thus, from an assessed value of the property exceeding P20,000.00 (except in Metro Manila, which should exceed P50,000.00), the real property must now have an assessed value exceeding P400,000.00 before the second level courts can take jurisdiction.
Senate Bill Nos. 1359 and 1353 reveal that the intent of the law is to declog the second level courts. Senate Bill No. 1359 relied on the data of the Court Management Office of the Office of the Court Administrator (“OCA”), which show that the first level courts have a lower number of pending civil cases compared to that of the second level courts. In 2017, the pending civil cases with the first level courts and second level courts were 19,832 and 117,785 respectively; while in 2018, the figures were at 21,169 and 108,484 cases, respectively.
Senate Bill No. 1353 attributes this significant swamp of cases in the second level courts to the considerable rise of the fair market value of real property in the Philippines and the fact that it has been seventeen (17) years since Batas Pambansa Blg. No. 129 has been amended to reflect inflation and other factors causing increase in the value of real properties.
Simply, the cause for the passage of the law, and the goal sought to be realized, is to uphold everyone’s Constitutional right to speedy disposition of cases.
Section 4 of R.A. No. 11576 provides that the law “shall apply prospectively in the second level courts and first level courts.” However, the OCA, through OCA Circular No. 115-2021 dated 20 August 2021, made clarification on cases which should be remanded to the first level courts. Based on the said circular, those cases now falling within the jurisdiction of the first level courts pursuant to R.A. No. 11576, though filed in the second level courts prior to its effectivity, but no Pre-Trial Order has yet been issued, must be remanded to, and heard by, the first level courts.
This means that cases which were already filed prior to the effectivity of R.A. No. 11576 on 21 August 2021, but no Pre-Trial Orders have been issued, should be remanded to the first level courts. On the ground, this has resulted to some delay in the resolution by the second level courts of incidental issues, such as provisional remedies (temporary restraining orders and/or writs of preliminary injunction to protect litigants’ real properties), motions to dismiss, and even affirmative defenses.
Another OCA Circular – Circular No. 118-2021 – was issued on 01 September 2021. This Circular suspended the remand of cases pending the approval of the revisions to the Rules on Summary Procedure and Small Claims Cases. It directed the second level courts to instead, in the meantime, conduct an inventory of cases to be remanded to the first level courts and submit the same on 15 September 2021.
Consequently, some second level courts have already suspended the proceedings while awaiting the direction of the OCA, allowing the remand of the cases to the first level courts.
As it stands, civil cases affected by the passage of the new law are now at a standstill. Litigants hope that some guidance to both the bar and the bench will come soon.
This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion.
Shiela Vae A. Hoylar is an Associate of the Cebu Branch of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW). ACCRALAW’s Head Office is located at Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines.