Certainty in judicial practice
By Nica Marsha Gasapo on August 25,2022
STARE decisis et non quieta movere, meaning “stand by the decisions and disturb not what is settled,” is a doctrine rooted in the necessity of stability, certainty and predictability in judicial decisions. Stare decisis is based on the rule that “once a question of law has been examined and decided, it should be deemed settled and closed to further argument” (De Mesa v Pepsi Cola Products Phils. Inc., GR Nos. 153063-70, Aug. 19, 2005). It stems from the principle of justice that “absent any powerful countervailing considerations, like cases ought to be decided alike” (Commissioner of Internal Revenue v The Insular Life Assurance Co. Ltd., GR 197192, June 4, 2014).
Under the Constitution, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of controversies involving rights that are legally demandable and enforceable. Article 8 of the New Civil Code, meanwhile, provides that “judicial decisions applying to or interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system of the Philippines.” To be clear, stare decisis applies only to cases decided by the Supreme Court.
The doctrine contemplates a situation where the Supreme Court has settled a controversy, and the conclusion made should be applied to those with substantially similar facts although involving different parties. This means that when the same questions are raised involving substantially similar factual backgrounds, like cases should be decided and settled the same way. As jurisprudence puts it, “the rule of stare decisis is a bar to any attempt to relitigate the same issue” (Chinese Young Men’s Christian Association of the Philippine Islands v Remington Steel Corporation, GR 159422, March 28, 2008).
In a dissenting opinion in Lambino v Commission on Elections (GR Nos. 174153 and 174299, Oct. 25, 2006), former chief justice Reynato S. Puno outlined the historical development of stare decisis. He discussed that the doctrine first appeared in English Courts; that observance with precedents wherein the same issues come again in litigation was the rule; that precedents would not be adhered to if they were “plainly unreasonable” or where courts of equal level have conflicting decisions; and where “the binding force of the decision was the actual principle or principles necessary for the decision.”
The principle of stare decisis then found application in the United States. Two types evolved: vertical stare decisis, which involves the duty of lower courts to adhere to and apply the decisions of higher courts to cases that have the same facts and horizontal stare decisis, which involves the duty of high courts to follow and adhere to their own precedents.
Stare decisis thus instructs observance of judicial precedents. However, based on jurisprudence, a doctrine established by the Supreme Court may be abandoned but only on “strong and compelling reasons.” Otherwise, predictability and stability expected from the Supreme Court will be affected (Pepsi-Cola Products, Phil. Inc. v Pagdanganan, GR 167866, Oct. 12, 2006).
In the case of Carpio-Morales v Court of Appeals (GR Nos. 217126-27, Nov. 10, 2015), the Supreme Court abandoned a doctrine previously laid down in the case of Aguinaldo v Santos (GR 94115, Aug. 21, 1992). In the 2015 case, the Supreme Court en banc abandoned the condonation doctrine, which provides that public officials cannot be removed from their elective posts for acts and/or misconduct committed during a previous term because their reelection operates as extinguishment of their liabilities. In abandoning the condonation doctrine, the Supreme Court emphasized its duty to uphold and defend the Constitution in light of the doctrine’s infirmities. It said the present Constitution “mandates that public office is a public trust and public officials shall be accountable to the people at all times.”
Further, the doctrine of stare decisis aligns with the preservation of public confidence in the stability of Supreme Court decisions. Such decisions become precedents that should be followed and observed in subsequent cases by all other courts.
As enshrined in the Constitution, a doctrine or principle of law established by the Supreme Court in a decision may be modified or reversed only by the Supreme Court sitting en banc. This means that a decision or ruling rendered by a division cannot overturn that which has been decided or ruled upon by the court en banc. Hence, in Secretary of Justice v Lantion (GR 139465, Oct. 17, 2000), the Supreme Court en banc, upon motion for reconsideration, overturned its own decision (GR 139465, Jan.18, 2000) that a probable ex traditee was entitled to be notified of intended extradition and allowed to participate during the evaluation of the extradition process. In its resolution, the court en banc held that a probable extraditee was bereft of any right of notice and hearing during the evaluation of the extradition process.
Lower courts are accordingly enjoined to follow the rules and principles established by the Supreme Court. Lower court decisions, while logically and legally correct and sound, are not considered judicial precedents. At most, these decisions only have a persuasive effect. Hence, lower courts must adhere to the Supreme Court’s applications of law and not go against the doctrines previously settled by the latter.
Nica Marsha V. Gasapo is a junior associate of Mata-Perez, Tamayo and Francisco (MTF Counsel).