Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Prior to the enactment of R.A. 7160[1] otherwise known as The Local Government Code of 1991 (LGC for brevity), the governing laws on barangay justice system were P.D. 1580[2] and The Local Government Code of 1983. Substantial provisions of the erstwhile laws were retained if not reproduced in verbatim under the current law[3]. Moreover under the revised Katarungan Pambarangay Law jurisdiction has been expanded to include a wider range of cases.[4] It likewise bears noting that some minor procedural changes have been incorporated in order to accomplish and safeguard its substantive purposes.

To appreciate more vividly the letter and spirit of this novel innovation, a perusal of the “Whereas” clauses of P.D. 1508 is apropos. The preamble of said law envisioned the following noteworthy objectives. To wit;

WHEREAS, the perpetuation and official recognition of the time-honored tradition of amicably settling disputes among family and barangay members at the barangay level without judicial recourse would promote the speedy administration of justice and implement the constitutional mandate to preserve and develop Filipino culture and to strengthen the family as a basic social institution;
WHEREAS, the indiscriminate filing of cases in the courts of justice contributes heavily and unjustifiably to the congestion of court dockets, thus causing a deterioration in the quality of justice;
WHEREAS, in order to help relieve the courts of such docket congestion and thereby enhance the quality of justice dispensed by the courts, it is deemed desirable to formally organize and institutionalize a system of amicably settling disputes at the barangay level;

It is axiomatic that a preamble is not an essential part of a statute much less a condition for its effectivity. Nonetheless it is imperative to note that “whereas clauses” state the reasons and objectives of the enactment. As may be gleaned from the above-quoted clauses, the salient noble purposes of Katarungan Pambarangay Law are; (1) to obtain a just, speedy and inexpensive settlement of disputes at the barangay level (2) to preserve Filipino culture and traditions concerning the amicable settlement of disputes (3) to relieve the courts of docket congestion and thereby enhance the quality of justice dispensed by them. In the light thereof, it is undoubted that the heart of this law is geared towards peace and harmony within the community and to afford accessible and effective form of justice for community members. Viewed in a different angle, through mediation, conciliation, or arbitration at the barangay levels, courts will be relieved of docket congestion which has been considered a perennial setback for the Philippine justice system. In the same vein, expensive and wearisome court litigation is prevented and reduced at least gradually. Indeed, as pronounced by no less than the Supreme Court in the case of Uy v. Contreras[5], “the katarungan pambarangay law plays a vital role in the delivery of justice at the barangay level, in promoting peace, stability, and progress, and in effectively preventing or reducing expensive and wearisome litigation.” Furthermore in Lupitan Pang-et v. Manacnes-Dao-As[6] the court held that, “the object of the Katarungan Pambarangay Law is the amicable settlement of disputes through conciliation proceedings voluntarily and freely entered into by the parties. Through this mechanism, the parties are encouraged to settle their disputes without enduring the rigors of court litigation.” And in Galuba v. Laureta,[7] the Court in interpreting P.D.1580 declared,

The primordial objective of P.D. 1508 is to reduce the number of court litigations and prevent the deterioration of the quality of justice which has been brought about by the indiscriminate filing of cases in the courts. To allow court actions assailing unrepudiated amicable settlements would exacerbate congestion of court dockets. This is repugnant to the spirit of P.D. 1508 x x x

There are also instances wherein the Court is being confronted with issues relating to the authority of Lupon vis a vis inferior courts. Nevertheless, the Court in resolving the issue resort to inter alia the intent of the law as envisioned by the lawmakers set forth in the preamble (whereas clauses of P.D. 1508). As held in Morata v. Go,[8] the Court through the masterful pen of Justice Escolin said,

By compelling the disputants to settle their differences through the intervention of the barangay leader and other respected members of the barangay, the animosity generated by protracted court litigations between members of the same political unit, a disruptive factor toward unity and cooperation, is avoided. It must be borne in mind that the conciliation process at the barangay level is likewise designed to discourage indiscriminate filing of cases in court in order to decongest its clogged dockets and, in the process, enhance the quality of justice dispensed by it. Thus, to say that the authority of the Lupon is limited to cases exclusively cognizable by the inferior courts is to lose sight of this objective. Worse, it would make the law a self-defeating one. For what would stop a party, say in an action for a sum of money or damages, as in the instant case, from bloating up his claim in order to place his case beyond the jurisdiction of the inferior court and thereby avoid the mandatory requirement of P.D. 1508? And why, indeed, should the law seek to ease the congestion of dockets only in inferior courts and not in the regional trial courts where the log-jam of cases is much more serious? Indeed, the lawmakers could not have intended such half-measure and self-defeating legislation.
x x x
The objectives of the law are set forth in its preamble thus:
x x x
There can be no question that when the law conferred upon the Lupon “the authority to bring together the parties actually residing in the same city or municipality for amicable settlement of all disputes, . “ its obvious intendment was to grant to the Lupon as broad and comprehensive an authority as possible as would bring about the optimum realization of the aforesaid objectives. These objectives would only be half-met and easily thwarted if the Lupon’s authority is exercised only in cases falling within the exclusive jurisdiction of inferior courts.

This is only one of those instances wherein the court harmonizes the letter and intent of the Katarungan Pambarangay Law to achieve the desired primordial objectives of the law.
Given the above perspective, it is pristine clear that in interpreting the provisions of Katarungan Pambarangay Law serious considerations must be given to the noble intent of the lawmakers. The preamble therefore, is the key to open the minds of the makers of the law. It is especially helpful when the ambiguity is not simply that arising from the meaning of particular words, but such as may arise in respect to the general scope and meaning of a statute. However it must be emphasized that the letter of the law is equally important and should prevail under certain circumstances to prevent miscarriage of justice. In fact, it is essential to note that legislative intent is determined primarily from the language of the statute which accordingly, affords the best means for its exposition. Hence, when confronted by procedural ambiguities of the law specifically in barangay conciliation proceedings, and strict compliance thereof will result to injustice, legislative intent now comes into play. Failure to apply the following constructions will definitely undermine and delay the dispensation of barangay justice.
It must be borne in mind that this “landmark legislation” should never be made dependent on the whims and caprices of public officials tasked to enforce it. In any event, public officials (especially Barangay Chairmen) who are duty bound to implement this law are obligated to respect and “be informed” of pertinent jurisprudence on this matter. It is for this purpose that Article 8 of the New Civil Code is relevant when it enunciates that,” Judicial decisions applying and interpreting the laws or the Constitution shall form a part of the legal system of the Philippines.” Contemporaneous interpretation of laws form part of the law as of the time of their enactment. They assume the authority as the statute themselves. They are what the laws mean. They merely establish the contemporaneous legislative intent that the construed laws purport to carry into effect.[9] In sum, while it is conceded that public officials are not strictly bound to the rules of statutory construction, they might as well utilize these rules as instrument to effectively discharge their duties and functions under the law, and that is the dispensation of genuine barangay justice.

[1] Took effect on January 1, 1992
[2] Establishing a System of Amicably Settling Disputes at Barangay Level, enacted on June 11, 1978
[3] Sections 4 and 6 of P.D.1508 have been reproduced in Sections 410 (b) and 412 of R.A.7160
[4] 1. It increased the authority of the lupon in criminal offenses from those punishable by imprisonment not exceeding thirty days or a fine not exceeding P200.00 in P.D. No. 1508 to those offenses punishable by imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding P5,000.00.
2. As to venue, it provides that disputes arising at the workplace where the contending parties are employed or at the institution where such parties are enrolled for study, shall be brought in the barangay where such workplace or institution is located.
3. It provides for the suspension of the prescriptive periods of offenses during the pendency of the mediation, conciliation, or arbitration process. Paragraph (c) of Section 410 of the law, however, suffers from some ambiguity when it provides that the prescriptive periods "shall resume upon receipt by the complainant of the complaint or the certificate of repudiation or of the certification to file action issued by the lupon or pangkat secretary." What is referred to as receipt by the complainant of the complaint is unclear; obviously, it could have been a drafting oversight. Accordingly, in the above quoted Section 11 of the Rules and Regulations issued by the Secretary of Justice, the phrase "the complaint or" is not found, such that the resumption of the running of the prescriptive period shall, properly, be from receipt by the complainant of the certificate of repudiation or the certification to file action issued by the lupon or the pangkat secretary. Such suspension, however, shall not exceed sixty days. (Uy v. Judge Contreras, G.R.No.111416 sept.26,1994)
[5] G.R. No. 111416, September 26, 1994
[6] G.R. No. 167261, March 2, 2007
[7] G.R. No. 71091, January 29, 1988
[8] G.R. No.L-62339, October 27, 1989; see also Montoya v. Escayo, G.R. No. 82211-12 (1989)
[9] Floresca v. Philex Mining, L-30642, June 30 1985