The aggrieved parties who approach lawyers for guidance and advice tell their stories on how their rights were violated and why they want to seek redress in the court. Sometimes they also want to prevent or stop a wrong from being committed by filing an action to enjoin, for example, to prevent a high-rise building from being constructed in front of their communities or villages.
Once the narrative is given to the lawyer and he or she gives the general assessment of the case, the client’s next question would be where the case will be filed. The question appears to be very simple but to answer the question requires the understanding of important procedural rules on jurisdiction and venue in civil and criminal cases.
The matter of jurisdiction helps us decide in which court the case should be filed. Jurisdiction is conferred by law and without the law that gives the power, the court will not be able to hear, try and decide any case. On the other hand, the venue is the place where the court performs its judicial functions. For example, the court is the Regional Trial Court but the venue of the action may be in the judicial station in Manila, Quezon City, Pasay, or Cebu depending on the nature of the action.
There is no difference in the concept of jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases – there should always be a law that gives the courts the power to perform its judicial functions. However, the procedural rules on venue vary in civil and criminal cases. In civil cases, the action may either be a personal action or a real action. If the action is a personal action such as rescissions of contracts, cancellations of the deeds of assignment or recovery of a sum of money, the action may be filed where the plaintiff or principal plaintiffs or defendant or principal defendants reside, at the option of the plaintiff.
However, if the action is a real action or an action which involves the title, possession of, or interest over real property, the venue is the place where the property is located. For example, actions for reconveyance of real property, accion reinvidicatoria (ownership), or accion publiciana (possession) are filed or commenced in the place where the property is located. The parties to a contract may also agree in writing before the filing of the case on the exclusive venue of the action (Section 4, Rule 4, Rules of Court) in case a dispute arises between or among the parties. Do not be misled by what appears to be a plain presentation of jurisdiction and venue because its application may vary from case to case.
One of the most common actions in the Philippines is the recovery of ownership over a parcel of land or possession. To determine which court has jurisdiction over the case, the lawyer will have to allege the assessed value in the Complaint because this value determines whether it is the Regional Trial Court or Metropolitan/Municipal Trial Court which will hear, try and decide the case. In Metro Manila, the Regional Trial Court will try the case if the assessed value exceeds P50,000. Outside Metro Manila, the Regional Trial Court will try the case if the assessed value exceeds P20,000, However, the assessed value is inconsequential if the action is ejectment (unlawful detainer or forcible entry) because the case will always be filed with the Municipal or Metropolitan Trial Court (Section 19 (2), BP 129 as amended by Republic Act 7691) regardless of the value of the claim for unpaid rentals or for unauthorized use or occupation of the property.
Another common action is recovery of money or something of pecuniary value. For these types of cases the court’s jurisdiction is determined by the amount of the claim exclusive of interests, damages, attorney’s fees or cost of suit (Section 19(8), BP 129 as amended by Republic Act 7691). If the claim exceeds P400,000 in Metro Manila or P300,000 outside of Metro Manila then the Regional Trial Court will try and decide the case. However, if the main action for recovery of money is principally for damages then the court’s jurisdiction is determined by the claim of damages based on the threshold amounts discussed above (Section 3, Administrative Circular 09-94).
In actions for probate of the will or settlement of the estate, the jurisdiction is determined by the value of the estate. If the value of the estate exceeds the amounts of P400,000 in Metro Manila or P300,000 outside of Metro Manila then the Regional Trial Court will try and decide the case (Section 5, Republic Act 7691). The venue of these actions will be at the place where the deceased last resided at the time of his death (Section 1, Rule 73, Rules of Court).
For nullification or annulment of marriage cases which involve contract of marriage and marital relations only the Regional Trial Court (Family Court) will have original and exclusive jurisdiction (Section 19 (5), BP 129 as amended by Republic Act 7691) regardless of the value of the community property of the spouses or the claims for support. The venue of these actions are in the place where the plaintiff spouse resides or the defendant spouse resides at least six months prior to the date of the filing of the Petition (Section 4, Proposed Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages, March 4, 2003).
Adoption and rescission of adoption are also within the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court (Family Court). The venue for adoption is the place where the adopter resides, and for rescission of adoption in the place where the adoptee resides (Sections 6 and 20, Rule on Adoption).. For cancellation or correction entries in the Civil Registry including birth certificates which cannot be corrected administratively, the court of original and exclusive jurisdiction is the Regional Trial Court (Section 1, Rule 108, Rules of Court).
In criminal cases, the application of jurisdiction and venue is a little different since “venue is jurisdictional in criminal cases.” This means that the place of the commission of the offense determines the court or judicial station where the case will be heard and tried. For example, if the crime of homicide was committed in Mandaluyong, the case will have to be filed in Mandaluyong and not in another place. However, the penalty of imprisonment for the crime regardless of the fine or accessory penalty will determine whether the case will go to the Regional Trial Court or Municipal or Metropolitan Trial Court. If the penalty of imprisonment exceeds six years, then the Regional Trial Court will have jurisdiction (Section 32 (2), BP 129 as amended by Republic Act 7691).
Unlike in civil cases where the actions are filed directly in court, in criminal cases the complaint will have to be instituted first with the Office of the Prosecutor for the determination of probable cause and whether the case has to go through preliminary investigation or not. Once the Office of the Prosecutor determines probable cause, it files the criminal information in court which is otherwise known as an indictment. The only instance when a criminal case may be filed directly in court is when the complaint does not require preliminary investigation and committed outside of Manila or outside of chartered cities (Rule 110, Section 1, Rules of Criminal Procedure).
The crimes of alarms and scandals in public places (Article 155, Revised Penal Code as amended), issuance of false medical certificates by physicians or surgeons (Article 174, Revised Penal Code as amended), less serious physical injuries (Article 265, Revised Penal Code as amended), and grave coercion (Article 286, Revised Penal Code as amended) are within the jurisdiction of the Municipal or Metropolitan Trial Courts since the penalties for the offenses do not exceed six years.
On the other hand, the Regional Trial Court will have jurisdiction over rape (Article 266-B, Revised Penal Code as amended), parricide and murder (Articles 246 and 248, Revised Penal Code as amended), kidnapping and serious illegal detention (Article 267, Revised Penal Code as amended), robbery with violence or intimidation (Article 294, Revised Penal Code as amended), and destructive arson (Article 320, Revised Penal Code as amended) since the penalties for these offenses exceed six years.
Sufficient knowledge of the laws and the Rules of Court by the members of the bench and the bar is imperative for the orderly administration of justice. Lack of knowledge of the law will cause judges to speculate, surmise and rely on conjecture in the application of laws to the facts and evidence of each case. In turn, lawyers who are unaware or uninformed of the law will attribute wrongdoing or corruption to the judge simply because they do not understand the import of the orders or decisions of the court. Knowledge of the law and its application helps us fuel a just, reliable, trustworthy and efficient justice system.
By: Atty. Tranquil G.S. Salvador III