The Supreme Court has ordered all courts in areas placed under the extended Enhanced Community Quarantine until May 15 due to the coronavirus disease will remain physically closed, but they are mandated to receive and resolve cases filed online.
It also adopted various measures and innovations to ensure the rights of persons deprived of liberty to constitutional due process are respected, even while the courts are physically closed due to the COVID-19.
In a circular on Monday, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta directed trial courts in areas under ECQ utilize video-conferencing in hearing and resolving urgent matters filed by PDLs or people deprived of their liberties.
“The hearings through videoconferencing shall cover all PDLs and may apply to all stages of trial of newly-filed and pending criminal cases, including but not limited to, arraignment, pre-trial, bail hearings, trial proper, and promulgation of judgment,” Peralta said.
In the circular Peralta stressed that while physically closed, all courts under extended ECQ would continue to function and “may be reached through hotline numbers, e-mail addresses, or Facebook accounts posted in the Supreme Court website-- sc.judiciary.gov.ph.”
The SC had posted in its website the hotline numbers, e-mail addresses, and Facebook accounts of courts in the country--from the SC to the lowest court.
“While the courts shall remain physically closed to all court users in the ECQ areas, they shall continue to operate from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday to Friday, until 15 May 2020. All electronic communications, however, must be transmitted by court users from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.,” Peralta said in the circular dated April 27.
“The online filing of criminal complaints and informations [criminal charges], posting of bail, and submission of other urgent pleadings shall continue to be in effect until 15 May 2020 in the ECQ areas,” he added.
The circular reiterated the court’s earlier directive for justices and judges to designate skeleton staff for the duration of the ECQ.
Likewise, night courts and Saturday courts are suspended, including hearings except on urgent matters.
Covered by the extended ECQ until May 15 are the National Capital Region, Benguet, Pangasinan, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, provinces in the CALABARZON, Oriental Mindoro, Occidental Mindoro, Albay, Catanduanes, Aklan, Antique, Iloilo, Cebu, Cebu City, Davao del Norte, Davao City, and Davao de Oro.
Court officials said video conferencing would enable suspects in criminal cases to testify and be cross-examined right inside their detention cells.
The high court had tested video conferencing as a mode of hearing cases in Davao City and other areas last year.
It was a project of then Associate Justice Peralta when he was chair of the SC’s committee on the revision of rules.
According to Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, the hearing room is equipped with television monitors, speakers and high definition cameras, and linked by radio frequency through the towers put up in the Hall of Justice and the jail.
Some PDLs, particularly those detained in various jails while their cases are undergoing trial and awaiting resolutions or decisions, have asked the Supreme Court for their release from detention for fear of being infected with coronavirus disease.
The petition remains pending for resolution.
Earlier, the SC ordered all trial court judges to implement strictly the rights of PDLs to post bail and to the speedy trial of their cases as a means to decongest jails and prevent the spread of coronavirus disease.
In a circular, the SC ordered judges to conduct an inventory of all their pending criminal cases and to determine immediately who among the PDLs could be released through bail.
The SC said trial courts that would utilize video conferencing “shall each be provided with Microsoft Office 365 E1 licenses which have, among others, the Outlook application for their official email accounts, and the Teams application to host the videoconference proceedings.”
“No other platforms shall be used for the video conference proceedings, and neither shall the courts use a different email address aside from the authorized account officially provided,” the SC stressed.
Trial courts authorized to utilize video conference are those in the National Capital Region; La Trinidad, Benguet, Baguio City; Dagupan City; Ilagan, Isabela; Santiago City; Cabagan, Isabela; Roxas, Isabela; Lubuagan, Kalinga;
Olongapo City; Balanga City; Mariveles, Bataan; Gapan City; Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija; San Fernando, Pampanga; Guagua, Pampanga; Angeles City; Capas, Tarlac;
Tanauan, Batangas; Balayan, Batangas; Nasugbu, Batangas; Rosario, Batangas; Tagaytay City; Trece Martires, Cavite; Imus, Cavite;
Naic, Cavite; San Pablo City; Calamba, Laguna; Lucena City, Gumaca, Quezon; Binangonan, Rizal; San Mateo, Rizal; Morong, Rizal; Antipolo City; Boac, Marinduque; Calapan City; Puerto Princesa, Palawan;
Legazpi City; Naga City; Sorsogon City; Iloilo City; Bacolod City; San Jose, Antique; San Carlos City, Negros Occidental; Cebu City; Lapu Lapu City; Mandaue City; Dumaguete City; Tanjay City; Tacloban City; Ormoc City;
Dipolog City; Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay; Zamboanga City; Pagadian City; Isabela City, Basilan; Jolo, Sulu; Cagayan de Oro City; Surigao City; Malaybalay City, Bukidnon;
Tandag City; Digos City; Gen. Santos City; Koronadal City; Polomok City; Alabel, Sarangani; Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao; Marawi City; Iligan City; Kidapawan City and Midsayap, North Cotabato.
“The courts shall ensure at all times that all the constitutional rights of the accused are protected and observed, including ‘the rights of the accused to be present and defend in person at every stage of the proceedings, to testify as a witness in his or her own behalf, and to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him or her at trial,” the SC’s circular stated.