By Jeffrey Damicog
The Supreme Court (SC) has created a task force in the judiciary to address concerns involving the threat of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
In Memorandum Order 26-2020 dated March 13 and signed by Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, the SC named Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez as the chairperson of the task force with SC Clerk of Court Edgar Aricheta as vice chairperson.
Peralta indicated that the functions and duties of the task force include:
- 1. Immediately address concerns of the Judiciary and issue directives as the need arises, if authorized within its level;
- Recommend actions to be taken, guidelines and policies to the Chief Justice and the Court en banc to prevent the spread and minimize the threat of Covid19;
- Monitor the conditions of justices, judges, court officials, personnel, and workplaces to avert the spread and threat of Covid-19 in courtrooms, halls of justice, and offices;
- Identify necessary resource requirements for the implementation of said guidelines and policies;
- Monitor issuances of the Executive and Legislative Departments to harmonize actions of the Judiciary;
- Identify gaps in the implementation of said guidelines and policies and recommend corrective measures;
- Prepare status reports for submission to the Chief Justice and the Court en banc; and
- Act on any and all directives the Chief Justice and the Court en banc may issue.
The other members of the task force are Deputy Court Administrator Raul B. Villanueva; Deputy Court Administrator for Visayas Jenny Lind Aldecoa-Delorino; Deputy Court Administrator for Mindanao Leo T. Madrazo; Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Administrative Officer Atty. Maria Carina M. Cunanan; Assistant Court Administrator and Public Information Office chief Atty. Brian Keith F. Hosaka; Court of Appeals Clerk of Court Atty. Anita S. Jamerlan-Rey; Sandiganbayan Clerk of Court Atty. Ma. Teresa S. Pabulayan; Court of Tax Appeals Clerk of Court Atty. Danilo B. Fernando Clerk of Court; and Chief Justice Staff Head Atty. Ralph Jerome D. Salvador.
The chief justice also appointed Atty. Megan Daphne Musni as task force secretary and Hannah Matti Espinosa and Justin Zodimo Mendoza as assistant secretaries.
Among the measures made by the SC, Peralta has also issued Administrative Circular No. 30-2020 dated March 13 which directed that “all courts in the National Capital Judicial Region, including collegiate courts, shall operate only with skeletal-staff, effective 15 March 2020 until 12 April 2020.
“All justices and judges must be on stand-by during this period to act on and hear urgent matters. The skeleton-staff must likewise be able to attend to urgent matters brought to the attention of their respective courts,” the chief justice stated.
Peralta also issued on March 13 Administrative Circular No. 29-2020 which imposed guidelines at the Court of Appeals (CA), Sandiganbayan and Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) “to strictly adhere” as preventive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
These measures are the following:
- Only those with official business in the courts may be allowed entry to halls of justice and court premises.
- All those entering the halls of justice and court premises must be subjected to a no-contact thermal scanning, and those found to be suffering from fever, flu, colds and cough shall be prevented from entering.
- All court users and visitors, including but not limited to lawyers, parties, and witnesses shall fill up a declaration form herein attached as Annex A before entering the halls of justice and court premises.
- Persons deprived of liberty who have hearings must be immediately brought back to their respective detention facilities after their hearings.
- Unessential meetings and gatherings must be reset.
- Court premises and common areas, including frequently touched fixtures (bundy machines, door knobs and handles, hand rails, countertops, elevator buttons, switches, toilet bowls, etc.), must be constantly sanitized, at least daily, using the recommended aerosol disinfectants and/ or 70 % ethyl alcohol.
- Courts must be adequately and properly ventilated.
- Always observe good personal and proper respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette (wash hands regularly with soap, cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and dispose of soiled tissue papers immediately in closed trash bins).
- Seek medical attention promptly if feeling sick for more than a day or two.
- Those required to go on mandatory quarantine and those availing of voluntary quarantine shall be covered by the guidelines and procedure provided in Civil Service Commission Me1norandum Circular (CSC MC) No. 5, s. 2020 for the availment of leave privileges for absences incurred in relation thereto.
- Executive Justices and Associate Justices shall monitor the conditions of their respective personnel and workplaces to avert the spread or threat of COVID-19 in the halls of justice and court premises, and immediately report to their respective Presiding Justices any development or circumstance pertaining to COVID-19 for proper assessment, monitoring and management. The Presiding Justices and Executive Justices shall likewise undertake such measures and report any development to the Office of the Chief Justice.
- Everyone must exercise caution and prudence in sharing, forwarding, or disseminating unverified or inaccurate news regarding the spread of the COVID-19 which only tend to cause unnecessary fear and panic.
The chief justice also ordered the cancellation of training programs and activities of the Philippine Judicial Academy scheduled this March up to May.