By Rey Panaligan
All courts in the country – from the Supreme Court (SC) to the lowest trial court – will remain physically shutdown until April 30 with the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) enforced by the government in a bid to deter the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
But Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta said all courts are functioning and are mandated to accept the online filing of all cases – criminal, commercial and family – and petitions and posting of bail during the period of health emergency.
Justices and trial court judges – while working from home — have been directed to immediately evaluate and act on the cases filed through online, Peralta said.
Also, he reiterated that only selected court officials and employees are mandated to report to the court offices only to act on urgent cases, particularly those filed in connection with the implementation of the ECQ.
Expected ECQ-related cases are those involving violations of quarantine, curfew, and mass gatherings.
Court officials and employees who are not part of the skeleton staff are mandated to work from home, he added.
At the same time, justices and trial court judges are required to study and draft orders, resolutions, and decisions on pending cases while working from home for promulgation and release once the COVID-19 crisis is over, he stressed.
SC circulars and those issued by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) in relation to COVID-19 can be viewed at the SC website – sc.judiciary.gov.ph.
At the same time, Peralta said the SC’s traditional summer sessions in Baguio City have been cancelled.
Summer sessions had earlier been set starting next week until April 30.
Also expected to be cancelled are Baguio City sessions of the Court of Appeals (CA) which holds sessions by batches of at least three divisions each.
Earlier, Peralta said the judiciary has built-in measures to address the expected backlog of cases as a result of the physical shutdown of all courts in the country.
Peralta said that even before COVID-19, the SC had initiated various reforms in the rules of court that would expedite the resolution of cases, particularly those pending in the dockets.
Among the built-in measures adopted by the SC were those revised and special rules on admiralty cases, small claims, continuous trial on criminal cases, and pilot testing of remote testimony, he said.
Also, the SC had amended the Rules on Evidence and Rules on Civil Procedure effective May 1, he said.
“I believe this will have a significant impact in addressing the case backlog in some of our courts,” he stressed.
The SC had also ordered the strict implementation of the rules on reglamentary period in resolving motions and pending incidents, he said.
“We have to strictly monitor the issuance of temporary restraining orders (TROs) and inhibition of judges. All these measures and policies will no doubt address any backlog in our courts’ dockets,” he added.#