By Joseph Almer Pedrajas
The regional and metropolitan courts of Caloocan City will be indefinitely closed as the city’s judicial complex was placed under lockdown due to threats of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
This means that physical inquest proceedings and court trials will be temporarily suspended, according to the order issued by Caloocan Regional Trial Court (RTC) Executive Judge Victoriano Cabanos.
“The RTC and the Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC)…are hereby reminded that their offices should remain physically closed to all court users until further orders,” part of the order dated May 20 read.
“Electronic filing and hearings through videoconferencing, among others, as provided under Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 39-2020 should continue to be observed,” it added.
The action was taken on Wednesday, a day after the judicial complex was shut down for disinfection when one of its staffers tested positive for COVID-19 through rapid test.
City Chief Prosecutor Ferdinand Valbuena said in an interview on Tuesday that they requested to the Supreme Court and the Justice Department to place the judiciary complex under “lockdown” to forestall the spread of the COVID-19 infection.
Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento has designated the Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP) of Quezon and Valenzuela cities as the new Offices-in-Charge “to act on inquest cases within the territorial jurisdiction of the OCP of Caloocan City.”
Before the temporary shutdown of the judiciary complex, the office of the prosecutor had been processing physical inquest proceedings due to the limited number of its prosecutors and staffers. This raised Valbuena’s fear that some of them might have already been infected, prompting him to request to the local government to test them through rapid tests.
“‘Pag may nahuling warrantless arrest [ang mga] pulis, ang order ng (Whenever there are warrantless arrests, the order of the) Secretary of Justice [and the] Department of Justice Prosecutor General, we have to attend to inquest proceedings no matter what,” Valbuena said.
“[Eh] laging kaharap [namin] pulis, eh mga pulis naman natin may direct contact sa maaring positive din (We used to face with police officers, who might also have direct contact with positive patients),” he added.
Caloocan is the third most populous city in Metro Manila and has the most number of inquest cases, hence inquest proceedings are held everyday.
Valbuena said that prosecutors are also considering to undergo swab tests once those suspected of having the infection are confirmed through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine as being COVID-19 positive.
“Hintayin natin results ng swab test [and] that’s the time we decide na kung ano ang gagawin (We’ll wait for the swab test results, and that’s the time we decide what to do next),” he said.
“Pero kung nagpositive sa swab test [yung patient], mag-papaswab test na rin kami. At least ngayon, kampanate kami, na-relieve kami na nag negative yung rapid test (But if he turned out really positive, we will also undergo swab test. At least now, we are confident and are relieved that we yielded negative results through rapid tests),” he added.