By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered all courts in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) to open on May 4 with skeleton force to act on urgent matters.
In a circular issued by Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, the SC said that courts in GCQ areas will operate from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but night courts and Saturday courts, and hearings remain suspended until May 15.
The circular identified the courts in the GCQ areas as those in the Cordillera Administrative Region, except in Benguet; all those in Region I except in Pangasinan; all in Region II, all in Region II except Aurora; all in Region IV-B except in the Mindoro provinces; all in Region V except in Albay and Catanduanes; all in Region VI except Aklan, Antique, Capiz and Iloilo; all in Region VII except in Cebu and Cebu City; all in Region VIII; all in
Regions IX, X, XI except in Davao del Norte, Davao City and Davao de Oro; and all in Region XII and the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Earlier, the SC had ordered that all courts in areas under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) are physically closed until May 15 but justices and judge are mandated to act on urgent cases filed online.
The SC circular states that “judges in the GCQ areas, in the exercise of their sound discretion, may set for hearing other urgent matters or concerns to expedite the proceedings or the disposition of the cases pending before their courts.”
It also states: “The on-line filing of criminal complaints and informations (criminal charges), posting of bail, and the submission of other urgent pleadings in the GCQ areas may be availed of until 15 May 2020. For this purpose, the hotlines, email addresses and/or other accounts of the courts in the GCQ areas posted on the website of the Supreme
Court, sc.judiciary.gov.ph , shall be utilized.”
The circular also permits judges and court personnel who are more than 59 years old and with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 to report to the courts only on urgent matters and allowing them to work from their residences.
Also according to the circular: “The raffle of newly-filed cases shall be conducted beginning 4 May 2020 in accordance with the regular schedule of raffle, and shall be attended only by the members of the Raffle Committee. The private lawyers and the general public shall be excluded during this period of public health emergency.
Other salient provisions of the circular include:
“Decisions and orders drafted before and during the GCQ may be promulgated and released during this period, provided no hearings are necessary, except on urgent matters. Service of writs and other court processes on urgent matters within the GCQ areas shall proceed.
”No actual meetings, seminars, trainings and other functions in the Judiciary within the GCQ areas shall take place during this period, except those that may be called or authorized by the Chief Justice or by the Judiciary Task Force on COVID-19.
“Flag raising and retreat ceremonies in the GCQ areas are likewise suspended until 15 May 2020.
“Only those with official business shall be allowed to enter the halls of justice and courtrooms in the GCQ areas during this time.
“All those going to court in the GCQ areas during this period shall observe the following medical health standards or hygiene practices while in the premises of the halls of justice, to wit: a. obligatory temperature check; b. compulsory wearing of face masks; c. regular use of alcohol for sanitation; d. application of disinfectants inside the court rooms
and hall of justice common areas; e. maintenance of social or physical distancing; f. proper washing of hands; and,g. exercise cough etiquette.
“Executive Judges of multi-sala stations and the Judges of singlesala courts shall coordinate with their respective local government units and/or health authorities on the proper protocols to be observed and the designation of medical or health care areas for the isolation of suspected infectedindividuals, and the continuous testing of those who may need it.”