Trial court judges in areas where courts are physically closed are given “utmost discretion” to solemnize marriages.
“If they deem this (solemnization) very urgent as well… they must see to it that all those in attendance, including any minimum required staff, are protected from possible infection for the virus,” the Supreme Court (SC) stressed through Deputy Court Administrator Raul Bautista Villanueva.
With all courts in areas under the more restrictive COVID Alert Level 3 declared physically closed until Jan. 31, justices and judges have been directed to utilize video conferencing in acting on urgent and important cases only.
The order on the physical closure of courts included all courts – from the SC to the lowest trial court located in areas under Alert Level 3.
Physically-closed courts may be contacted through their telephones, emails or Facebook accounts listed in the SC website – sc.judiciary.gov.ph.
Trial court judges were mandated “to attend only to transactions that are of urgent nature,” Villanueva’s circular stated.
The circular stated: “As all in-court hearings in the covered areas are entirely suspended until 31 January 2022, Judges may conduct fully remote video conferencing hearings regardless of their locations and without need of any prior clearance from the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA),” the office that supervises for the SC all lower courts in the country.
On the issuance of orders, resolutions, or decisions, the circular stated: “There being no official policy yet on the use of electronic signatures (esignatures), orders or rulings that may be issued/rendered by the Judges during their videoconferencing hearings should bear their original signatures affixed thereon and copies thereof may then be transmitted electronically after these have been scanned.”
“Civil cases, including those with prayers for extraordinary reliefs or writs, and criminal cases, together with other supporting documents, may be filed through electronic transmission or email before the proper court in the covered areas. The required proceedings for the said cases during the herein period can then be conducted through videoconferencing,” it also stated.
Payment of filing fees “and other collections may be deposited/paid in any branch of the Land Bank of the Philippines or through bank/online transfer by the paying party upon receipt of an order of payment from the concerned judicial office or clerk of court,” the circular stated.
“Applications for bail may likewise be done with the use of electronic means and the required documents for the same may be transmitted using the platforms already available to the courts. If a cash bond will be posted, the accused or his/her representative should communicate with the concerned judicial office or clerk of court to facilitate the payment thereof in accordance with the relevant provisions of OCA Circular No. 164-2020,” it added.
Orginally declared physically closed until Jan. 31 are all courts in the National Capital Region, in the provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan and Rizal, and in 14 other areas in the country under COVID-19 Alert Level 3.
The 14 other areas under Alert Level 3 are Baguio City in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR); Dagupan City in Region 1; City of Santiago and Cagayan in Region 2; Angeles City, Bataan, Olongapo City, Pampanga and Zambales in Region 3; Batangas and Lucena City in Region 4-A; Naga City in Region 5; Iloilo City in Region 6; and Lapu-lapu City in Region 7.
Thereafter, trial courts in many other provinces and cities nationwide were included in the list of physically-closed courts. These are:
In Luzon, these courts re those in Benguet, Kalinga and Abra in the Cordillera Administrative Region; La Union, Ilocos Norte and Pangasinan in Region I; Nueva Ecija, Isabela and Quirino in Region II; Tarlac in Region III; Quezon in Region IV-A; Occidental Mindoro and Oriental Mindoro in Region IV-B; and Camarines Sur and Albay in Region V.
In the Visayas, physically-closed courts are those in Bacolod City, Aklan, Capiz, and Antique in Region VI; Cebu City and Mandaue City in Region VII; and Tacloban City in Region VIII.
In Mindanao, affected courts are those in Cagayan de Oro City in Region IX; Davao City in Region X; Butuan City, Agusan del Sur in Region XIII; and Cotabato City in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Also, physically-closed are the two stations of the Court of Appeals in Cebu City for the Visayas and in Cagayan de Oro City for Mindanao.
Chief Justice Gesmundo has extended until Feb. 1, 2022 the filing of court-required pleadings and submissions which will be due on or before Jan 31, 2022.