Courts in MECQ areas 'physically' closed until April 18, but trials to proceed via videoconferencing

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Courts in MECQ areas 'physically' closed until April 18, but trials to proceed via videoconferencing
Police and barangay officers man the entry and exit points of Barangay 297 in Manila at Monday midnight, March 22, 2021 after it was placed under a four-day lockdown along with 12 other barangays.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Courts in areas placed under modified enhanced community quarantine status, including Metro Manila, will remain physically closed until April 18, but proceedings on cases, urgent or not, shall continue through videoconferencing.

In an advisory last weekend, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo ordered the physical closure of courts in the National Capital Judicial Region, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal until April 18, but assured the public that offices can be reached through their respective hotlines and email addresses.

Gesmundo said this is following the “unabated rise of COVID-19 cases, the requests of the judges and court personnel, and upon the concurrence of the members of the Court en banc.”

An advisory by Court Administrator Midas Marquez on Sunday night said the chief justice’s order will also cover courts in the City of Santiago in Isabela, and the provinces of Quirino and Abra which were also placed under MECQ in the latest Palace announcement.

On Sunday, the Palace eased restrictions in areas in the NCR Plus region and placed it under MECQ. Santiago City in Isabela and provinces of Abra and Quirino will also be classified as MECQ areas until end of the month.

Courts outside MECQ areas however continue to be affected by COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday alone, the Supreme Court Public Information Office said some courts in Nueva Vizcaya, La Union, Calapan City, Negros Oriental and Danao City in Cebu shall be physically closed for a few days.

Videoconferencing for all cases

Chief Justice Gesmundo said courts under MECQ areas shall continue to operate through videoconferencing on cases, urgent or not, in the said period.

“Judges may conduct fully remote videoconferencing hearings on pending cases and other matters, whether urgent or not, regardless of their physical location and without prior permission from the Office of the Court Administrator,” Gesmundo said in Administrative Order 21-2021.

Until April 18, the period for filing and service of pleadings is also suspended and will “resume seven calendar days counted from the first day of physical reopening of the relevant court,” the chief justice added.

Skeleton staff meanwhile shall be assigned in every judicial office to ensure that urgent matters will be attended to, the directive also said.

COVID-19 cases in the country hit 864,868 on Sunday, with 145,519 recorded as active cases. Health authorities have been logging more than 9,000 new infections daily in recent weeks, prompting the government to again impose lockdowns and curfews in several areas a year since the community quarantines started.

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