Court premises of MECQ areas to remain closed, but operations to continue via videoconferencing

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Court premises of MECQ areas to remain closed, but operations to continue 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 — The Supreme Court has extended the closure of premises of courts in Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine areas but stressed that operations will continue through videoconferencing.

Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo on Friday issued Administrative Circular No. 29-2021 ordering the courts in MECQ areas to remain physically closed until May 14, but they may be reached through hotlines and email addresses posted on the SC website.

“Considering that the National Capital Region, the provinces of Abra, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Quirino and Rizal, and Santiago City, Isabela continue to be under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) until May 14, all first and second level courts, and appellate collegiate courts and their judicial offices in the said areas shall continue to be physically closed until 14 May 2021,” he said.

Courts and judicial offices in other localities under localized ECQ and MECQ shall likewise be physically closed for the duration of their community quarantine status.

Gesmundo, however, stressed that these courts “shall continue to operate during this period through fully remote videoconferencing, which must be maximized so as not to delay the trial of cases and court processes.”

“Judges are to conduct fully remote videoconferencing hearings on pending cases and all other matters, whether urgent or not, regardless of their physical location and without prior permission from the Office of the Court Administrator,” the chief justice also said.

Following the extended physical closure of courts, filing and service of pleadings and motions during the said period will also be suspended and will resume seven days from the first day of the court’s reopening.

Affected courts shall also maintain skeletal force to attend to urgent matters and concerns.

At least 25% on-site operations for GCQ, MGCQ areas

Courts in localities under General Community Quarantine and Modified GCQ, meanwhile, shall be physically open during the said period.

The following areas are currently under GCQ: Apayao, Baguio City, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Batangas, Quezon, Tacloban City in Leyte, Iligan City in Northern Mindanao and Davao City. The rest of the country will be under modified GCQ.

The affected courts shall operate “with a workforce of at least 25% to be determined by the executive justices and presiding judges using their sound discretion with respect to their courts, and the executive justices and executive judges with respect to the judicial offices,” Gesmundo said.

Justices and judges may still conduct videoconferencing from their homes, provided that these will be within the judicial territorial region, and with notice to the Office of the Court of Administrator with respect to Judges of the first and second level courts, added the chief justice.

The SC has recently approved financial assistance of P15,000 to P50,000 for lower court personnel who died or contracted COVID-19 and were hospitalized.

The Philippines’ coronavirus caseload breached the one million mark on April 26. As of Thursday, health authorities recorded 1,028,738 COVID-19 infections in the country, with 69,354 classified as active cases.





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