Philippine courts remain open amid rising coronavirus cases

Lian Buan
Philippine courts remain open amid rising coronavirus cases

LeAnne Jazul

(3rd UPDATE) In a later announcement, Supreme Court says hearings are suspended from March 13-18. But court work continues.

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Philippine courts remain open amid rising 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the country, the Supreme Court announced on Thursday, March 12.

“While the health and welfare of everyone is primordial, we, as public servants, have a mandate to perform,” said Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta through Administrative Circular No. 26-2020 issued Thursday.

In a later announcement, Peralta said hearings are suspended from March 13 to 18. But court work continues, and people may still do business with the courts such as file pleadings.

“Yes, court personnel will still be reporting for work,” Supreme Court Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka told reporters.

Peralta said his office is “closely monitoring the situation nationwide.”

“Further advisories shall be issued as may be deemed fit,” Peralta said.

The Supreme Court instead issues directives to all courts. The following are the most pertinent:

  1. Only those with official business in the courts may be allowed entry to halls of justice and courtrooms.
  2. All those entering must be subjected to no-contact thermal scanning and those found to be suffering from fever, flu, colds and cough shall be prevented from entering.
  3. All court users and visitors shall fill up a declaration form. (The declaration form asks for recent travels, and symptoms they have shown if any.)
  4. Unessential meetings and gatherings must be reset.
  5. Executive judges and Presiding Judges shall monitor the conditions of their respective personnel, and immediately report to their respective Deputy Court Administrators any development for proper assessment, monitoring and management.

Other offices

The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan also remains open despite the Office of the Ombudsman suspending work from March 12-13 to disinfect its buildings.

So although there is still work at the Sandiganbayan, hearings were inadvertently canceled because there are no prosecutors to attend.

“The Ombudsman issued a memorandum declaring no work today and tomorrow in their office to give way to disinfecting their building and directing their officials and employees to undergo home quarantine for the said period,” said Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang said.

Justices held a special en banc on Friday, March 13, and decided that all Metro Manila courts, including the Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeals, and Sandiganbayan, will have to operate on a skeleton staff from March 15 to April 12, within the duration of the Metro Manila lockdown.

The Supreme Court ordered all justices and judges to be on standby to act on and hear urgent matters.

At the Supreme Court in Padre Faura, a skeleton staff will be maintained except for the Medical and Dental Services, Office of the Bar Confidant, Property Division, Security Division and Office of Administrative Services which shall be full force.

All events of the Philippine Judicial Academy or PHILJA are canceled until further notice.

In a tweet, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said: “The judiciary will not shut down. It has a public duty to fulfill, specifically to ensure the rule of law even in times of crisis.”

Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) Spokesperson Xavier Solda on Thursday denied rumors that a detainee at the Manila City Jail tested positive for coronavirus. “Fake news,” Solda told Rappler.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic officials, as well as several senators, have gone on self-quarantine after contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient. The Senate was put on lockdown Thursday because a patient was a resource person in a hearing there last week.

Duterte, who was with some of the economic officials at an event where the coronavirus patient was present, said he will have himself tested for the coronavirus.

Metro Manila mayors have also canceled classes in all levels until Friday, March 13.

As of posting, there are 49 patients who tested positive with COVID-19 in the Philppines. Two of them died. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.