The Department of Justice (DOJ) has been on temporary lockdown after a rise in COVID-19 cases among personnel in its headquarters in Manila, as courts have scaled down too.
Closures of courts and prosecutors’ offices affect the administration of justice, especially urgent needs where freedom is at stake, like inquest proceedings and posting of bail.
On Friday, March 19, there were 17 personnel of the DOJ’s Witness Protection Program (WPP) who tested positive, bringing the total active cases in the DOJ to 45.
“We have a total of 45 active cases now, and I’m getting alarmed,” Guevarra told reporters on Friday.
The temporary lockdown, where all work from home, was initially until Tuesday, March 23, only, but Guevarra said, “We may have to extend the temporary lockdown of the DOJ premises unless the rising transmission rate is arrested.”
The local prosecutors’ offices nationwide have been given authority to also implement necessary measures if needed. Local prosecutors’ offices are located inside the same building as the trial courts, or usually near them.
“The regional, provincial, and city prosecution offices have been authorized to take the necessary measures in their respective jurisdiction,” said Guevarra.
Metro Manila prosecutors’ offices have been “directed” to do lockdowns if needed, said Prosecutor General Ben Malcontento.
Courts scale down too
The Supreme Court will scale down to only 50% manpower until March 26. It has not yet announced, however, if the oral arguments on the anti-terror law on March 23 are still a go.
The Department of Health (DOH) announced Friday afternoon that there were 7,103 new cases, the highest single-day tally since the pandemic began.
The Court of Appeals (CA), which is behind the Supreme Court in Manila, also physically closed down on Friday.
The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City also closed down for two days this week and will scale down to 50% manpower next week.
Trial courts have routinely been physically closing down the entire pandemic period.
On Friday, the following courts announced closures:
- Malolos City, Bulacan, RTC Branch 80 (March 19 to April 1)
- Las Piñas RTC (March 22)