The Supreme Court has scaled down to a mere 30% the skeleton force of all courts in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, now known as areas under the National Capital Region or NCR Plus.
Court Administrator Midas Marquez issued the circular Monday, March 22, that beginning Tuesday, March 23, all NCR Plus courts “shall maintain a skeleteon force of 30%-50% in-court” until March 31.
“Those who will not be in-court shall work from home and be subject to the submission of accomplishment reports,” said Marquez’s circular.
A later circular issued Tuesday night extended this scaling down until April 16.
This directive was in light of new government restrictions on the so-called NCR Plus bubble, which sealed the border from outside, and revived prohibition on mass gatherings. The scaling down started a day after Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta held a retirement flag-raising ceremony in-person at the Supreme Court Monday attended by no less than 25 people.
Virtual hearings are encouraged for these courts in the timeframe.
Quezon City asks for closure
The Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), however, as asked for a more drastic measure of physically closing both halls of justice – the main building and the annex because of 9 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its personnel.
“[It’s] the highest number of confirmed cases in the QC Hall of Justice buildings in a given month. Such drastic increase of infection is indeed very alarming,” said QC Executive Judge Cecilyn Burgos Villavert in a request letter sent to Marquez dated March 19.
Villavert was asking for closure from March 22 to April 4 “or for such period of time which Your Honor may deem proper.”
The Department of Health (DOH) reported 8,019 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the Philippines’ highest single-day tally since the pandemic began.
“Rest assured that, if granted, all courts shall ensure continuous operation through their official email addresses and contact numbers as posted in the SC website, including work from home assignments of all court personnel and authorized video conference hearing,” said Villavert.
Villavert is notorious to activists for search warrants she issued that led to arrests in a still intensifying crackdown on progressive groups.