Justices tackle disclosure of Duterte health in historic virtual en banc

VIRTUAL. All 15 Justices of the Supreme Court are in attendance for the first ever virtual en banc session of the High Court held on April 17, 2020. Screenshot courtesy of SC Public Information Office

VIRTUAL. All 15 Justices of the Supreme Court are in attendance for the first ever virtual en banc session of the High Court held on April 17, 2020.

Screenshot courtesy of SC Public Information Office

In a historic first, the Philippine Supreme Court held its en banc session virtually on Friday, April 17, as justices adjusted to technology to argue over a touchy issue: should President Rodrigo Duterte be compelled to disclose his state of health?

Justices went online at around 9:30 am to prepare, said sources, and began their session around 10 am, which was the usual en banc time. They finished past 12 pm.

The magistrates spent a significant amount of their two-hour virtual session tackling the petition for mandamus to compel Duterte to submit health records, a test of Section 12, Article VII, of the Constitution, which says, "In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health."

A matter discussed was whether the petition stands on solid procedural grounds, sources said, 

The Supreme Court now has a strict rule that petitions which are procedurally infirm cannot move forward. It's unclear at this point what the procedural issue is in the petition for mandamus. 

By the end of the two-hour Zoom meeting, the magistrates could not agree on an action. They did not even ask for comment, which justices can do without giving due course to a petition.

Instead, they will deliberate on it again some other time.

"G.R. No. 252118 (Dino S. De Leon vs. Rodrigo Roa Duterte) - No action was taken by the Supreme Court since the case is still being deliberated," Supreme Court Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka told reporters in a message on Friday.

How it went

The justices were more decisive in the other agenda of the session: the petition to release low-risk and vulnerable prisoners amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Court asked the government to submit an answer by April 24, and to submit a report of interim measures implemented to address the problem as Quezon City Jail reports 9 confirmed cases of coronavirus among inmates.

On Twitter, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said, "Discussions during the deliberations were as serious and as lively as in every usual face-to-face deliberations of the Supreme Court."

In the en banc room, justices follow a sitting arrangement according to seniority. There were no such arrangements in a Zoom meeting, so sources said justices had to raise their hands to speak, although there were times they overlapped.

"Took us days to prepare, to get used to the software and hardware, sharing with each other our knowledge and skills. We even did a dry run so we could be sure that no one will be left behind in the discussion because of the technology and the encrypted transfer of documents," said Leonen.

"For almost all of us, our younger staff and even our families in our respective households helped orient us and gave us the confidence to embrace this technology," he added. – Rappler.com

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.

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