MANILA (UPDATE) - Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta on Thursday ordered the closure of all courts in the NCR Plus quarantine bubble amid rising cases of COVID-19 but not after first holding a series of retirement ceremonies.
In a statement, the Supreme Court PIO said the High Court, Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeals, Sandiganbayan, and trial courts in the NCR Plus quarantine bubble, or areas covering Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, would be physically closed starting 2 p.m. on Thursday until Friday.
All in-person hearings are suspended except in urgent matters such as bail, habeas corpus, promulgation of judgments of acquittals, and reliefs for those arrested and detained.
Courts will also remain accessible through hotlines and email.
The SC has logged 67 active COVID-19 cases among its personnel as of Thursday, sources said.
A source explained to ABS-CBN News that courts would only be physically closed until Friday because Peralta could only order a lockdown while he is still Chief Justice. Peralta is retiring on Saturday, March 27.
Beyond that, an acting chief magistrate, or if there is a new CJ by Saturday, would take over, Court Administrator Midas Marquez said.
RETIREMENT CEREMONIES BEFORE LOCKDOWN
On March 22, two SC unions have asked for a 2-week work timeout. Up until the lockdown was announced on Thursday, the SC only resorted to drastically reducing the number of personnel physically present in courts.
The lockdown came only after the Supreme Court held on Thursday morning a retirement ceremony for the outgoing top magistrate.
The ceremony was physically attended by Peralta’s entire family and some guests, including Peralta’s 95-year-old mother and his California-based brother who travelled to Manila just for the occasion.
All 14 other magistrates attended via Zoom.
The Supreme Court did not disclose how many attended but sources said there were more than 10.
There were at least 8 from Peralta’s family alone when they posed with the portrait of the Chief Justice.
Some Court officials were also in attendance such as SC Clerk of Court Edgar Aricheta who is retiring as well on Friday.
Current Inter-Agency Task Force guidelines prohibit mass gatherings and discourage face-to-face meetings except for weddings, baptisms, and funeral services which are limited to 10 persons.
A source told ABS-CBN News Wednesday that some justices have tried but failed to dissuade Peralta from pushing through with his retirement ceremony. A second source said “only a few” asked for the cancellation “as the understanding is that it will just be virtual anyway.”
But the first source pointed out that the administrative staff who would provide support was still required to report.
The same concerns were raised prior to Peralta’s last flag raising ceremony Monday, with some justices and chiefs of offices eventually “excused” from physically attending.
SC sources also told ABS-CBN News that as of Thursday, 3 close-in aides of Peralta have tested positive for the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, SC employees organized another send-off in an enclosed setting.
The country on Thursday recorded 8,773 new COVID-19 cases, a new record-high for the country since the pandemic started.
Active cases is also at an all-time high at nearly 100,000.