2 Peralta aides among those who tested positive — sources
MANILA — The Supreme Court is set to hold Thursday morning a retirement ceremony for outgoing Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta as the court logged 61 active COVID-19 cases, which include 2 of Peralta’s close-in aides.
The ceremony is scheduled at 10 in the morning at the Supreme Court Session Hall in Padre Faura, Manila, which will be livestreamed on the Supreme Court’s website and YouTube pages, based on photos of the invitation obtained by ABS-CBN News. A Zoom link was also provided.
Those who will attend onsite were required to submit RT-PCR or antigen test results by Wednesday while an onsite rapid antigen test will be provided starting at 7:30 am.
In a brief message in the invitation, Peralta acknowledged “the new reality of our present circumstances” by dispensing with the traditional luncheon.
RISING COVID-19 CASES
The retirement ceremony comes amid growing concerns among employees and even some justices of the high court about the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka on Tuesday night said there were 61 active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday.
Three independent sources told ABS-CBN News at least 2 of CJ Peralta’s close-in aides tested positive to the coronavirus recently, with 1 source claiming the results came out on Monday, after CJ Peralta’s last flag raising ceremony at the Supreme Court.
But a source said Peralta denied having been exposed to his security personnel.
ABS-CBN News is still trying to seek confirmation from the SC Public Information Office.
Two SC unions earlier asked the high court for a 2-week work timeout from March 24 until April 4 citing the upward trend of COVID-19 cases and the threat of further spreading it in enclosed spaces such as the workplace.
But the SC en banc on Tuesday decided to “drastically reduce” personnel in Supreme Court offices from March 24 to 26 and in all courts in the so-called “NCR+ bubble” consisting of the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal from March 24 to April 16, based on separate documents released by the Office of the SC Clerk of Court and the Office of the Court Administrator.
“A drastically reduced personnel would mean a skeleton force sufficient in number to attend to urgent matters preferably via teleconferencing. Discretion is given to the different heads of office to determine this. The SC and our courts did not close even during the height of the lockdowns last year,” Hosaka explained on Wednesday night.
The OCA circular for trial courts however allowed a reduced manpower of less than 30% of a court’s work force.
Hosaka reasoned out that even during the height of the lockdowns last year, the Supreme Court and the courts did not close but only adjusted the number of personnel physically reporting “to make sure that we continue being accessible to the People.”
But 2 sources said Peralta will announce a lockdown only after his retirement ceremony.
JUSTICES TRIED BUT FAILED TO DISSUADE PERALTA
A source told ABS-CBN News Wednesday that some justices have tried but failed to dissuade Peralta from pushing through with his retirement ceremony, although 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, administrative staff who provide support will still be required to report.
A 3rd SC source said more than 10 individuals will be onsite Thursday.
Current Inter-Agency Task Force guidelines prohibit mass gatherings and discourage face-to-face meetings.
The only exceptions are weddings, baptisms, and funeral services which are limited to 10 persons.
The same concerns were raised prior to Peralta’s last flag raising ceremony Monday with some justices and chiefs of offices reportedly “excused” from physically attending.
But aside from Peralta, 2 other justices — Rosmari Carandang and Henri Jean Paul Inting — showed up physically along with at least 30 other staff and security personnel for the flag raising ceremony which, unlike the retirement ceremony, was held in open air.
Peralta officially steps down on Saturday, March 27, one year ahead of his mandatory retirement.
He has served as top magistrate for 1 year and 5 months, most of which was spent dealing with the raging coronavirus pandemic while issues of killings of lawyers, threat against judges and claims of abuses allegedly committed by state forces against activists emerged towards the latter part of his term.
In a rare move Tuesday, SC magistrates condemned the attacks and vowed to look into them, craft new rules on the use of body cameras in serving warrants and review protective writs criticized to be weak and ineffective.