MANILA - The Supreme Court has allowed the online filing of criminal complaints and bail posting in courts across the country as cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continued to rise.
The high court issued Administrative Circular No. 33 Tuesday, laying down guidelines on the online filing as it aims to "further limit the physical movement of our court users, judges and personnel during this period of public health emergency."
"This will enable the courts to digitally act on the matters covered by this Circular, thereby reducing the necessity of the judge and court staff to physically travel to their stations," said the circular signed by Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta.
Under the circular, the high court said criminal complaints and informations along with supporting documents may be filed through email before first or second-level courts, which include Municipal Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts and Regional Trial Courts.
Upon filing, the case is assigned to the judge on duty, who shall then determine within 3 days whether it should be dismissed or go to trial.
"If the Judge on duty finds probable cause, he or she shall issue a warrant of arrest, or a commitment order when the complaint or information was filed pursuant to Sec. 6, Rule 112, of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure which pertains to lawful arrests without a warrant," the issuance read.
The judge shall also issue a commitment order if the suspect is already in custody.
If probable cause is still in doubt, the high court said the judge on duty may order the prosecutor to file, also electronically, additional evidence within 3 days from notice. The case must then be resolved within 10 days.
If an accused is qualified for bail, the court said requirements may also be submitted electronically.
"If so, and once the accused has submitted all the requirements for bail, which may likewise be initially electronically transmitted to the court, the Judge on duty shall examine the submissions, and if complete and compliant, shall sign the approval of the bail and the consequent release order," the court said.
Bail reduction pleas may also be processed electronically, the circular read.
Approval of bail and the release order shall also be transmitted electronically by the judge on duty to the executive judge, who shall then forward the same issuance to the relevant law enforcement authority or detention facility so the accused could be released.
"The electronically transmitted approval of bail and release order by the Executive Judge shall be sufficient to cause the release of the accused," the court said.
Those charged in courts before the COVID-19 emergency and are applying for bail may also submit requirements online.
The high court said the online procedure would remain in effect "only during this duration of public health emergency declared by the President in accordance with existing law."
It ordered the Office of the Court Administrator to issue guidelines for implementation of the circular within 3 days.
Courts in Luzon have been operating on limited capacity since the start of the lockdown earlier this month, which suspended mass transport, school and work, except for frontliners in basic services.
Other provinces in the country with multiple coronavirus cases have also restricted movement within their localities.
As of Monday, the Philippines has recorded a total of 1,546 COVID-19 cases, with 78 deaths and 42 recoveries.