SC postpones oral arguments on Anti-Terrorism Act as magistrates consider online session
MANILA — Supreme Court Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo officially took his oath on Monday as the 27th chief justice of the high court, in a ceremony that highlighted the need to improve the judiciary’s information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure.
Gesmundo took his oath before Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, who had been the acting top magistrate since former Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta’s retirement took effect Saturday, March 27.
Also present during his oath taking was Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.
All the other magistrates attended the ceremony via Zoom, according to SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka.
Gesmundo’s family also joined via Zoom.
The Supreme Court and other courts in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna are still on lockdown following the extension of the enhanced community quarantine protocol in the area.
On Monday, it also suspended yet again oral arguments on petitions questioning the Anti-Terrorism Act to 2 weeks after the ECQ is lifted.
But the oathtaking ceremony, which was livestreamed on the high court's YouTube account, encountered technical difficulties.
The video froze multiple times, with some justices were overheard talking about the issue.
The SC Public Information Office later uploaded a full video of the 5-minute ceremony.
Gesmundo earlier said during his interview with the Judicial and Bar Council that one of his priorities is to develop the Judiciary's ICT infrastructure.
The high court, during the time of ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, hired Helen Macasaet as consultant in 2013 to work on the judiciary’s Enterprise Information Systems Plan (EISP) and other related computerization and ICT projects. Among her tasks was to automate 2,700 courts nationwide.
But her contract, which ended in November 2017, was later voided by the Supreme Court in 2019 supposedly for violating the Procurement Law, because it did not go through public bidding. She was supposedly paid allegedly excessive fees.
A former court official, lawyer Carlos Garay, who was the acting chief of the SC Management Information Systems Office (MISO), told lawmakers in February 2018 that there was no need to hire an ICT consultant and that despite Macasaet’s hiring, the effects were “not substantial” in terms of improving the efficiency of the judiciary’s IT system.
The hiring of Macasaet was among the issues raised against Sereno in the attempt to impeach her at the House of Representatives.
She was later ousted through a quo warranto petition in an 8-6 vote by her fellow-magistrates in 2018.
In the midst of the raging pandemic last year, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Peralta fast-tracked the rollout of videoconferencing in hearings which resulted in 222,767 videoconference hearings from May 4, 2020 to March 12, 2021, with a success rate of 88%.
Other aspects of court processes also need to be digitized.
Former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te said there needs to be a culture shift, aside from upgrades in the infrastructure.
“The SC itself needs to see that it can work online and abandon/modify some traditions that no longer work and cannot work in an online setting,” he told ABS-CBN News.
“Filing and payment of fees including bail would be topmost--people are using QR codes already; the court should be doing that already,” he explained.
SC CONSIDERING ORAL ARGUMENTS ON ANTI-TERROR LAW
Supreme Court sources told ABS-CBN News Monday the magistrates are now considering holding “online” oral arguments on petitions challenging the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Petitioners against the law initially proposed holding online oral arguments in the wake of the Office of the Solicitor General’s move to cancel oral arguments, due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
They pointed out that trial courts have been holding videoconference hearings.
The OSG rejected videoconferencing because that would still mean at least 25 individuals gathered in one room, according to its filing before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court eventually junked the OSG’s pleas, relenting only to postpone oral arguments when Solicitor General Jose Calida claimed that some of his staff tested positive for COVID-19.
The oral arguments on ATA will resume 2 weeks after the lifting of the ECQ in Metro Manila.
FROM THE ARCHIVES