Courts to open physically in general quarantine areas starting Monday

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 16 2020 09:24 AM

MANILA - Courts in areas under general community quarantine or GCQ will open physically starting Monday, while those under modified lockdown will remain closed, the Supreme Court said.

From Monday until May 29, the presiding judge of every court under GCQ will determine a skeleton staff who will report to work on a rotation basis, according to SC guidelines.

May 29 falls on a Friday the last working day before May 31, the last day of new quarantine areas that took effect Saturday. The GCQ is one step below the ECQ or enhanced community quarantine, which has more restrictions.

There is a modified ECQ or transition phase before a downgrade to GCQ and a modified GCQ which will lead to a downgrade to the new normal with institutionalized post-pandemic health protocols.

Courts in areas under a modified lockdown or modified ECQ will remain physically closed, the SC said. Metro Manila is under modified ECQ alongside Laguna, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Zambales and Angeles City.

Night courts and Saturday courts remain suspended in all areas, the SC said. All tribunals can reached by phone, email or Facebook. A list of court hotlines and email is available on the Supreme Court website.

Under the new guidelines, courts both under MECQ and GCQ can continue receiving complaints online and raffle of cases electronically. Only courts under MECQ can raffle cases through videoconference. Non-eCourt stations under GCQ can hold physical raffles with only the raffle committee present.

Videoconference hearing are now being used in the Court of Tax Appeals, Sandiganbayan and the Court of Appeals. Regional trial courts, family courts and first level courts can hold videoconference hearings for all kinds of cases, regardless of the stage of trial.

Among areas under MECQ, all courts in Metro Manila, Cebu City and San Pablo City and Calamba in Laguna are authorized to hold videoconference hearings. The other courts in Laguna may only hold in-court hearings in urgent cases, subject to health hygiene protocols and other public medical standards like wearing of face masks.

However, judges and justices under the GCQ are required to be in the courtroom or in their chambers when holding videoconference hearings except for justices, judges and court personnel with medical conditions who will be allowed to work from home.

In all courts under MECQ and GCQ, all deadlines for filing new cases or other submissions was extended for 30 calendar days after May 31.

Decisions and orders drafted by judges and justices can be issued in areas under GCQ while those under MECQ will have to wait until courts are fully operational.

In all areas, civil weddings may now be solemnized as long as the parties, witnesses and guests will not exceed 5 persons while still following medical protocols.

IATF guidelines for areas under ECQ prohibits mass gatherings of more than 5 persons although it expanded that figure to 10 under the phased transition from ECQ to GCQ.

The limit to the number of people who can attend civil weddings prompted SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen to joke in a series of tweets: "I suggest parties no longer invite their exes. Better still, take more time to think about doing it."

"Just to clarify, the groom and the bride need to be present. One of them cannot be absent just so there can be more guests," he said.

The new guidelines take effect until May 31, 2020.