MANILA — Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo on Friday said he would prioritize the vaccination of court employees and the speedy disposition of cases as his short term goals, 2 months since he assumed office.
In his first press conference, Gesmundo addressed the media virtually, on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the Supreme Court.
He was joined by 12 other justices — also their first time to join a top magistrate’s media interview.
SHORT TERM GOAL: VACCINATION OF COURT EMPLOYEES
In his speech at the start of the press conference, Gesmundo highlighted the need to take care of the Judiciary’s own employees.
“The most valuable resource of any organization is its human resources, as its success is largely dependent on the people who compose it. The Judiciary is no exception; the value of the courts’ workforce cannot be underemphasized,” he said.
As of June 3 this year, Gesmundo said 1,994 employees of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Tax Appeals, and the trial courts have contracted the coronavirus, with 1,846 recoveries, 33 deaths, and 115 active cases.
All SC justices have received their second dose, he said, while there are scheduled vaccinations for court employees to be held within Supreme Court facilities. The earliest is for 400 persons this week.
“The Supreme Court wanted to ensure that the Judiciary will continue to administer justice without sacrificing the health and safety of its personnel,” he said.
“It is my view that the court can become fully operational meaning people can report perhaps less than 100 percent only when they have been vaccinated, completely, meaning the first and second jab is completed,” he added.
Since taking the helm of the Supreme Court, Gesmundo has issued several administrative orders and other issuances, including, the inclusion of court workers in the A4 category for priority COVID-19 vaccinations and the grant of financial assistance to judges and employees who needed hospitalization because of the disease.
Gesmundo also continued and improved on what his predecessor retired Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta started — reducing the number of court personnel physically present in courts and pushing for the shift to videoconferencing in hearings.
As of June 4, meanwhile, he said a total of 327,991 videoconferencing hearings have been successfully conducted, or a success rate of 87.57 percent.
Some 90,040 persons deprived of liberty have been released, the chief justice said, of which 1,217 were children.
SPEEDY DISPOSITION OF CASES
Acknowledging that extensive delays in the resolution of cases have had an adverse effect on the public’s perception of the courts, Gesmundo said he would also focus on the speedy disposition of cases.
Aside from continuing procedural reforms which Peralta started, Gesmundo intends to focus on case decongestion and a shift to a technology-driven judiciary.
Within the Supreme Court, Gesmundo said they have amended their internal rules to shorten the period for deliberations and distribution of copies of reports among members, and limited the nature of administrative cases that may be appealed to the high court.
They also hope to hire more law clerks.
“[M]y fellow Justices and I have resolved to decide all petitions, cases, or matters that have been filed before the Supreme Court after April 5, 2021 strictly within the said 24-month period from date of submission pursuant to Section 15(1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, and to strictly observe requirements for the proper exercise of its power of judicial review,” he said.
The failure to resolve SC cases within the 24-month period in the Constitution has been used as among the grounds in a failed attempt to impeach SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen at the House of Representatives.
In an earlier decision, the Supreme Court had ruled that the 24-month period under the Constitution for deciding SC cases is merely directory.
“The court agreed that we adopt a case decongestion program specifically to address the so-called “aged” cases. And we have agreed that in the next 24 months, that will be a priority of the Supreme Court along with the incoming cases,” he added.
A key component of speeding up the disposition of cases is by taking advantage of technology.
The chief magistrate said he has ordered a comprehensive review of court operations and processes.
They have started with the automation of the Bar Exams this year, with submission of applications and payment of fees all done online.
In the long-run, Gesmundo said they intend to create an eCourt System that could manage the cases online — from paying and filing to raffling and maintaining a digitized rollo or records of the case.
The top magistrate also mentioned the possibility of tapping artificial intelligence technology for legal research, stenographic notes among other functions, as well as restructuring the organization and creating a centralized planning and management unit to address issues like limited access to courts.
He also addressed the delay in the release of copies of decisions rendered by the high court, which could take months after a ruling was announced.
Part of the reason, he said, were work restrictions brought about by the pandemic and the administrative process that a decision has to go through.
To address this, he said the SC will soon immediately publish on its website summaries and the dispositive portions of a ruling once it is voted upon by the magistrates.
“Further to that, when we adopt technology, it is our mission that the moment that we have a decision acquitting the accused, we can quote the dispositive portion, electronically transmit it already to the facilities where they are being detained, informing them that there is a decision of the court acquitting the accused,” he said.
“How do we protect that? I have already suggested also that we adopt the technology, something like QR coding, that the resolutions, decisions of the Court may be authenticated online,” he explained.
In his Judicial and Bar Council interview for the chief justice post, Gesmundo cited as among his priorities the development of the ICT infrastructure for the entire Judiciary and the review and assessment of the organizational setup of all its offices.
“Times are quickly changing and the Judiciary must likewise adapt to these changes and transform its ways to be more responsive and effective in addressing the changing demands of our society,” he said.