MANILA - The Supreme Court has allowed detainees to give their testimonies remotely to minimize security and other risks, with testing set in Davao City, the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, and Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
In a resolution issued on June 25, the high court en banc approved the proposed guidelines on the use of videoconferencing technology for the remote appearance of detainees, drafted by a committee led by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta.
Starting Sep. 1, the guidelines of the videoconferencing will be tested for not more than 2 years in the following courts and detention facilities:
- Davao City Hall of Justice and Davao City Jail
- Davao City Hall of Justice and the Special Intensive Care Area (SICA) in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan
- Davao City Hall of Justice and the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa
The use of videoconferencing technology may eliminate the safety, security and health risks posed by the personal appearance of detainees who are "considered to be high-risk or afflicted with highly contagious diseases," according to the high court's Public Information Office.
"Such risk is not only posed on the accused but also to judges, court personnel, and the public in general. This will also guarantee the accused’s rights to be present and confront witnesses against them and to ensure the continuity of proceedings in criminal cases," it said.
Aside from high-risk detainees, any inmate who "voluntarily consents to appear remotely in court proceedings" regardless of their crime, may also testify through videoconferencing.
Under the guidelines, the remote appearance of the accused "shall closely resemble his or her otherwise in-person courtroom testimony and experience."
It also provides that the remote location shall be viewed as an "extension of the courtroom."
"The dignity and solemnity in a videoconference proceeding shall be the same as those of an in-court proceeding," the guidelines read.
"Video cameras must be placed and positioned in such a way so as to cover the same image the PDLs (persons deprived of liberty or detainees) at the remote location would see if he or she were physically present in the courtroom."
The trial court, however, may exercise its discretion to suspend the videoconference when there are technical issues that would affect its fairness or if the detainee's physical appearance is needed in the courtroom.