In light of the recent actions of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases of placing certain areas in the country, i.e. National Capital Region, Laguna Province, and Cebu City under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) until 31 May 2020, the Supreme Court released Administrative Circular No. 39-2020, which provides the following guidelines for all courts within regions under MECQ regarding filing and court procedures:

ALL COURTS ARE PHYSICALLY CLOSED

All the courts in the areas under MECQ shall remain physically closed to all court users until 31 May 2020, and may be initially reached only through their respective hotline numbers, email addresses and/or Facebook accounts as posted on the website of the Supreme Court. All inquiries on cases or transactions, including requests for documents and services, shall be coursed, and acted upon only through the said numbers, addresses, and accounts of the concerned court, or through the Judiciary Public Assistance Section of the Supreme Court. No walk-in requests shall be entertained in any of the offices of the courts in the said areas.

While all the courts in areas under MECQ shall remain physically closed to all court users, these courts shall continue to operate from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday to Friday, until 29 May 2020. All electronic communications, however, must be transmitted to and received by these courts from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for these transmissions to be acted upon on the same day.

The raffle of cases in all courts in areas under MECQ shall proceed, either electronically or through videoconferencing. Accordingly, the judge / justices-on-duty arrangement, together with their respective skeleton-staff is hereby discontinued. However, in the exigency of the service, justices, judges, and court officials, together with their respective skeleton-staff, may go to their respective courts.

COURT PLEADINGS/SUBMISSIONS ARE EXTENDED BUT MAY BE FILED VIA E-MAIL

The filing of petitions, appeals, complaints, motions, pleadings and other submissions that fall due up to 31 May 2020 before the courts in areas under MECQ areas is extended for 30 calendar days, counted from 1 June 2020, but pleadings and other court submissions may still be filed by the parties within the reglementary period on or before 31 May 2020 through electronic means, if preferred and able. In the same manner, the periods for court actions with prescribed periods of courts in areas under MECQ are likewise extended for 30 calendar days counted from 1 June 2020.

NEW CASES SHALL BE RECEIVED THROUGH E-MAILS

ALL initiatory pleadings, in both civil and criminal cases, including criminal complaints, information, and applications for bail, together with all the required documents in relation thereto, may be filed electronically and shall be received by the Regional Trial Courts, Family Courts, and First Level Courts through their respective official email addresses, as posted on the website of the Supreme Court.

Pleadings and other court submissions on pending cases may be electronically filed directly with the branch where the case is pending, if the said branch has an official email address. Otherwise, the pleadings and other court submissions on pending cases may be filed electronically with the Office of the Clerk of Court, which shall forward the said transmissions to the branches where the cases are pending.

ALL COURT ARE ALLOWED TO HEAR CASES VIA VIDEO CONFERENCING

ALL courts initially authorized to hear through videoconferencing only urgent matters in criminal cases involving Persons Deprived of Liberty are now herein authorized to hear through videoconferencing ALL matters pending before them, in both criminal and civil cases, whether newly-filed or pending, and regardless of the stage of trial. The videoconferencing hearings in both criminal and civil cases shall be upon joint motion of the parties, or upon orders of the court, which shall schedule the said videoconferencing hearings.

Under exceptional circumstances, in-court hearings may likewise be conducted by courts authorized to conduct hearings through videoconferencing.

For courts which are not authorized to conduct hearings through videoconferencing, in-court hearings conducted by the presiding judge, assisted by the skeleton-staff, shall be limited to urgent matters and other concerns to expedite the proceedings, both in criminal and civil cases. The judges shall see to it that the counsels and parties are duly notified of the in-court hearings to ensure their attendance. In all in-court hearings, health hygiene protocols and other public medical standards, e.g., wearing of face masks and face shields, subjecting everyone to no-contact thermal scanning, observance of social distancing, shall be strictly observed.

The taking of the testimony of a witness in a place other than where the court is, through videoconferencing, is akin to the taking of a deposition upon oral examination, pursuant to Sec. 1, Rule 23, as amended, and shall be allowed. If the witness will be testifying on (i) duly subscribed written statements given to law enforcement or peace officers, or (ii) affidavits or counter-affidavits submitted before the investigating prosecutor, or (iii) judicial affidavits, subject to additional direct and cross-examination questions, the said documents and affidavits must be received by the court and the parties through electronic transmission in accordance with the Rules on Electronic Evidence, at least three (3) days prior to the scheduled videoconferencing hearing.

As for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, and Court of Tax Appeals, it shall continue to receive petitions and pleadings electronically, and in accordance with herein paragraphs 1 and 2 and process the same in accordance with their respective internal rules.

The decision writing of the Supreme Court is hereby extended until 31 May 2020, and the same may hold special en banc and division sessions anytime it may deem fit, either in-person or through videoconferencing.The Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, and Court of Tax Appeals shall continue to resolve and decide cases pending before them. Regular hearings shall be conducted through videoconferencing. Considering that the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals are likewise trial courts, they shall adopt the procedures provided for Regional Trial Courts, Family Courts, and First Level Courts, in so far as they are applicable. The decisions coming from these courts may be promulgated or issued once the courts are fully operational, except decisions and orders on urgent matters which shall be promulgated or issued during the MECQ period.

by:

KEN GACULA

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