THE Supreme Court said that 22,522 inmates have been released through videoconferencing hearings.
In a press release on Friday, the Supreme Court said that in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, it had provided some 1,000 trial courts in key cities nationwide with official Philippine Judiciary 365 accounts. These accounts have enabled courts nationwide to receive pleadings electronically, and select courts in key cities to conduct video conferencing hearings.
Supreme Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez said that these 1,000 trial courts were initially authorized to pilot-test the conduct of videoconferencing hearings on urgent matters in criminal cases involving people deprived of liberty (PDLs).
The Court eventually expanded the coverage of videoconference hearings to “all matters pending before (the courts), in both criminal and civil cases, whether newly filed or pending, and regardless of the stage of trial.”
Meanwhile, some 350 more courts were also authorized to conduct hearings via video conferencing, bringing the total number to 1,350 courts.
Mr. Marquez said that while parts of the country were still on lockdown, 3,201 video conference hearings had been conducted. He also said that 22,522 inmates have been released since the lockdown, either through bail or on their own recognizance, or after serving the minimum imposable penalty for the crime with which they were charged.
“All told, the new normal (makes) justice accessible to everyone at all times. We just have to embrace enabling technologies that are reliable, malware-free and COVID-free,” he said.
In March this year, Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta issued Administrative Circular 31-2020 ordering all 2,630 courts nationwide to drastically reduce their operations and to maintain only the necessary skeleton-staff to immediately act on urgent matters brought before them. He however emphasized that the Constitution and the laws were not suspended, and that the “courts are not shutting down in times of emergencies.”
The Supreme Court said that courts all over the country are utilizing videoconferencing technology to eliminate the “safety, security and health risks posed by the personal appearance of PDLs who are considered to be high-risk or afflicted with highly contagious diseases.”
“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. — Genshen L. Espedido