Videoconferencing hearings will continue in General Community Quarantine (GCQ) areas, the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office (PIO) announced on 31 May 2020. The government has lifted the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) in all areas in the Philippines, relaxing the quarantine to either GCQ or Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ).
The announcement clarifies any confusion stemming from the difference in language in two Supreme Court circulars. In SC Administrative Circular No. 40-2020, providing for the guidelines in GCQ areas from 16-31 May 2020, the Supreme Court directed that “[a]ll the courts in the GCQ areas shall continue to resolve and decide all the cases pending before them. The hearings, either in-court or through videoconferencing, of all the matters pending before them, in both criminal and civil cases, whether newly-filed or pending, and regardless of the stage of the trial, are now herein authorized.” (Underscoring supplied)
On the other hand, SC Administrative Circular No. 41-2020, setting forth the guidelines beginning 1 June 2020, provides that “[t]he hearings of cases, regardless of the stage of the trial, shall be in-court, except in cases involving Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) who shall continue to appear remotely from the detention facility, and in cases with extraordinary circumstances as may be determined by the justices and judges, which shall be heard through videoconferencing.” (Underscoring supplied)
The full text of the SC-PIO announcement reads:
Citing the initial success of videoconferencing hearings in authorized courts nationwide where more than 7,000 videoconferencing hearings were done in a month, and the more than 22,000 PDLs were released during the lockdown, Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez said: “Videoconferencing hearings will continue during GCQ. This is authorized by both AC 40-2020 and AC 41-2020 which were issued by Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta. Hence, for example if a party wishes his/her case to be heard via videoconferencing, the proper motion just needs to be filed, and the court, using its sound discretion, can either grant or deny the motion. This remedy is available in both civil and criminal cases.”
“There have already been three convictions promulgated online by our trial courts. There was a case for qualified human trafficking in Angeles City, and for large scale trafficking for prostitution, and rape both in Cebu City. In all three, the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment and reclusion perpetua,” Marquez added.