Capitol, take over the Palace of Justice

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013


THE move of Cebu Gov. Hilario P. Davide III to take over the Palace of Justice if the Supreme Court (SC) will transfer the courts could perhaps solve the lackadaisical attitude of the high court to repair the damaged structure.

More than two months have passed since the 7.2 magnitude quake hit Bohol and Cebu on Oct. 15, but the regional trial courts (RTC) and municipal trial courts in cities (MTCC) at the Palace of Justice, Cebu City, are yet to find a decent place to conduct trials after the building was declared unsafe.

It’s a shame that the trial courts in Cebu City, a key metropolis in the south, hear cases under tents. The judges’ safety is at stake and the environment does not speak well of the courts as dispenser of justice.

It has been reported that the courts were to move to Quimonda IT Bldg. at the Cebu City pier area, but it never happened. Only the SC knows what could have caused the delay. But the 3-magnitude earthquake that hit Mandaue City last Saturday midnight added to the dilemma that the judges and the court personnel allegedly get cold feet about transferring to this building.

Litigation lawyers have been economically affected by the non-functioning courts. Only a few judges have so far held trials in their respective courts. People with pending cases also complained of delay.

The conflicting reports from the Cebu City Engineer’s Office and Office of the Building Official (OBO) on the stability of the Palace of Justice building after it was damaged by the 7.2 magnitude quake only added to the confusion.

Engr. Ariel Dela Cruz, Cebu City Department of Engineering and Public Works (DEPW), Engr. Kenneth Enriquez and personnel of the Office of the Building Official (OBO) inspected the other day the quake-damaged building for the third time.

Cebu City consultant Engr. Dela Cruz found no major damage in the City Prosecutor’s Office, Public Attorney’s Office, Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, and Regional Trial Court’s (RTC) Records Section that on the ground floor.

Dela Cruz, though, suggested repairs of small cracks on the walls in these offices. But he noticed cracks on the beam of the office of the Witness Protection Program that should be further looked into.

There are walls in courtrooms and offices on the second and third floors, though, that needed to be demolished because of the big cracks to prevent the entire walls from
collapsing.

It was reported that the team did not inspect the fourth floor where the MTCCs are housed because the whole floor had already been declared unsafe by OBO after the quake.

The fourth floor should be retrofitted immediately, otherwise it would collapse and affect the lower floors, warns Dela Cruz.

Dela Cruz suggested that a construction firm can repair and knock down the damaged concrete walls from less than a month to six months. The walls may be replaced with fiber cement boards so the load on the structure will be reduced.

Since some floors of the Palace of Justice could be retrofitted, the SC should have ordered the repair works in order not to delay further the delivery of its services to the public. Has the SC run out of funds?

The original few branches of the RTC at the Capitol were housed in one level building only. When Lito Osmeña was elected governor in 1998, he added three more floors to house the other RTC branches and the MTCCs.

The building was then named Palace of Justice. After the death of former SC Chief Justice Marcelo B. Fernan, the courthouse was named after him in his honor.

The statement of Governor Davide III to the press that Capitol will take over sounds good news to the lawyers and litigants. Of course, the governor understands the situation because he was a practicing lawyer.

But the governor should not consider the court’s lot ownership as the primordial issue for Capitol to take over the Palace of Justice. The judiciary’s better service to the public should be well thought-out.

(elespinoza53@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 19, 2013.

Opinion

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