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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Quake shook up courts’ work

TEMPORARY CONDITIONS. Regional Trial Court Branch Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. hears a case inside the temporary courthouse in the Quimonda IT Center. (Sun.Star Photo/Amper Campaña)

CEBU CITY -- Court employees, judges and lawyers are waiting for a more definite plan from the Supreme Court (SC) on what to do about the Palace of Justice in Cebu, a year after it was declared off-limits following an earthquake.

“Let’s wait for who will be the next president in 2016,” said Cebu City Executive Judge Soliver Peras, when asked how soon he thinks the new justice palace can be built.

“The question of whether a new courthouse will be built depends on the next president. That’s the whole idea there,” he said.

In the meantime, 30 trial courts and the offices of court personnel share the Quimonda IT Center in Cebu City’s North Reclamation Area.

The SC allocated about P36 million to prepare the building for the transfer, including the installation of wooden partitions on the third and fourth floors.

The quake that hit Bohol and Cebu on a public holiday in October last year forced the Office of the Building Official in Cebu City to declare the Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan Hall of Justice “unsafe for occupancy,” about a week after the calamity.

Whether or not court personnel and judges will ever return to the building behind the Capitol is unclear.

In a separate interview, Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III said that the Province plans to use the abandoned building as an extension office of the Capitol.

The governor met with Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno last March and told her about the plan.

Capitol’s plan

The Chief Justice also reportedly requested the Provincial Government to verify the Cebu City Government’s report on the structural integrity of the Palace of Justice.

“Our intention really is to get it back and to have the building retrofitted because we need space,” said the governor, the son of former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.

“We need office space here in the Capitol. That’s our intention. But there is no definite agreement yet between the Capitol and the Supreme Court,” the governor said.

Former Cebu City judge Geraldine Faith Econg, the SC’s Program Management Office chief, said the P1-billion allocation for a new Palace of Justice in Cebu was removed from the SC’s proposed budget during the Senate’s budget hearing.

Ycong said that the SC, though, is fighting for the inclusion of the budget during the next joint budget committee hearing.

(Requests for additional comment from the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office and the Office on the Halls of Justice under the Office of the Court Administrator remained unanswered as of last night.)

The Palace of Justice within the Capitol compound used to house 22 Regional Trial Court (RTC) branches and eight Municipal Trial Court in Cities branches.

‘Permanent’

The Cebu City and Provincial Prosecutor’s Offices, and the Public Attorney’s Office shared the building’s ground floor. The Parole and Probation Administration office occupied the fourth floor.

Judges and court employees hope to transfer to their better-equipped “permanent” courtrooms within the Quimonda building this month.

But Judge Peras admitted they, too, don’t know how long they would have to rent space in the Quimonda building. He presides over the RTC Branch 10.

The SC rents space in Quimonda at P300 per square meter, per month, the executive judge said.

The third and fourth floors span about 4,000 square meters, which means the SC is paying Quimonda P1.2 million a month, or about P14.4 million a year, for the space.

For now, judges hold court proceedings on the ground and second floors of Quimonda, while the building’s third and fourth floors are being renovated to become “real courtrooms.”

All eight branches of the MTCC and RTC Branches 5 and 6 share the ground floor. The rest occupy the second floor.

Different locations

The Quimonda IT Center was completed in 2008. It was designed for business process outsourcing and information technology outsourcing operations.

Another government office, the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), and Foton Cars were the first to occupy the building. (Foton later transferred after its lease ended.)

Apart from 22 RTC branches and eight Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Quimonda also houses the mediation center, social worker’s office, and the civil and criminal divisions of both the RTC and MTCC.

The Public Attorney’s Office and city prosecutors and their staff continue to office on the ground floor of the Palace of Justice. Other transactions, such as inquest proceedings, are conducted under tents outside the building.

The Office of the Regional State Prosecutor and the Cebu Provincial Prosecutors’ Office occupy, for now, the Taft Commercial Center along Osmeña Blvd. in Cebu City.

Provincial prosecutors conduct inquest proceedings on the ground floor of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines building inside the Capitol compound.

Some results

The earthquake and Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) also contributed to the delays in the resolution of cases last year.

From January to June 2014, the number of cases pending reached 12,421, records from the Regional Trial Court civil division showed.

That’s 1,431 more pending cases compared to the 10,990 left pending at the end of 2013.

The number of new cases filed dropped by 184, court records also showed.

At least 2,956 cases, which included criminal, civil, special proceedings and land cases, were filed from January to June 2014. On the other hand, 3,140 cases were filed from January to June 2013.

The number of cases disposed dropped by 698 cases, from 2,888 cases from January to June 2013, to 2,190 in the same months this year. (With FMG/Sun.Star Cebu)
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