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Sunday, July 25, 2021

‘Most approachable’ CJ Peralta bids farewell to court

CHIEF Justice Diosdado Peralta on Monday bade farewell to his colleagues and employees of the Supreme Court, where he presided during one of the most challenging eras for the judiciary, with rising extrajudicial killings and red-tagging of lawyers coming with the Covid-19 case spikes in the country.

Described by his colleagues as the “most approachable” chief magistrate, Peralta said the past year was more than difficult for the 29,000-strong employees of the judiciary. But, he stressed the members and officials of the SC have done everything to address all judicial concerns during this period.

Peralta was in his fifth month as the Chief Justice when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, prompting vital institutions, including the judiciary. to shut down operations for several months and while various places were placed on a lockdown.

“To say that the past year had been a difficult one is beyond an understatement. In both the personal and professional aspects of our lives, we all have had to deal with the numerous repercussions of this global health crisis we are still facing,” Peralta said at Monday’s last flag-raising ceremony given to a retiring chief magistrate.

“I and my fellow Justices of the Court had the unenviable task of drawing up Covid-19-related policies and measures for implementation in the courts nationwide, not only for the safety and welfare of the Judiciary’s 29,000-strong employees, but for those of all court users as well,” he added.

As of yesterday, there are 33 active Covid-19 cases in the SC.

The hybrid flag-raising ceremony was a scale-down from the previous and traditional last flag-raising ceremony due to the pandemic.

It was without any arrival honors and attended only by a select few Court employees, mostly coming from the Office of the Chief Justice, including the Chief Justice’s immediate family—his wife, Court of Appeals Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas Peralta, and children.

The only two SC Associate Justices physically present were Rosmari Carandang and Henri Jean Paul Inting.

All those who attended wore face masks and face shields and practiced social distancing in strict compliance with public health standards for Covid-19.

They were spread out in the more than 1,200 square meter open grounds of the SC that was decorated with blue balloons.

The other justices virtually watched the ceremony and listened to the Chief Magistrate give his farewell speech.

Lawyers’ appeal

Earlier, around 900 independent lawyers and members of various law faculties asked CJ Peralta to take proactive measures that would protect judges, lawyers and members of the legal profession from threats and killings.

The lawyers admitted that they were “deeply troubled and concerned” by the profiling of lawyers being conducted by Philippine National Police (PNP), as well as the rising number of killings involving lawyers.

The SC has remained mum on the issue while an inventory of cases involving killing of lawyers is now being conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator.

However, the SC said among Peralta’s accomplishments is the fast- tracking of the videconferencing of court hearings to keep the wheels of justice moving during the pandemic.

He previously said, courts have conducted up to 192,444 videoconferencing hearings, with the success rate of 88 percent, from May 4, 2020 to February 5, 2021.

To augment this measure, the SC through CJ Peralta issued administrative Circulars adopting measures to protect the safety and health of the court employees and court users, such as the daily court operations with skeleton staffing; restricting entry into Halls of Justices to only those with official business; reinforcing physical distancing within court premises; the constant sanitation of court premises and monitoring of the health of our court personnel; and the restructuring of various face-to-face training programs and activities of the Court into hybrid or blended learning platforms.

“To this end, I can say with confidence that we, the members and officials of the Supreme Court, have done everything within our authority to address all judicial concerns and protect everyone’s well-being to the best of our abilities,” Peralta said.

“We have proven that with our determination and willingness to adopt innovations, this pandemic is not and will never be an obstacle in the fulfillment of our sworn duties as public servants. We have all led, and lived, by example,” he added.

Anti-terrorism law

One of the controversial cases that CJ Peralta would be leaving unresolved is the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, where 37 petitions were filed before the SC seeking to declare the law unconstitutional.

Peralta would be leaving the judiciary while the SC is still conducting oral arguments on the petition.

The resolution of the case has been delayed as health concerns caused several postponements of the scheduled oral arguments.

The oral arguments that were supposed to continue today (March 23) were canceled anew due to the Covid-19 case spikes. The country on Monday logged an all-time high of 8,019 fresh daily cases.

The SC announced that it would continue the oral argument on April 6.

When Peralta assumed the Chief Justice’s post on October 23, 2019, he presented his 10-Point Program.

Under his leadership, the SC formulated and approved 18 procedural rules and guidelines intended to improve the administration of justice and addressed the problem of clogged court dockets.

They streamlined the plantilla in several offices, divisions and services of the Court that guaranteed the security of tenure for the employees and to improve their processes.

The SC established the Judiciary Public Assistance Section (JPAS) that received and promptly acted on concerns, issues and suggestions and even complaints against erring court officials and employees.

It also formally organized the Judicial Integrity Board (JIB) in an effort to prevent corruption in the Judiciary.

Peralta was supposed to retire on March 27, 2022 when he reaches 70, the mandatory age of retirement for justices, but he opted to retire a year earlier.

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