FROM VIDEOCONFERENCE HEARINGS TO FILING BY EMAIL: WHAT NEW RULES AND POLICIES FROM THE SUPREME COURT MEAN FOR YOUR ANNULMENT CASES.
In recent months, the Philippine Supreme Court adopted a slew of rules predating the pandemic and policies which modified how cases are managed during the global crisis. Many of these have far-reaching consequences into access to courts and case management. Lawyers in the Philippines handling annulment cases have already seen a faster and more inexpensive process which will help Filipinos residing abroad who cannot immediately travel to the Philippines.
1) VIDEOCONFERENCING. Prior to the pandemic, hearings were strictly in person. If you are an OFW, quarantined in your country of employment, your travel plans to the Philippines may have been likely derailed. But even if you are able to travel, while courts have opened up, many are not operating in the same manner and level they were before the pandemic. The Supreme Court, which has long maintained the traditional method of in person reception of testimonial and documentary evidence, has finally allowed videoconferencing for hearings. The petitioner and witnesses could literally be in a country like Saudi Arabia and still “appear” in court via webcam using Microsoft Teams. Lawyers also participate remotely while judges work from their court offices or even remotely.
2) FILING AND SERVICE OF PAPERS AND PLEADINGS BY EMAIL OR BY COURIER. The New Rules of Civil Procedure has allowed more flexibility in the day to day filing of court papers and other documents. Additional flexibility has been allowed considering the pandemic and the limited operations of the entire judicial system. Courts have been sending notices, orders, and decisions by email while lawyers have been filing motions either by email or by courier. Using the post office is still possible for those areas with open postal operations. Using courier services like FEDEX or DHL has helped along with delivery services like GRAB, especially in offices which still operate at 50% capacity during the General Quarantine.
3) SERVICE OF SUMMONS. Previously, summons could only be served by the sheriff of the court. The New Rules of Civil Procedure now allows service to be done by the lawyer when several attempts by the court sheriff proved unsuccessful.
4) AUTHENTICATION OF DOCUMENTS. The New Rules on Evidence which took effect on 01 May 2020 finally recognized the use of apostille pursuant to the Hague Convention, to which the Philippines acceded to effective 14 May 2019. Previously, only authentication through consularization with the nearest Philippine embassy or consulate was allowed under the Rules. Now, for documents to be used in the Philippines like divorce decrees issued by foreign courts and the laws under which they were obtained can now be authenticated using the authentication facilities provided by a given country. For States of the USA, the Secretaries of State and the Foreign Affairs departments of other states. This development is especially useful considering in person authentication of court documents and legislative libraries have become almost impossible during the pandemic.
The above measures have been effective and have been favorably viewed by legal practitioners and court personnel. While it is too early to judge whether or not these will actually shorten the actual processing time of an annulment or any other case, the next few months should provide a more definitive answer.