Comelec allows virtual hearings, probes

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    TAKING a cue from the Supreme Court (SC), the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is now allowing hearings, investigations, and inquiries to be done via video conferencing.

    Based on Comelec Resolution No. 10673, the Commission en banc said it is now allowing video conferencing as a method to conduct hearings and investigation in all cases, excluding election offenses cases.

    “Hearings/investigations/inquiries, including preliminary conferences and marking of exhibits, via video conference, may be made available to all cases (except election offense) falling within the jurisdiction of the Commission, if the same are necessary and cannot be substituted by filing of appropriate pleadings,” said the Resolution dated June 25 but released only recently.

    For election offense cases, the poll body said preliminary or fact-finding investigations shall be conducted thru submission of pleadings, with the presence of the parties or their authorized representatives already dispensed with.

    Counter-affidavits, reply, rejoinder, or any other pleading, it added, may already be submitted either thru registered mail or e-mail.

    “In the event that clarificatory hearing is necessary, the same shall be conducted through submission of judicial affidavits either via registered mail or e-mail,” said the Comelec.

    The Commission said the adoption of such a method is necessary amid the health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring the continuity of case proceedings in the Commission.

    “Guided by the various issuances of the Highest Tribunal and other collegiate courts, the Commission deems it proper to introduce additional devices platforms, and mechanisms in the filing of pleadings and other court submissions conducting hearings, and other court processes to ensure the safety of all concerned against the ongoing pandemic,” said the Comelec.

    In such instances, the poll body said only the Clerk of Court of the Commission or the Division Clerks of Court concerned, or the Campaign Finance Office, shall host all hearings by video conference using only the official platform approved by the Comelec.

    Also, all the attendees of the hearing via video conference must ensure that they are visible to all the participants at all times during the entire proceedings.

    When presenting witnesses and in order to prevent coaching, the Comelec said the parties may be required to use cameras that can provide multiple angles or a single camera supplying a full view of said witness’ surroundings.

    Lastly, the Comelec said the formality, dignity, and solemnity of court proceedings must be observed at all times, including all participants expected to be in appropriate attire.

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