With the COVID-19 disease still around, even if the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) will be lifted and we move to lighter forms of quarantine, things simply cannot, and should not, go back to normal.
Precautions have to be taken, and taken seriously, or we risk a more damaging second wave of infections and another round of ECQ which, frankly, our country cannot afford.
So, what will be the new normal? How will we be interacting with each other under the necessary precautions against infection?
The Supreme Court has already announced that on April 29, 2020, the results of the 2019 Bar Exams will come out.
This will be a very emotional day for the bar candidates who took the exam, as well as their families and friends, regardless of what the result will be for each candidate. Having taken the exams myself, I can attest to this. On the day my bar results came out, on March 27, 1996, I was so overcome with mixed emotions of excitement and trepidation that I was already drunk by the time the results came in (it was still through a fax machine at the time).
Ordinarily, the candidate would have those closest to him or her around while waiting for the results with lots of alcohol (the drinking kind) at the ready. Whatever happens, there will be tears, kisses and tight hugs all around and a lot of drinking, whether in celebration and joy or commiseration and empathy.
How can that happen now? It cannot, except maybe for family and loved ones that the bar candidate lives with. At best, probably, the examinee can expect a Zoom, Skype or Facebook Messenger video call from friends or an “E-NUMAN” session via a group video call to celebrate, or commiserate, together. No tight hugs, no kisses, no glasses clinking to a toast.
This is the New Normal.
As a lawyer, I have been thinking about how hearings will be conducted even after the ECQ or GCQ devolves into even lighter forms of quarantine.
For now, even for the places already under GCQ, the Supreme Court has ordered that courts should deal only with urgent matters and, even then, when hearings will be necessary, these are to be done through “E-Hearings”, or teleconferencing technology over the internet.
This, however, cannot remain like this indefinitely. There are detained prisoners whose hearings have to proceed one way or another and, even in civil cases, there are parties whose legal controversies have to be resolved.
Of course, whatever can be done through electronic means will be done that way. Our rules, including those recently released by the Supreme Court, allow for many things, even the reception of evidence, to be done through electronic means but this still has limitations.
What about the cases that cannot be dealt with through technology, how will it be done? I have been trying to imagine how it will be and I have come up with seemingly dystopian scenes but also with some practical probabilities.
First, all people going into the Hall of Justice will be strictly required to wear face masks and face shields. Upon entry, they will be subjected to temperature tests and required to sanitize their hands with an available sanitizing spray. People with no business with any of the courts or offices within the Hall of Justice, including companions of parties with cases, will not be allowed to enter.
Second, instead of the courtrooms overflowing with parties and lawyers, only the lawyers and parties for three (3) to five (5) cases, depending on the size of the courtroom, will be allowed inside at any given time and, at all times, a distance of at least two (2) meters will be maintained between all the people there.
Third, lawyers and parties in excess of those allowed to enter will be required to wait for their cases somewhere outside the Hall of Justice and they will be informed to already come to the court via text message from the court’s staff. In Davao City, for example, maybe a waiting area, with properly distanced chairs can be set up in the covered parking lot outside the Hall of Justice.
Finally, all papers for submission, and orders issued, will be filed and served electronically through email in order to avoid the spread of the virus through papers handled by different people.
In my own office, similar measures will be taken as far as the entry of people and clients is concerned. I will probably require that all face to face meetings, when absolutely necessary such as when documents need to be signed by parties and notarized, will be done in the conference rooms where an air purifier will be installed as an added precaution in addition to the masks, face shields and sanitizers. Greetings will be through nods and waves, no handshakes to seal the deal and definitely no “beso-beso” no matter how close the party or client may be.
Other businesses and establishments will probably have similar, or even more stringent, precautions.
Sadly, while human beings are social creatures by nature, it is this very trait that we have to minimize and avoid. Who would have thought that the day would come when, of all things, we would be most afraid of the HUMAN TOUCH.
This is the New Normal.
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