Camp Lapu-Lapu, old Cebu Eastern College building eyed as temporary home for displaced Cebu City judiciary
Cebu City’s courts remain at a standstill a week after the powerful Oct. 15 earthquake struck Central Visayas.
Judges suspended hearings after the four-story Palace of Justice showed cracks and heavy damage on the top floor.
Two options are being considered as a temporary venue for hearings – Camp Lapu-Lapu and the old Cebu Eastern College building on D. Jakosalem Street.
Executive Judge Soliver Peras of the Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC) yesterday said they may make the military camp their temporary home until a new one is found or repairs are done.
Cebu City has 22 RTC branches and eight Metropolitan Trial Court branches.
Peras said Camp Lapu-Lapu could probably accommodate 12 to 14 court branches.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama suggested usng the old CEC building and asked businessman Augusto Go to explore this option since the building was already inspected and certified as structurally sound.
Go said he would consult Cebuano-Chinese members of the school board.
The four-story Palace of Justice within the Capitol compound was declared off limits pending further inspection after the magnitude 7.2 quake.
Cebu City courts reopened Monday, but hearings remain suspended.
Court employees held office in tents at the parking lot to attend to litigants, receive pleadings and process bail bond applications.
Aside from the courts, the Palace of Justice houses the Cebu City Prosecutors’ Office, Cebu Provincial Prosecutors’ Office, the Regional State Prosecutors’ Office, the Public Attorney’s Office, and a mediation center.
Peras said the short-term solution was to find a place to transfer immediately so court proceedings can get back to normal.
“The medium-term solution is to look for a building that we can rent so we will have a temporary work place. We’re open to proposals from building owners. We’re hoping all the occupants of the Palace of Justice can be housed in just one building,” he added.
The long-term solution is to build a new Palace of Justice.
“It’s up to the Supreme Court to decide whether there’s a need to really have a new one,’ he said.
Midas Marquez, the Court Administrator, is due to arrive on Thursday to assess the situation. .
“I’m very sure that 100 percent of our court employees don’t want to enter the Palace of Justice anymore,” said Peras.
He met yesterday met with Mayor Rama to discuss where to find a temporary shelter.
The mayor suggested the old building of the Cebu Eastern College.
He said he first thought of this building to accommodate city government offices that were rendered unusable by the quake, but thought of giving the courts first crack.
“Mas urgent man sila. The building is better than nothing,” he said.
City Engineer Kenneth Carmelita Enriquez and his staff inspected the school and certified the building as safe for occupancy.
Janeses Ponce, a consultant in the Mayor’s Office, said the city government would assist the judiciary in whatever way their can.
“The most immediate help we did was to deploy tents outside the Palace of Justice. What happened to our courts will definitely have an effect on the community. But we’re trying our best so court proceedings will be back to normal,” Ponce said.
Last Monday, Judge Peras ordered court branch to have a skeletal force that will accept pleadings filed by litigants.
“The skeletal force shall continue to be maintained until Friday this week and/or until further notice,” he said.
Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) Executive Judge Francisco Seville said they have not come up yet with a decision as to where to hold the hearings.
“The SC asked for an update. I told them that we’re presently staying at the Capitol’s parking space,” he said.
The MTCCs are located at the fourth floor of the Palace of Justice. That level was declared unfit for occupancy.
“We won’t risk our lives by holding office there,” he said.
Court employees and judges in the lower floors worry that the top floor would collapse on them.
“I’m not a structural engineer but just by looking at the building, I could no longer trust its structure. There must be another building to replace it,” said RTC Judge Meinrado Paredes.
He said one of the beams in his court was misalined due to cracks on the walls.
“From day one after the earthquake, I instructed my staff to leave the court. Safety, for me, is the priority. The present condition of the Palace of Justice won’t just endanger the lives of court employees but as well as court users like lawyers, prisoners, and the media,” Paredes said.
“Definitely, there will be delays. The Supreme Court should face the aftermath of this calamity. There’s no choice but to address structural condition of the Palace of Justice,” Paredes said.
Judge Geraldine Faith Econg, head of the SC’s Project Management Office, said procurement or bidding procedures were already done for the renovation of the Palace of Justice.
“It was already awarded. But let me check why renovation works have not started until now,” Econg told CDN.
Court employees yesterday worked in tents at the parking lot. Some brought an electric fan, water dispenser, and typewriters.
Lawyer Alex Tolentino, former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter, said he was happy that court processes would continue.
“I think this is the right thing to do. While resolution of cases will be delayed, they just made use of what is there,” Tolentino said.
Assistant City Prosecutor Ma. Theresa Casiño said they hope litigants understand what is going on instead of complaining.
“It’s something we don’t have any control over. I hope the parties will understand. We can’t put the lives of litigants in jeopardy. We’re nonetheless doing our best to perform our duties amid this calamity,” she said. Casino survived a gun attack early this year when she was shot in the head by a disturbed Canadian national in the Palace of Justice.
Meanwhile, structural engineers yesterday declared the Capitol’s Legislative Building as safe for occupancy.
In his structural stability and safety assessment report, Edgar Velarde of the E.F. Velarde Structural Design and Consultancy, said “the building is still structurally sound, stable and safe for occupancy after the earthquake.”
“No major damage particularly on the structural components such as columns, beams, slabs that may cause immediate danger to its occupants was seen during inspection,” he said.
Velarde was the structural engineer involved during the construction of the building in the term of the late Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez Jr.
He said the building “still conforms to the National Structure Code of the Philippines (NSCP) and generally accepted engineering principle and practices.
“Inspected cracks reported by the occupants were non-structural and have no effect on its structural stability (wall cracks, finishes, claddings),” the report stated.
“In view of the above, we certify that the existing structure passed the minimum structural standards to assure public safety and its use is in compliance with the prevailing codes and standards used in structural engineering practice,” it added.
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