Pope Francis urged governments on Monday to use the coronavirus crisis as a revolutionary opportunity to create a world that is more economically and environmentally just — and where basic health care is guaranteed for all. Francis made the appeal in his annual foreign policy address to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, an appointment that was postponed for two weeks after he suffered a bout of sciatica nerve pain that made standing and walking difficult. Francis urged the governments represented in the Apostolic Palace to contribute to global initiatives to provide vaccines to the poor and to use the pandemic to reset what he said was a sick economic model that exploits the poor and the Earth. “There is need for a kind of new Copernican revolution that can put the economy at the service of men and women, not vice versa,” he said, referring to the 16th-century paradigm shift that stated the sun was at the center of the universe, not the Earth. He said such a revolutionary new economy is “one that brings life not death, one that is inclusive and not exclusive, humane and not dehumanizing, one that cares for the environment and does not despoil it.” Francis has frequently called for the world to use the pandemic as a chance to re-imagine a global economy that values people and the planet over profits, and one where fraternity and solidarity guide human relationships rather than conflict and division. The 84-year-old Francis hit those themes in his lengthy address, which was delivered in a larger reception hall than usual to provide greater social distancing for the 88 ambassadors who attended. At the end, Francis invited each one up but said he wouldn’t shake their hands and urged them to keep their distance. Francis has been vaccinated against the virus. In his speech, he called for basic health care to be provided to all. He noted that those on the margins of society and who work in the informal economy have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with the fewest social nets to survive it. “Driven by desperation, many have sought other forms of income and risk being exploited through illegal or forced labor, prostitution and various criminal activities, including human trafficking,” Francis warned. He said children have suffered from an “educational catastrophe” with closed schools, women have been victims of domestic abuse, the faithful have been deprived of communal worship and that all of humanity has been restricted from close human contact. “Along with vaccines, fraternity and hope are, as it were, the medicine we need in today’s world,” he said. In addition to the pandemic, Francis listed other areas of particular concern, starting with the coup in Myanmar, which Francis visited in 2017. He called for political leaders to be “promptly released as a sign of encouragement for a sincere dialogue aimed at the good of the country.” He called for the war in Syria to finally end, noting that 2021 marks its 10th anniversary, and urging the international community to “address the causes of the conflict with honesty and courage and to seek solutions.” He praised the U.N. treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and the extension of the START treaty between the US and Russia. He also called for disarmament efforts to extend to conventional and chemical weapons.

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The Senate on Monday approved on final reading a measure that would expand the jurisdiction of first and second level courts, which would amend Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980, or the Batas Pambansa Blg. 129.

With 22 votes favoring the measure, two negative votes, with no abstention, Senate Bill No. (SBN) 1886, or An Act Further Expanding the Jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Courts (MeTCs)/ Municipal Trial Courts In Cities, Municipal Trial Courts (MTCs), And Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (MCTCs) is now a couple of steps away before becoming a law.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of the measure, heaved a sigh of relief as SBN 1866 could hopefully unclog the court dockets of the Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) and to speed up the disposition of cases.

Gordon said unclogging the court’s dockets can be attained by expanding the jurisdictional threshold amount of the first level courts or MTCs, citing higher number of pending cases at the second level courts or RTCs.

One of the amendments included in the proposed measure is the increase in the jurisdictional amount under the RTCs in all civil actions involving the title to, or possession of, real property from P20,000 (PHP50,000 in Metro Manila) to P400,000.

The RTCs shall also have jurisdictional supervision “in all matters of probate, both testate and intestate, where the gross value of the estate exceeds P2 million” from P100,000 to P200,000, the measure stated.

According to the Office of the Court Administrator of the Supreme Court (SC), there are 21,269 pending civil cases at the first level courts, while there are 108,484 pending civil cases at the second level courts as of December 2018.

“The data shows that our first level courts have a lower number of pending cases at the end of the year compared to that of our second level courts. To help unclog the dockets of our second level courts and to equalize the burden between the first level courts and the second level courts, we are proposing to raise the jurisdictional threshold of our second level and first level courts,” Gordon explained during the period of interpellation of the bill.

Gordon said the proposed bill will also address the delay in the disposition of cases due to overloading of cases assigned per judge. As Gordon pointed out, there are so many cases to be heard but very few judges are deciding on the cases.

The measure further delegates to the Supreme Court (SC) the power to further increase or decrease the jurisdictional threshold of the first and second level courts in line with the SC’s power of administrative supervision over all courts.

It was an amendment proposed, and accepted during plenary deliberations, by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, saying the adjustment of the jurisdictional amounts for the first and second level courts is necessary “to reflect extraordinary supervening events, or deflation of the currency, or change in the land valuation, or to maintain the proportion of the case load between the first and second level courts.”

PIMENTEL, FRANCIS RAISE OPPOSITION

Senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd and Francis Tolentino have questioned the provision, citing its unconstitutionality. They cited Section 2, Article VIII of the Constitution which states that: “The Congress shall have the power to define, prescribe, and apportion the jurisdiction of the various courts.”

“We are treading the dark alley of unconstitutionality that may lead us to trip and tumble in abdicating our Constitutionally-lodged legislative function,” Tolentino said during the period of amendments.

Both Pimentel and Tolentino voted against the measure.

But Gordon and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who introduced the amendment, said nothing in the Constitution that would prevent the delegation of the power of Congress.

SBN 1886 is a consolidated measure of SBN 1359 filed by Gordon and SBN 1353 filed by Sen. Manuel “Lito” M. Lapid.

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