CAMP TOMAS PEPITO, Angeles City—The moment Judge Gerardo Antonio Santos ordered his release from the Angeles City district jail (ACDJ) in this police camp on Tuesday, Rolando Garcia, a 48-year-old house painter, raised his hands like a boxer who had just won a match.
Watching the proceedings in a makeshift court beside their cramped cells, Garcia’s codetainees erupted in cheers and applause.
“Freedom is sweet,” said Oscar Timbol, one of their leaders.
It’s a rare kind of jubilation given a load of 950 to 1,100 cases in each of the seven branches of the Regional Trial of Court of Angeles, said Executive Judge Omar Viola.
Viola said Garcia is one of 74 inmates in Angeles who were either freed or cleared on Tuesday. In four other cities, 56 inmates were also released.
Time in jail
One of the inmates, Cha Kung Chuy, a Korean, was cleared of illegal possession of drug paraphernalia. He has yet to be released as another case for possession and use of illegal drugs is pending.
The freed inmates either have been acquitted, served time or their motions to dismiss their cases approved. Some of them have spent eight to nine years in jail.
Viola said the occasion is called “Judgment Day,” an offshoot of the Supreme Court’s Justice on Wheels program. He said it is aimed at decongesting jails in the country and that it was held in time for the 112th founding anniversary of the Supreme Court.
In Manila, SC Court Administrator Midas Marquez said RTC judges in Manila, Quezon City, Angeles City, Davao City and Cebu City held hearings inside city jails and deliberated on hundreds of cases.
Marquez, who led the Judgment Day program at the Manila City Jail, said they chose to test the program in the five cities because these are considered by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) as having “highly and most congested jails.”
Viola said there are many problems in the dispensation of justice and the lack of courts is among them.
The RTC in Angeles City had seven branches when it was established in 1982. It was only last month, or 30 years later, when President Aquino signed a law creating six more branches under it.
Lack of prosecutors, public attorneys and judges is among the limitations, Viola said.
The absence of witnesses and the transfer of police officers standing as complainants in illegal drug cases also delay justice.
Garcia spent five years in jail. His case was one of 1,000 in Branch 62, a drug court, said clerk of court Rosario Roque.
Garcia and 12 others are the few who received their certificates of clearance.
A teary-eyed Garcia said: “I am happy because I’m going to see all my five children finally. And I can go back to work again.”
He insisted that he was “framed” by the police.
His lawyer, Venancio Rivera, said the prosecutor failed to identify the elements of a drug offense in Garcia’s case.
No help for Korean
Viola said the Korean, Chuy, has been languishing in jail since 2008 for a drug case because he has “not been getting assistance from his government or embassy.” Chuy is being represented by his Filipino lawyer, George Logronio.
Most of the 33 detention facilities in Central Luzon are overcrowded, said Senior Supt. Arnold Obias, BJMP regional director.
The ACDJ, with cells totaling a floor space of 804 square meters, has 1,603 male and 265 female prisoners, making it the fifth most congested BJMP-managed jail in the country, said ACDJ deputy warden Marlon Castelo.
The United Nations said a detainee should ideally have 3.7 square meters of space. A cell at ACDJ holds 72 inmates or double of what it can keep. Only one tarima (box-type wooden cubicle) exists in each cell, for use during conjugal visits.
Their food allowance is P50 a day. Obias said a proposal to increase the buget is a regular request at the Department of Budget and Management. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño