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COVID-19 crisis: House panel backs temporary freedom for ‘qualified’ detainees

/ 09:00 PM April 09, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — A House panel is recommending the temporary release of “qualified” persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) to address the congestion in jails and detention facilities amid the COVID-19 threat.

The House Committee on Justice submitted their recommendation to the Peace and Order Cluster of the Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC) of the House of Representatives on April 6.

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“The recommendation was submitted to the Peace and Order Cluster, which drafted its report to be submitted to the Speaker as Chair of the Defeat COVID-19 Committee,” said AKO BICOL Rep. Alfredo Garbin, vice-chairperson of the House’s justice committee.

In a document obtained by INQUIRER.net, the justice committee, which is a part of the peace and order cluster of DCC, said that other countries such as Iran, Germany, Canada, and the United States have implemented similar measures as COVID-19 hazards persist.

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“In ordinary times, congested jails pose a great risk for the transmission of communicable diseases and the exacerbation of underlying health conditions of sick and elderly detainees,” the document stated.

“Given the extremely high transmissibility of COVID-19 in an ordinary public community setting, the current condition of our congested jails is a recipe for a catastrophic disaster-in-waiting,” it added.

Under Republic Act No. 10389 or the “Recognizance Act of 2012”, the release of a PDL requires certification of indigency from the social welfare and development office of the city or municipality where the accused actually resides, and a resolution of the city or municipal Sanggunianapproved by the mayor.

However, since the COVID-19 crisis “demands prompt action”, the justice committee said “provisional liberty” shall be granted to detainees “in highly congested jails outside the provisions of RA No. 10389, but still within the bounds of the Constitution and other existing laws.”

Thus, in their recommendation, the justice committee said an ad hoc panel can be created “to immediately evaluate the situation of all provincial, city, and municipal jails, and other detention facilities, and to establish guidelines and procedures for the temporary release of qualified persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) for humanitarian reasons” amid the pandemic.

Among those who may be considered as qualified PDLs are:

  • First-time offenders
  • Those who are sixty (60) years of age and above
  • Those with underlying health conditions associated with the high risk of severe symptoms of COVID-19
  • Those who are detained for the commission of non-violent, bailable offenses, but have no capacity to post bail
  • Those with no history of jumping bail

“The ad hoc committee shall immediately identify highly congested jails and detention facilities in order to prioritize the processing of the temporary release of qualified PDLs detained therein,” the document also stated.

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“The guidelines shall include mechanisms for the proper monitoring of released PDLs, consistent with community quarantine procedures of the municipality, city or barangay where a released PDL resides, and penalties for the violation of any condition or undertaking relative to the release of such qualified PDLs,” it added.

Members of the ad hoc committee shall include the Supreme Court, Commission on Human Rights, Department of Justice, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Health, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), Public Attorney’s Office, National Prosecution Service, and Integrated Bar of the Philippines, according to House panel’s recommendation.

The Supreme Court, the document noted, shall be in charge of determining the proper course of action within the Rules of Court to facilitate the release of qualified PDLs.

If needed, the document likewise noted, the Supreme Court can also promulgate new Rules pursuant to the 1987 Constitution “to ensure the prompt release of qualified PDLs who have already been arraigned.”

Bail for qualified PDLs can also be reduced to one-peso or any amount that they can afford to allow their temporary release “at the earliest possible opportunity”, the justice committee recommended.

“The guidelines may also include conditions which a qualified PDL must comply with upon release, as well as mechanisms for the proper monitoring of released PDLs, consistent with community quarantine procedures of the municipality, city or barangay where a released PDL resides, and penalties for the violation of any condition or undertaking relative to the release of such qualified PDLs,” it added.

Further, the recommendation also tasks the health department to test the qualified PDLs for COVID- 19 before they are released from jail.

In terms of monitoring the released PDLs, barangay officials and PNP personnel are tasked to monitor them consistent with the enhanced community quarantine guidelines and procedures.

Citing data from the Commission on Audit (COA), the justice committee said the congestion rate of jails under the control and supervision of BJMP is at 439.48% as of end-2018.

The House justice committee said that four to five detained persons are cramped in a space designed for one detainee.

KGA

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