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SC: Poor detainees can now avail bail cuts, release on recognizance

/ 07:19 PM April 30, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – To reduce congestion in detention facilities, the Supreme Court has allowed the reduction of bail and release on recognizance for poor inmates.

In the Administrative Circular No. 38-2020 signed by Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta, those charged with a crime punishable of imprisonment not exceeding six months may be released on their own recognizance.

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Under Republic Act 10389 or the Recognizance Act of 2012, release on recognizance means that any person in custody who cannot post bail due to poverty may be given temporary liberty by placing them under the custody of a qualified member of the barangay, city or municipality where the accused resides.

With the circular, more persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) are expected to benefit including those arrested for violating the strict home quarantine being imposed by the government as well as the various ordinances imposed by local government units in compliance with the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

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The circular is addressed to all justices, judges, prosecutors, public attorneys, and members of the SC.

“This Circular shall take effect immediately and may be availed of only during this period of a public health emergency,” Peralta said.

The circular is another measure issued by the high court to decongest detention facilities which are currently overcrowded with some areas already having cases of COVID-19.

Prior to the reduction of bail and release on recognizance, the high court has also issued Administrative Circular 33 – 2020, supplemented by OCA Circular 89 – 2020, which allowed the electronic filing of information and transmission of release orders; OCA Circular  91 – 2020, which reiterated the guidelines on the release of qualified PDLs through self-recognizance and provisional dismissal; and Administrative Circular 37 – 2020 on the pilot testing of videoconference hearings of urgent matters in criminal cases involving PDLs.

From March 17 to April 29, 2020,  Peralta said 9,731 PDLs have benefited from the high court’s initiative.

Out o the 9,731 PDLs released, 2,082  are from the National Capital Judicial Region, 4,657 in Luzon (outside NCJR), 1,072 in the Visayas, and 1,920 in Mindanao.

“We have also countlessly ruled that the amount of bail should be reasonable at all times. In implementing this mandate, regard should be taken on the prisoner’s pecuniary circumstances. We point out that what is reasonable bail to a man of wealth may be unreasonable to a poor man charged with a like offense… The amount should be high enough to assure the presence of the defendant when required, but no higher than is reasonably calculated to fulfill this purpose,” the circular stated.

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Upon consultation with the other members of the Court and considering the urgent need to further decongest detention facilities, Peralta said they have decided to reduce bail and allow recognizance based on the following circumstances:

* For those charged with a crime punishable with the maximum period of reclusion temporal or twelve (12) years and one (1) day to twenty (20) years, the bail shall be computed by getting the medium period multiplied by Three Thousand Pesos (P3,000.00) for every year of imprisonment;

*  For those charged with a crime punishable with the maximum period of prision mayor or six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years, the bail shall be computed by getting the medium period multiplied by Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00) for every year of imprisonment;

* For those charged with a crime punishable with the maximum period of prision correccional or six (6) months and one (1) day to six (6) years, the bail shall be computed by getting the medium period multiplied by One Thousand Pesos (P1,000.00) for every year of imprisonment;

* For those charged with a crime punishable by arresto mayor or one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months, and arresto menor or one (1) day to thirty (30) days, they may be released on their own recognizance.

“Any violation of the undertaking or conditions imposed on the bail or recognizance shall be a ground for the cancellation of the said bail or recognizance which will justify the issuance of a warrant of arrest against the accused,” the Circular read.

On the other hand, for indigent PDLs who have not yet been arraigned, the Court said they must first be arraigned before they can seek bail or recognizance.

The arraignment and release on bail or recognizance may be conducted through videoconferencing as provided in A.C. 37-2020, according to Peralta.

“This is without prejudice to the exercise of the court’s discretion to deny the application for bail or recognizance if there are reasonable grounds based on prevailing jurisprudence and existing rules, and to the imposition of additional bail and conditions, or the cancellation thereof, to those who will be convicted, pending their appeal,” it added.

The high court added that those already arraigned and undergoing trial could also avail of the circular unless they have served the minimum imposable penalty for the crime are accused in which case, they may be released on their own recognizance.

PDLs who are already serving sentence are no longer covered by the circular.

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