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Over 22k inmates freed in SC’s bid to decongest jails

/ 08:10 PM May 29, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Over 22, 000 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) have been released from detention, the Supreme Court said Friday, adding that the move was part of its efforts to decongest detention facilities while the country is fighting the spread of COVID-19.

The data was presented by Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez during the Justice in times of COVID-19 webinar hosted by the Judicial Integrity Network in ASEAN.

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Of the 22, 522, a total of 9,731 PDLs have been released from March 17 or the start of the nationwide Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) on April 29. Then, from April 30 to May 8, released were 4,683 PDLs.

From May 9 to 15, only 3,941 have been released. The number was fewer because work has been suspended due to Typhoon “Ambo.” Then, from May 16 to 22, a total of 4,167  PDLs have been released.

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The detainees were released either through bail or recognizance or after serving the minimum imposable penalty for the crime they were charged.  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.

“Such not only freed up space in the country’s jail facilities but more importantly, eliminated the risk of further spread of COVID-19 infection to the inmates inside the jail facilities,” Marquez said.

Marquez attributed the significant number of released detainees to the measures imposed by the Supreme Court, such as video conferencing.

He said 1,000 trial courts were initially authorized to pilot-test the conduct of videoconferencing hearings only on urgent matters in criminal cases involving PDLs. The Court, however, eventually expanded the coverage of videoconference hearings to “all matters pending before (the courts), in both criminal and civil cases, whether newly-filed or pending and regardless of the stage of a trial.”

Then, an additional 350 more courts were authorized to conduct videoconferencing hearings bringing the total number to 1,350 courts.

Marquez said 3,201 videoconferencing hearings have already been conducted.

Video conferencing has been pilot-tested nationwide to make sure that there is still immediate dispensation of justice while at the same time protecting the court officers, staff and litigants while the country is still fighting the pandemic.

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Aside from video conferencing, the high court has also allowed the filing online of pleadings, criminal charge sheets, petitions for bails, and release of resolutions; strict implementation of guidelines on the grant of bail and recognizance, and provisional dismissal of cases.

However, the petition filed by more than 20 detainees asking for the provisional release of inmates of old age and with underlying medical conditions has yet to be resolve by the High Court.

RELATED STORIES

SC issues guidelines to decongest jails amid coronavirus pandemic

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

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