SC ruling on political detainees’ plea for temporary liberty due to COVID-19: Let lower courts decide
The Supreme Court has passed on to lower courts the petition of a group of elderly and sickly political detainees, who pleaded to be freed temporarily to avoid contracting SARS Cov2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in congested jails and waited for five months for a decision on their plea.
The high court arrived at the decision six weeks ago, or last July 28.
It referred the petition of 22 political detainees to trial courts handling the cases against the inmates.
The Supreme Court, however, announced the decision only on Thursday (Sept. 10) through its public information office.
The petitioners and their lawyers have not been given a copy of the decision, which was still undergoing administrative clearance.
Without explaining the six-week delay in announcing its decision, the Supreme Court said the petition “presented several complex issues making the interaction of applicable principles ridden with far-reaching implications.”
The court was unanimous in treating the petition as an application for bail or recognizance.
But it also acknowledged that the petitioners were not entitled to bail since they have all been charged with offenses punishable by a 40-year prison term or reclusion perpetua.
“Hence, in order for the petitioners to be granted bail, it is imperative to conduct hearings,” the high court’s public information office said. “These proceedings are within the competence of trial courts,” it said.
The Supreme Court directed the trial courts “to conduct the necessary proceedings and resolve the incidents immediately.”
“The Supreme Court also considered the proceedings before it closed and terminated,” its public information office added.
Asked about the six-week gap before the announcement, Supreme Court public information chief Brian Hosaka said while the justices had initially agreed that the proper venue for the detainees’ petition were trial courts, “they had different approaches and opinions as to the result.”
Many justices had submitted separate opinions, he said. “This just shows that the case was indeed packed with complex issues having far-reaching repercussions,” Hosaka said.
The 22 petitioners included National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultants Vicente Ladlad, Francisco Fernandez, Adelberto Silva, Rey Casambre and Renante Gamara.
They are detained in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City with other petitioners Dionisio Almonte, Ireneo Atadero Jr., Emmanuel Bacarra, Alexander Birondo, Winona Birondo, Ferdinand Castillo, Ediesel Legaspi, Alberto Villamor, Virginia Villamor, Cleofe Lagtapon, Geann Perez and Oliver Rosales.
The other petitioners are Norberto Murillo, Reina Nasino, Dario Tomada and Oscar Belleza, who are detained at the Manila City Jail, and Lilia Bucatcat.
All are still undergoing trial except for Bucatcat who is serving her sentence at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City.
When the petition was filed last April 8, the 23-year old Nasino was pregnant. She gave birth last July 1. The Manla court handling her case rejected her appeal to keep her baby with her in the Manila City Jail nursery for a year.
At an online press briefing last June 11, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said a decision on the petition will be issued in a few days.
He said the deliberation was delayed because the justice assigned to the case was unable to return to Manila from the Visayas due to the lockdown.
Since then the families of the prisoners belonging to the group Kapatid have been regularly holding rallies outside the Supreme Court, the latest one last Tuesday (Sept. 8).
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