SC lets longtime Enrile aide leave jail
Jessica Lucila “Gigi’’ Reyes, a longtime chief-of-staff of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, was released from detention on Thursday night, two days after the Supreme Court granted her petition for habeas corpus and ended her nearly nine years in jail while on trial for plunder in connection with the pork barrel scam.
In a 19-page resolution, the Supreme Court’s First Division said her detention, though in accordance with an order from the Sandiganbayan, violated her constitutional right to a speedy trial and infringed on her right to liberty.
The tribunal said Reyes, in her January 2021 petition, was able to prove that her detention had become a form of “vexatious restraint.”
Reyes has been under detention at the Taguig City Jail Female Dormitory since July 9, 2014, under a commitment order from the Sandiganbayan.
“While such order was lawful, petitioner’s continued detention had become an undue restraint on her liberty due to the peculiar protracted proceedings attendant in the principal case,” the court said.
The Supreme Court in 2015 also ordered Enrile, who is now presidential legal counsel, released from detention on humanitarian grounds while his plunder case was pending. Enrile will be 99 years old next month.
Reyes had pointed out in her petition that her trial had been delayed due to the wrong markings on the prosecution’s evidence. To correct these errors, the Sandiganbayan had to schedule additional preliminary conferences.
These had considerably delayed the progress of the case, the high court said, adding that Reyes had been in detention for close to nine years, without assurance of the resolution of the plunder case in sight.
“To stress, we are not saying that the lengthened proceedings was entirely the fault of prosecution,” the court said. But it noted that the prosecution had been unable to explain the prolonged proceedings.
“The prosecution merely invoked jurisprudence, without providing reasons or justifications behind the long-drawn out proceedings,” it said.
It said that Reyes was able to prove that the delays provided the grounds for her to seek a judicial review of the legality of her continuous confinement “as they already infringe on her right to liberty.”
Right to speedy trial
Reyes cited specific instances during the trial that supported the view that there was no assurance that the proceedings against her would soon end after close to a decade of being in detention, the court said.
“It is important to emphasize that before the Sandiganbayan renders a judgment in the principal case, petitioner must remain to be an accused, who is nonetheless entitled to constitutional rights. Consequently, she is presumed innocent until final conviction,” it said.
“Likewise, she enjoys the right to a speedy, impartial, and public trial. Moreover, inherent is the right to liberty,” it added.
According to the court, the commitment order for Reyes cannot be “oppressively used” for an indefinite period to the extent that an accused’s constitutional rights are “utterly disregarded.”
“Indeed, nine years is far too long of a detention pending the resolution of a criminal case. If petitioner were to wait for a final judgment before seeking effective relief, then it might be too late for her to genuinely enjoy her liberty. By then, justice delayed would truly be justice denied,” the court ruled.
The court set conditions for her temporary liberty, namely, to attend hearings of her Sandiganbayan case, to submit a quarterly report to the antigraft court on her whereabouts, to secure travel authority from it if she plans to go abroad and to present herself to the court on her return from her trip.
The court warned her that she would be rearrested and detained again if she failed to comply with any of these conditions.
Reyes left the Taguig City Jail around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, according to Bureau of Jail Management and Penology spokesperson Jail Chief Insp. Jayrex Bustinera.
Reyes was Enrile’s coaccused along with alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
Enrile was charged with amassing P172.834 million in pork barrel “commissions” from 2003 to 2010 in collaboration with Reyes, Napoles and her driver-bodyguard John Raymund de Asis.
Enrile and Reyes were also charged with 15 counts of graft for allegedly mishandling pork barrel funds totaling P345 million.
Scam whistleblower Benhur Luy, a relative and bookkeeper of Napoles, had identified Reyes as among Napoles’ main contacts in Enrile’s office.
At the time, Reyes said she had encountered Napoles on several occasions, but had never met Luy.
Reyes disappeared for eight months after the pork barrel scandal broke out in July 2013 and returned home in April 2014.
She worked for Enrile when he served as senator—from July 1995 to June 2001 and from 2004 to January 2013—when she resigned following the controversial distribution of cash gifts billed as additional maintenance and other operating expenses to senators.
As chief aide, Reyes signed checks in the millions of pesos on behalf of Enrile and issued memos to the Senate staff involving the funds of the chamber.
Before her resignation, Reyes was widely regarded as the “25th senator” for her purported influence in Congress as a stern, no-nonsense aide to Enrile when he was the Senate president.
—WITH REPORTS FROM DEXTER CABALZA AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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