Manila curfew violators unable to post bail due to absence of inquest staff

Lian Buan

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Manila curfew violators unable to post bail due to absence of inquest staff

Gerard Carreon

Mayor Isko Moreno initially says no judge was able to process bail, then later says there were no inquest staff

MANILA, Philippines – Violators of Manila’s curfew were unable to post bail after arrest because there was no inquest staff to process their charges.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno announced late afternoon Wednesday, March 18, that authorities in the capital have arrested 16 people for violating the city’s ordinance enforcing curfew from 8 pm to 5 am. This was in accordance with the lockdown of Luzon intended to contain the coronavirus.

“First reason po ay wala pong staff/personnel sa Office of the City Prosecutor na pumapasok dahil po sa suspension ng public transport. Wala pong available na stenographer na gagawa po ng Information,” Moreno said late evening Thursday, March 19, quoting information relayed to him by Manila Chief City Prosecutor Joey Obejas.

(First reason is that there is no staff or personnel reporting for work at the Office of the City Prosecutor because of the suspension of public transport. There are also no available stenographers to write up the information.)

Moreno added, still quoting Obejas, that: “Pangalawa po ay wala din pong nakakapasok mula sa Inquest Division kaya hindi din po maitutuloy sa court ang filing ng violation ng City Ordinance po.”

(There are also no staff reporting for work at the Inquest Division so we could not file any charges related to the violation of the city ordinance.)

Manila Public Information Chief Julius Leonen was unable to confirm as of writing if the 16 have been freed or if they are still in jail. (READ: Cops arrest homeless Lola who shouted at tanods warning about curfew)

Inquest is crucial

If someone is arrested without a warrant, that person must be brought for inquest within a prescribed period – depending on their offense – and it will be the inquest prosecutor who will decide whether to release without charge, to charge in court and recommend bail, or to release pending further investigation.

That’s why it was important for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue a circular saying inquest proceedings will remain operational. The Supreme Court also kept select courts open to process urgent matters like bail.

Told of the situation, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will look into it.

“I have just issued today a department circular reiterating my directive for inquest prosecutors to report/be on call. Will ask Prosecutor General Ben Malcontento to look into this asap,” Guevarra told reporters.

Courts open

Moreno initially said on his Facebook Live briefer on Wednesday that the reason for the inability to post bail is the absence of a judge to process it.

“Sila po ay pansamantalang nakakulong dala nang wala pong husgado ngayon at hindi sila makakapag-piyansa,” Moreno said in a briefer streamed live from his Facebook page.

(They are temporarily jailed because there are no judges right now and they cannot post bail.)

But the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) denied that charges have been filed before them.

In a message relayed to reporters, Manila MeTC Executive Judge Carissa Frondozo said: “So far wala pa fina-file sa amin na kahit anong violation ng curfew ordinance.” (So far no charges have been filed before us for any violation of the curfew ordinance.)

The Supreme Court reiterated courts will be open to ensure that remedies are available to people during the Luzon lockdown.

“We have assured the public that our courts, despite drastically reducing its operations, will continue to function to attend to important and urgent matters,” said Supreme Court Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka.

Is curfew already effective over Manila?

The Manila Council passed Ordinance 8616 on Saturday, March 14. 

A legislative ordinance cannot take effect immediately since it has to be published first and take effect only 15 days after.

Guevarra told Rappler that in cases of emergency, the 15-day period can be shortened, but there has to be a notice period especially for ordinances with penal sanctions.

Manila’s Ordinance 8616 imposes a fine of not more than P5,000 and imprisonment of not more than a month.

“If there’s a penalty for the violation the ordinance must be published,” Guevarra said.

On Sunday, March 15, Manila Council Majority Floor Leader Joel Chua told Rappler that their notice period will be 3 days. That is 3 days from Monday’s publication, which is Thursday, March 19.

The 16 were arrested Wednesday, March 18.

But on Monday, Chua told Rappler the curfew had already taken effect.

President Rodrigo Duterte in a speech encouraged local chief executives to forego their city’s legislative processes and sign executive orders instead.

If not for the curfew, the DOJ said violators of the lockdown can be arrested without warrant for “non-cooperation” under the very broad law which is Republic Act 11332. – 

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.