Supreme Court can’t think ‘far out the box’ in releasing prisoners – Leonen

Lian Buan
Supreme Court can’t think ‘far out the box’ in releasing prisoners – Leonen
'That would mean we will be ourselves be the first to violating certain constitutional rights if we do so,' says Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said on Saturday, May 2, that the court cannot think “far out the box” in releasing prisoners amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s very dangerous for the court that has found, that has declared that there are rights on the side of the prosecutor and the defense to really go far out of the box,” Leonen said on Saturday during an online forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).

Leonen added: “That would mean we will ourselves be the first in violating certain constitutional rights if we do so.” (READ: Concern over deaths in Bilibid mounts in the face of the pandemic)

So far, there are 229 coronavirus cases in detention facilities, referring to prisoners on trial; and 50 COVID-19 cases in Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) facilities or those involving convicts. Three of the 50 BuCor cases have died.

What does he mean? There is limited jurisprudence on releasing prisoners outside of the usual legal grounds, like acquittal, parole, or clemency.

That is why the government’s responses, so far, have been confined to established and existing guidelines for releases.

With the coronavirus outbreak, and confirmed cases in jails – both correctional and detention facilities – groups have called for a humanitarian mass release, following in the steps of other countries.

The Supreme Court continues to deliberate on that petition, but has meanwhile released circulars for the release of prisoners under certain established decongestion guidelines.

For example, the Supreme Court ordered judges to release prisoners who qualify under a 2014 guideline, meaning those whose cases are not moving due to unavailable witnesses and those who have been detained longer than their minimum penalty. 

Since that circular of the Supreme Court, Leonen said 9,731 prisoners have been released.

The latest move by the Supreme Court is to allow reduced bail for poor prisoners.

The petition, along with local and international calls, asks for a wider scope of releases, which shall be based mainly on a public health consideration, given the pandemic. (READ: ‘TAKOT NA TAKOT KAMI’ While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails)

Leonen said that while “we understand the humanitarian consideration, we need to hear all the parties in order to come out with a solution.”

“It may not be as fast as people think. We are not the executive, we are not the legislature. But we are careful about setting a precedent during these times,” said Leonen. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.