Videoconference hearings lead to release of 4,683 prisoners in a week

Rappler.com
Videoconference hearings lead to release of 4,683 prisoners in a week
'We expect a lot more courts to conduct hearings through videoconferencing this coming week that may result [in] more releases of [persons deprived of liberty],' says Court Administrator Midas Marquez

MANILA, Philippines – At least 4,683 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) were released in a span of one week through videoconference hearings as the Philippines faces the coronavirus pandemic.

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) on Sunday, May 10, said the data covers April 30 to May 8 alone.

Over a period of 6 weeks, OCA said 9,731 prisoners were released, through various initiatives to address congestion in jails across the country.

The huge number of PDLs released, according to Court Administrator Midas Marquez, is due to circulars issued by the Supreme Court (SC) which allowed hearings through videoconferences and the release of prisoners accused of minor crimes on reduced bail. (READ: ‘The digital court is not so far away’) 

Videoconference hearings are being done in various areas, including Metro Manila, Baguio City, Cebu, and key cities in Mindanao.

Marquez said the number is expected to rise once other courts start hearings through the platform.

“We expect a lot more courts to conduct hearings through videoconferencing this coming week that may result [in] more releases of PDLs,” he said.

The SC circulars were in response to concerns raised regarding congested jails amid the coronavirus pandemic. (READ: ‘Takot na takot kami’: While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails)

At least 380 out of the 467 jails under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology are congested, as of October 2019. This results in a national congestion rate of 450%, which means 6 detainees occupy the space only meant for one.

On April 8, 22 prisoners filed a petition asking the SC to release them on humanitarian grounds. Solicitor General Jose Calida, however, asked the High Court to dismiss the petition, saying that “congestion in prison facilities is not among the grounds to release inmates.” (READ: TIMELINE: The bid to release low-risk, sick, elderly prisoners in PH) – Rappler.com

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