MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) will be sticking to its policy of arresting violators of the coronavirus lockdown, but will roll out electronic inquest to expedite proceedings so they can be released as quickly as possible.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Monday, March 30, that prosecutors nationwide have started electronic inquest for offices that have internet capability.
Inquest proceedings are summary hearings for cases of warrantless arrest – or in this lockdown, those arrested without a warrant for violating certain rules like breaking curfew or going out without an essential task. (READ: Teacher, son arrested without warrant in GenSan over Facebook post)
Inquest is crucial because this can determine the release of the arrested person.
"Any (electronic) platform (can be used) as long as it can comply with the basic requirements of procedures," said Guevarra.
Can't people just be released despite charges? There were calls for authorities to be more lenient and just allow violators to go home after booking them, so they could wait for inquest and further proceedings from home, and not from jail.
Over 17,000 people have been arrested across the Philippines for coronavirus lockdown-related violations, according to data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) as of Monday, March 30.
PNP Deputy Chief for Operations Guillermo Eleazar said on Saturday, March 28, "they decided to be a little lenient...out of compassion, and the lack of suitable jail facilities as well as government prosecutors that would attend to the cases that would be filed since the DOJ is only manned by limited number of personnel."
But that quickly changed because the following day, Sunday, March 29, Eleazar took back his earlier statement and said: “Based on our assessment, the number of curfew violators will just continue to rise if we become lenient on them. This will definitely defeat the purpose of the declaration of the Enhanced Community Quarantine which President Duterte approved purposely to contain the COVID-19."
What is now the procedure? Arrested people should still have to wait for inquest, which will hopefully be faster with the roll-out of electronic inquest.
Inquest can have several results:
If the prosecutor decides to open a formal preliminary investigation, Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said then they can temporarily release the arrested person.
"We are currently coordinating with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to temporarily release booked suspects even before the commencement of the formal preliminary investigation," said Perete.
If the prosecutor decides to file charges in court, a worst case scenario would be that the filing process and the payment of bail will be delayed because of mobility problems. Courts are physically closed nationwide, and judges and officers will only report for work if they deem the concern to be urgent.
Perete said if this is the case, the person may be released after the lapse of reglamentary periods.
"If the period within which the information should be filed exceeds the maximum period allowed by law to hold a person pursuant to a warrantless arrest, then the procedure for release applies," said Perete.
The periods are: