MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Thursday, August 20, that the Supreme Court (SC) decision allowing Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to post bail could set a dangerous precedent, considering that he is charged with a non-bailable offense.
De Lima expressed concern over the High Court's decision to allow temporary liberty for the 91-year-old senator because of "humanitarian considerations."
Voting 8-4, the magistrates said they considered Enrile's poor health and advanced age in allowing him to post bail.
But De Lima said those currently detained over non-bailable offenses may use the same argument in seeking relief from the SC.
She cited the case of former president and current Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is currently detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center over a P366-million plunder charge.
The former president is suffering from "multiple cervical spondylosis" or the wearing off of the bones.
De Lima said this could be used as an argument for the court to allow her to post bail.
"But if the SC does that, it is again an unprecedented decision,” she said.
De Lima added, “What will now prevent the other accused from applying for bail directly to the Supreme Court for the same reason that Enrile has given in his petition?"
While plunder is typically a non-bailable offense, Enrile earlier argued in his petition before the SC that mitigating circumstances in his case grant him the right to post bail.
The justice secretary also said it was "unprecedented" for the court to grant bail to an accused based on humanitarian grounds.
According to Section 7, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Court, those charged with capital offenses will not be allowed to post bail "when evidence of guilt is strong."
De Lima said the High Court cannot determine evidence of guilt because it is not a trier of facts. Instead, it is part of the jurisdiction of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
The Sandiganbayan, however, initially denied Enrile's motion for bail in a July 2014 resolution. This became the subject of the senator's petition before the SC.
"The Supreme Court is not a trial court. The bail hearings are ongoing at the Sandiganbayan, so it is only the Sandiganbayan that can determine if the evidence of guilt is strong or not. But now we have the Supreme Court saying that we're granting bail on humanitarian considerations,” De Lima said.
"I hope majority of the SC, who voted in favor [of Enrile] would realize the ramifications of that ruling. Because the Constitution doesn't provide for the argument of humanitarian considerations," she added.
In a decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the SC granted Enrile's motion to post bail after taking into consideration his advanced age and frail health.
The SC noted that the purpose of bail was to guarantee Enrile's appearance in his trials, and this would not be achieved if Enrile was barred from seeking medical treatment.
“Indeed, denying him bail despite imperiling his health and life would not serve the true objective of preventive incarceration during the trial,” the SC said.
The High Court also took into account Enrile's argument that he was not a flight risk, and that his voluntary surrender should be considered in deciding on his petition.
"His personal disposition from the onset of his indictment for plunder, formal or otherwise, has demonstrated his utter respect for the legal processes of this country," the SC said.