Supreme Court of the Philippines

After 5 months, SC redirects vulnerable prisoners to lower courts for release petitions

Lian Buan
After 5 months, SC redirects vulnerable prisoners to lower courts for release petitions
The Supreme Court decision was made on July 28, but petitioners are only informed about it now

The Supreme Court has finally decided on a petition filed in April to temporarily release vulnerable prisoners – and that is to redirect them back to the lower courts for hearings.

The Supreme Court said in a statement on Thursday, September 10, that the en banc decided not to rule on the holistic petition and would rather have trial courts assess the prisoners’ eligibility for bail.

“The Supreme Court in treating the petition as an application for bail… referred the same to the trial courts, where the respective criminal cases of the Petitioners remain pending, and directed them to conduct the necessary proceedings and resolve the incidents immediately,” said the High Court.

The petition was filed back in April by 22 political prisoners who are mostly charged with non-bailable cases, with one of them already convicted.

Activist Ina Nasino, one of the 22 petitioners, has already given birth in jail since the filing of the case, and has been kept separate from her newborn.

The Supreme Court said the decision was “rendered” on July 28, but petitioners were only informed about it on Thursday through the press release.

“I believe there were significant and complex issues which had to be carefully deliberated upon and discussed by the Justices,” Supreme Court Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said when asked why the decision was only publicized Thursday.

Proof of vulnerability

The 22 showed proof of their vulnerability either to ailment or old age. They asked the Court to follow other countries’ examples by releasing vulnerable prisoners temporarily during the coronavirus pandemic. (READ: While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails)

The petition was holistic in a sense that it also asked the Court to award whatever remedy it may to other prisoners similarly situated.

If not to release them, the petition asked the Court to look at international templates and at least create a Prisoner Release Committee “to urgently study and implement the release of all other prisoners in various congested prisons throughout the country who are similarly vulnerable but cannot be included in this Petition due to the difficult circumstances.” (PODCAST: Law of Duterte Land: Legal difficulties of a prisoner mass release

But in an anti-climactic decision, the Supreme Court limited its ruling to the petitioners.

“In order for the Petitioners to be granted bail, it is imperative to conduct hearings and receive evidence in order to weigh the strength of the prosecution’s evidence as to the guilt of the Petitioners. These proceedings are within the competence of the trial courts,” said the Supreme Court.

“The Petitioners will be provided copies of the actual decision, and their lawyers will have to determine the approprate remedial action to pursue to protect their client’s interests,” said Hosaka.

Asked if petitioners need to file separate motions before their trial courts, Hosaka said he was unsure, adding, “I cannot comment more than what is in the decision of the Supreme Court.”

Delayed

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta promised that a decision would be handed down by mid-June, but that didn’t happen.

Rappler learned as early as July that this would be the decision, but sources said there were debates on how it was going to be worded and whether the Court would let the petition remain open while trial courts hearing moved.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said it now considers the proceedings “closed and terminated.”

In an earlier interview, criminal law expert and former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te said that while he believes this decision is proper, “it could have come sooner – when it could have been more relevant.” (READ: During pandemic, Supreme Court favors Duterte twice and makes others wait) – Rappler.com