SC orders release of detainees still not charged after required period

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) ordered the release of arrested persons who have been kept in detention even after the period of preliminary investigation for their cases have already lapsed.

The SC en banc's unanimous decision promulgated last July covers "all detainees whose pending cases have gone beyond the mandated periods for the conduct of preliminary investigation, or whose cases have already been dismissed on inquest or preliminary investigation, despite pending appeal, reconsideration, reinvestigation or automatic review by the Secretary of Justice."

These are the individuals arrested without warrant or kept detained even though charges have not been filed before a court.

Continued detention of these individuals is only allowed if prosecutors secure a waiver of Article 25 of the 1987 Constitution which states that a person arrested and detained without warrant should be placed under the judicial process within 12 to 36 hours, or else they should be released.

"The Court held that such waiver does not vest upon the Department of Justice (DOJ), Provincial Prosecutor's Office (PPO), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), and Philippine National Police (PNP) the unbridled right to indefinitely incarcerate an arrested person and subject him to the whims and caprices of the reviewing prosecutor of the DOJ," the SC said in a statement.

The SC said waivers of Article 25 should still coincide with Section 7, Rule 112 of the Rules of Court.

Under that provision, despite a waiver, a person arrested without warrant shall be allowed to apply for bail. The investigation must also be "terminated within 15 days from its inception."

"Detention beyond this period violates the accused's constitutional right to liberty," the SC said.

Drug-related case 

The High Court acted on the petition of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Pangasinan, which represented drug suspect Jay-Ar Senin.

Senin was arrested in a buy-bust operation in 2015, then detained for 8 months without any finding of probable cause at the time. Drug charges are non-bailable. (READ: Supreme Court allows plea bargaining in drug cases)

Prosecutors initially dismissed the case against Senin at their level, but because the DOJ puts every drug-related resolution on automatic review, he was kept behind bars.

The Office of the Solicitor General said the IBP-Senin case was moot because probable cause was eventually established and charges were then filed in court.

But the SC en banc said it took the opportunity to clarify the guidelines and ensure that the right to liberty will no longer be violated.

"The Court held that the rule is that a person subject of a warrantless arrest must be delivered to the proper judicial authorities within the periods provided in Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), otherwise, the public official or employee could be held liable for the failure to deliver except in grounded on reasonable and allowable delays. Article 125 of the RPC, however, can be waived if the detainee who was validly arrested without warrant opts for the conduct of preliminary investigation," the SC said.

The DOJ's automatic review rule for drug-related cases has been in effect since 2003. But in January 2017, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II signed Circular No. 004 which says that an arrested person must be released when the complaint against him is dismissed, "notwithstanding the automatic review."

The SC said it issued the ruling despite Aguirre's circular to cement the guidelines due to the "possibility that the latest circular would again be amended by succeeding secretaries."

The SC said "it was aware that this decision may raise discomfort to some, especially at this time when the present administration aggressively wages its indisputably popular war on illegal drugs."

But the High Court added that raising the issue of public security is "not a justification to trample upon the constitutional rights of the detainees against deprivation of liberty without due process of law, to be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and to a speedy disposition of the case."

The SC ruling was penned by now retired Associate Justice Jose Mendoza. Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa did not take part in the voting, the High Court said. –

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.