MANILA, Philippines – Philippine police have been arresting hundreds daily since the start of the pandemic lockdown on March 15, but 3 months have passed and the system has not yet cleared its backlog, leaving more than 2,000 Filipinos still in jail.
Rappler analyzed daily reports of the Joint Task Force (JTF) Covid Shield and found that there are more arrests than inquests per day so that since May 10, the number of alleged quarantine violators still in jail has plateaued at more than 2,000.
As of June 19, there are still 2,692 Filipinos still detained. Quarantine violations are bailable offenses.
The chart below shows the cumulative number of arrests, inquests, and cases for filing per day, showing that the prosecutorial and judicial disposition of quarantine-related complaints can’t keep up because police keep on making arrests.
The Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL), a consortium of the most prominent legal groups in the country, has been calling on the government to minimize arrests for quarantine violations because “putting more people in jail for light offenses will only exacerbate the transmissibility of the COVID-19 virus.”
Two jeepney drivers jailed for protesting during quarantine have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the group’s lawyer Henrie Enaje.
The other 4 of the so-called Piston 6 are in quarantine and are being monitored.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has been urging nations to decongest prisons during the pandemic, and one of its top recommendation is to not send more people to jail.
“This can be done by taking collective action to sentence less number of persons to judicial custody and liberal grant of bail,” said the CHRI.
The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) has written Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to convene the Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC), which is made up of courts, prosecutors and police, “to come up with a clear and coordinated plan and a strategic approach towards jail decongestion and humanitarian treatment during this pandemic.”
There has been no clear response yet. (READ: In Duterte’s Philippines, lawyers are pandemic frontliners too)
Hundreds arrested per day
The JTF Covid Shield started releasing daily reports on March 30, and by then the number of arrested was already 19,340, excluding tens of thousands who were apprehended, but were just either warned or fined, supposedly for violating quarantine rules.
From the start of April to May 10, the number of daily arrests did not go below 400, and there were 9 days when police arrested more than 1,000 in a day.
As you can see in the chart below, the daily arrests went down to only below or slightly above 200 starting June when President Rodrigo Duterte eased most of the lockdowns nationwide.
The data used in this chart reflect actual daily numbers, computed from JTF’s cumulative numbers.
More arrests than inquests
Inquest is a proceeding done by prosecutors for arrests made without a warrant.
JTF Commander Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar told Rappler that although all arrests are warrantless, there were cases where police released the individuals upon referral of the complaint to prosecutors. This is categorized in JTF reports as “for regular filing.”
The rest were subjected to the strict definition of inquest, where individuals remain in police custody until they are formally charged in court and are able to pay bail.
There have been reported cases of delay in starting inquests, even though Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code says people arrested without warrant must be brought to court within 12 hours, 18 hours, or 36 hours, depending on the gravity of the offense.
That there remain more than 2,000 in jail although they have been categorized as inquested meant some of them had not reached the court yet – and can’t post bail yet, raising the questions on whether law enforcement followed Article 125.
There were also reported cases of delay in posting bail – some because they couldn’t afford it, and others had difficulties complying with the tedious requirements, like fish vendor Joseph “Mang Dodong” Jimeda who initially couldn’t provide a photo of his home. He was in jail for 12 days.
“Among the requirements for posting of bail is a map of the applicant’s residence, as well as a barangay certification of such residence. The rationale for this is for easy identification of a party’s residence in the event one jumps bail. The requirement for a photo may have been imposed with the same rationale in mind,” said Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete in an earlier message.
Elmer Cordero, the 72-year-old jeepney driver of Piston 6, was in jail for 9 days because of confusion over supposed past cases, so even though he was ready to post bail, he couldn’t be freed immediately. (READ: In PH pandemic: Due process for allies, warrantless arrests for the rest)
Thousands still detained
As of June 19, there were still 2,692 Filipinos still detained.
Based on the daily reports of the JTF, Rappler has found that while there were days when authorities were able to decrease the number, on some days by the hundreds, there were 30 days since April 15 when the number even increased also by the hundreds on some days.
The JTF only started releasing the number of still detained violators on April 15. The number went below 2,000 for a while, but starting May 10, the number has plateaud at more than 2,000.
Asked why authorities couldn’t manage to reduce the number of still detained violators, Eleazar simply said that “every day, puwedeng may nade-detain at meron ding nare-release (every day there could be someone detained and there could be someone released.)
The Department of Justice (DOJ) did not respond to a question on whether there are challenges at the prosecutorial level.
The CLCL has deployed manpower on the ground to find violators arrested and detained to assist them legally.
“We also urge the police to refrain from arresting people on the justification that they have no masks or quarantine passes, and other minor infractions….millions of our people are hungry. Most of them are likely outside to earn a little income or look for food. No one should go to prison for wanting to feed their family,” said the CLCL.
The CLCL also called on the government to not arrest activists and other progressive groups who are either protesting or distributing aid.
“We condemn the continuing human rights violations and urge the government to release those arrested in light of the Supreme Court initiative to decongest our prisons,” said the CLCL. – Rappler.com
Contact the CLCL at +63 965 604 7475 or email@example.com