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“No man shall be detained by reason of whims, caprices or suspicions of anyone in power.” The decision by the Supreme Court of the Philippines to order the release of Gigi Reyes after nine years of detention without a definitive trial brings these words by our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal into stark relief.
Article III, Section 14 (2) of the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines upholds the right of the accused to a speedy trial. Our Constitution does not define what “speedy” really means, leaving it to subjective interpretation, but it undeniably highlights the obligation to avoid oppressive and undue delays. In the Reyes case, this constitutional protection was considerably overlooked.
Let us be clear: the Supreme Court’s order merely spells Reyes’ release from provisional detention pending trial of the plunder case against her. It does not dismiss the case. In the words of the Court, it “does not adjudge the innocence or the guilt of the petitioner.”
The “petitioner must still stand trial.” This is a critical differentiation, as the Court’s directive leaves the door open for justice to be served, given the gravity of millions of lost public funds. Truth to tell, the Supreme Court could have dismissed the case based on judicial precedents it earlier decided, but the Court prudently struck a balance between the public good and an individual’s right under the Constitution.
The decision has stimulated public debate, given the personality of the accused and the magnitude of the supposed crime. However, should we not also view it as a wake-up call for the prosecution and trial courts, reminding them of the need for diligence and the importance to address arraigned cases effectively? After all, “justice delayed is justice denied,” as British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone once said, calling attention to the obligate link between justice and time.
Indeed, the Reyes ruling may serve as a valuable precedent for similarly aggrieved parties seeking relief based on the constitutional right to a speedy trial. But bear in mind, the case was decided on the basis of its peculiar circumstances. For example, the trial of the case “commenced only on March 3, 2022, notwithstanding that the information was filed as early as June 5, 2014.”
The Court also noted several incidents which have contributed to the prolonged delay of the case, such as the issuance of two conflicting pre-trial orders and wrong markings of documentary evidence by the prosecution. Surely, the decision cannot be applied carte blanche. Predicate considerations for “speed” in each case range from the length and reasons for delays, timely assertion of the constitutional right, prosecution action or inaction, any stalling by the accused, and other factors under the trial court’s discretion.
In the end, the Gigi Reyes case underscores the poignant reality of our judicial system’s complexities. Locked within its labyrinthine corridors are countless souls, awaiting their day in court, their right to a speedy trial seemingly reduced to pleas in the wind.
And while cases like the Reyes case incite controversial discourses, they also illuminate fundamental truths about our justice system, beckoning for much-needed reform and diligence at every step of legal proceedings. The Supreme Court’s decision, in its essence, serves to reiterate these imperatives. – Rappler.com
Francis Lim is a senior legal counsel of ACCRALAW and chairperson of the Justice Reform Initiative, a non-governmental organization formed by several groups to help bring about reforms in our justice system.