Court administrator orders inventory of cases, release of qualified detainees

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Court administrator orders inventory of cases, release of qualified detainees
This March 21, 2020 photo shows detainees at the Quezon City Jail.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Citing congestion of jails amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the Office of the Court Administrator on Monday told judges to conduct an inventory of pending cases and direct the release of qualified detainees.

Court Administrator Midas Marquez issued OCA Circular No. 91-2020 reminding judges of first and second level courts “to adhere to the Guidelines for Decongesting Holding Jails by Enforcing the Rights of the Accused Persons to Bail and to Speedy Trial.”

First level courts are municipal trial courts while second level trial courts are regional trial courts.

Marquez referred to the SC en banc resolution dated March 18, 2014, part of which held that those charged who have been detained “for a period of at least equal to the minimum of the penalty for the offense charged against him shall be ordered released motu proprio (on its own initiative).”

Under the same resolution, the SC held that the court “shall provisionally dismiss the action with the express consent of the detained accused” when absence of essential witness delays the proceedings.

“An essential witness is one whose testimony dwells on the presence of some or all of the elements of the crime and whose testimony is indispensable to the conviction of the accused,” the SC resolution also read.

Marquez ordered judges to conduct an inventory of pending criminal cases that may fall under the said provisions.

They are told to “comply with the said guidelines without unnecessary delay, using their sound discretion.”

He added: “If warranted, [judges] may release such detainees on their own recognizance, provided the court is assured of where the accused can be located, while their cases are ongoing trial.”

Contact numbers and exact address of the accused and of at least two of their closest kin must also be provided.

While courts nationwide remain physically closed, Marquez added that motions for recognizance and provisional dismissal of cases resulting in release of charged from detention may be considered urgent and immediately set for hearing.

COVID-19 in jails, penal facilities

OCA’s directive came after the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology announced that nine inmates of the Quezon City Jail and nine of its personnel tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

BJMP, according to its 2015 operations manual, holds jurisdiction over persons detained awaiting or undergoing investigation or trial and/or transfer to the national penitentiary and/or violent mentally ill person who endangers him/herself.

Last weekend, the Bureau of Corrections also said a Person Deprived of Liberty in the Correctional Institute of Women in Mandaluyong City also contracted the virus.

Meanwhile the SC has ordered the government to file its comment on the petition for temporary release filed by a group of 22 PDLs.





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