Elderly inmates' plea for temporary release may be resolved next week, Peralta says

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — The elderly and sickly prisoners’ plea for temporary release on humanitarian ground, amid the pandemic, may likely be resolved next week, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said.

A group of 23 prisoners knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court to ask for their temporary release as early as April 8, but two months since the filing, the tribunal has only so far asked the government to file its comment on the petition.

“Unfortunately, the member-in-charge cannot come now to Manila. There is no flight yet from his place in Visayas coming to Manila,” Peralta said at the CJ Meets the Press online on Thursday morning.

The member-in-charge is the justice to whom the case been raffled off.

“We cannot tackle something if it’s not deliberated upon and the one who will present to the en banc is the member in charge. So I hope that he can come this Tuesday and I can assure you that once he's here, I believe that case will finally be now resolved,” he added.

“If he will still not be able to come Tuesday, then probably we will resort to videoconferencing,” Peralta added.

In their plea to the SC, the petitioners—composed of elderly and sickly inmates—said they “are praying for a fair chance at surviving the devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in spaces that are not blighted with the overcrowding and lack of access to hygiene measures and medical care.”

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology said that as of June 11, it identified 745 confirmed COVID-19 cases in PDLs and 125 infections among its personnel.

Technical difficulties delayed deliberations on the plea

Since the pandemic forced physical closure of courts, Peralta allowed the conduct of videoconferencing, and the SC has also held en banc sessions virtually.

But the chief justice said there had been “a few technical problems” on discussions on the political prisoners’ petition.

“[It is] very hard to have videoconferencing. Had it only been that he was not the member-in-charge, but all questions will be focused to him. That’s our problem,” Peralta added.

“I said how will we do it if it’s videoconferencing, if that had only been voting, that may be allowed and deliberations have already been terminated, he will just leave his vote... but you cannot vote on something when there is no deliberation and the one who will lead the deliberation is the ponente,” he explained in a mix of English and Filipino.

Since the lockdown, the SC also issued issuances to help decongest the country’s overcrowded jails and has so far released 22,522 PDLs since the lockdown.

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