SC ends 5-month wait, directs elderly and sickly detainees' plea to lower courts
Families of political prisoners return to the Supreme Court on September 8 bearing black candles to remind magistrates of their 5-month old petition for the humanitarian release of elderly and sickly prisoners.
KAPATID/release
SC ends 5-month wait, directs elderly and sickly detainees' plea to lower courts
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - September 10, 2020 - 3:04pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has referred the petition of elderly and sick detainees for humanitarian release to trial courts for resolution, ending their families’ five month-long wait.

In a statement on Thursday, the SC Public Information Office said the tribunal directed trial courts where the detainees’ cases remain pending to “conduct the necessary proceedings and resolve the incidents immediately.”

“The SC also considered the proceedings before it closed and terminated,” it added.

READ: 'On humanitarian grounds:' Vulnerable, at-risk prisoners ask SC for temporary release amid COVID-19 crisis

The group of 22 elderly and at-risk to COVID-19 detainees filed their petition, through their family, on April 8. They asked the high court to direct their temporary release during “the duration of the state of public health emergency, national calamity, lockdown and community quarantine due to the threats of the COVID-19.”

The SC PIO said the justices reached the decision on July 28 but this was announced only on Thursday, September 9, posting another delay of nearly three weeks.

It took five months—and one child birth of a 23-year-old first time mother-petitioner—for the petitioners to learn of the SC’s decision.

READ: KAPATID: SC 'inaction' on plea for temporary release puts sickly inmates at more risk

Not the proper venue

The SC PIO said the tribunal held “exhaustive deliberations” on the matter and they “collectively determined that the Petition presented several complex issues making the interaction of applicable principles ridden with far-reaching implications.”

The SC PIO said the court was unanimous in treating the petition as an application for bail or recognizance. However, noting that the petitioners are facing charges punishable by reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years of imprisonment, the SC PIO said they are not entitled to bail as a matter of right under the Constitution.

“Hence, in order for the Petitioners to be granted bail, it is imperative to conduct hearings and receive evidence in order to weigh the strength of the prosecution’s evidence as to the guilty of the Petitioners,” the statement added.

“The Supreme Court reiterated the doctrine that it is not the proper forum to ventilate factual questions especially if they are presented for adjudication on the first instance. Instead, the proper venue are the trial courts,” the SC PIO stressed.

Asked if the petitioners themselves would have to file the necessary pleadings to the trial courts, SC spokesperson Brian Hosaka said he cannot comment “more than what is in the decision off the SC,” which will be given to the detainees’ lawyers.

“The lawyers will have to determine the appropriate remedial action to pursue to protect their client’s interests,” he added.

When the group filed the petition, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology had placed 15 inmates under isolation after they came in contact with an inmate who died of suspected COVID-19. The BJMP and the Bureau of Corrections have since reported hundreds of COVID-19 infections in their facilities.

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