SC rejects plunder convict Napoles' bid for humanitarian release
Janet Napoles attends a hearing for bail at the Sandiganbayan in this file photo.
The STAR/Boy Santos, file

SC rejects plunder convict Napoles' bid for humanitarian release

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - June 16, 2021 - 5:33pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has thrown out an appeal for humanitarian release by plunder convict Janet Lim-Napoles, who also cited a circular for indigent prisoners that she said applies to her as a ground in her motion.

Napoles is also allegedly the mastermind of the pork barrel scam that diverted hundreds of million into bogus foundations. In 2019, the Sandiganbayan found her guilty for the misuse of P517 million in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

The SC’s Second Division in a decision made public only recently junked Napoles’ Urgent Motion for Recognizance/Bail or House Arrest for Humanitarian Reason Due to COVID-19 after it found that she failed to provide exceptional and compelling reasons for her temporary release.

The court also pointed out that with the Napoles’ conviction of plunder — a capital offense — the “presumption of innocence and the Constitutional right to bail end.”

“Be it noted, that the Constitutional and statutory requisites for the grant of bail are neither suspended nor supplanted by the existence of a pandemic… For these reasons, [Napoles’] Urgent Motion for Recognizance/Bail or House Arrest for Humanitarian Reason due to COVID-19, is denied,” the ruling made public only recently read.

One of the grounds Napoles cited in her motion is the Office of Court Administrator Circular issued April 2020 on “reduced bail and recognizance as modes for releasing indigent persons deprived of liberty.”

“Napoles further contends that the rationale for OCA Circular No. 91-2020, equally applies to her,” the court document read.

But the SC Division pointed out the OCA circular “does not mandate the blanket release of [Persons Deprived of Liberty] because of pandemic,” and was merely a reminder to courts to implement existing policies on the right to bail and speedy trial.

“To be sure, releasing an accused who has been convicted of a capital offense is not in accord with the Constitution, laws, rules and circulars,” the ruling read.

The SC also pointed out that Napoles is not entitled to be released under recognizance as this does not apply to those charged with offenses punishable by death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment when evidence is guilt is strong.

Recognizance is defined in Republic Act 10389 as a "mode of securing the release of any person in custody or detention for the commission of an offense who is unable to post bail due to abject poverty."

“Here, Napoles never claimed that she was indigent. Moreover, she was convicted of an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua. Clearly, Republic Act 10389, does not apply to her,” it added.

Humanitarian release

Napoles has also claimed she is at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to her diabetes and invoked De La Rama v. People’s Court and Enrile v. Sandiganbayan, but the court said her reliance on the cases is misplaced.

It pointed out that in the case of Francisco De La Rama, his disease may progress into advanced stage when treatment is no longer available. In the case of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, he was released due to his advanced age and ill health, and the Court had also taken into consideration his “political standing and his immediate surrender to the authorities that indicate he was not a flight risk.”

The court pointed out that the two cases are exceptional, if not isolated, cases where it “considered the special and compelling circumstances of the accused who needed continuing medication to preserve their health” throughout trial.

Napoles, meanwhile, cited that she is suffering from diabetes and is at risk of contracting COVID-19 while in prison.

The SC, however, pointed out her allegation is a question of fact which is outside its province. “However, even assuming that she is indeed suffering from diabetes, that, in itself, is not sufficient to grant her provisional liberty, post-conviction,” it added.

The SC Division also cited then-Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta’s opinion in Almonte v. People where the magistrate said that “unless there is clear showing that petitioners are actually suffering from medical condition that requires immediate and special attention outside their current confinement…they must remain in custody… Only then can there be an actual controversy and a proper invocation of humanitarian and equity considerations that is ripe for this Court to determine.”

In Almonte v. People, sickly and elderly prisoners sought temporary release under humanitarian grounds in this time of pandemic. After five months of wait, the SC, however, only remanded their cases to trial courts where they face charges — which the families said meant an even longer wait.

Napoles had also cited the Nelson Mandela Rules and the international call for the temporary release of prisoners amid the pandemic as grounds for her release.

But the SC disagreed. It said that while RA 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act refers and adheres to the Nelson Mandela Rules, its Revised Implementing Rules and Regulation is clear that a PDL may only be brought to nearest hospital only when advance medical treatment is needed or prison hospitals are inadequate.

Associate Justice Mario Lopez penned the ruling, with concurrences from Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo who voted when he was still an associate justice, Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Associate Justices Amy Lazaro-Javier and Ricardo Rosario.

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