Bail reforms

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - October 24, 2020 - 12:00am

The 1987 Constitution under Article III, Section 13 states: “All persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released in recognizance as may be provided by law.”

Bail is the security required by the court and given by the accused to ensure that the accused appears before the proper court at the scheduled time and place to answer the charges brought against him or her (Basco v. Rapatalo, March 5, 1997).

The presence of two criteria, that is: (1) where offense charged is punishable by reclusion perpetua, and (2) where evidence of guilt is strong, was taken to mean that bail is unavailing. The absence of both makes it a right. The presence of the former and the absence of the latter makes it up to the court if it will grant bail or not.

However, as I stated in my previous column piece, in the case of Juan Ponce Enrile v. Sandiganbayan (July 12, 2016) wherein Enrile was charged with the crime of plunder punishable by reclusion perpetua, judicial discretion, when it comes to the right of the accused to post bail, is not limited to said criteria alone, which I repeat, are: (1) where offense charged is punishable by reclusion perpetua, and (2) when evidence of guilt is strong. Other factors, such as health and propensity for flight, were taken into consideration when it came to the grant of bail.

Regardless of how you or I feel about high-profile and controversial political figures like former senator Enrile, I fully agree with the decision of the Supreme Court in that case. And I am hoping that reforms in judicial rules and practice will be made toward such end.

Take note that Section 13, Article III of the Constitution never decreed that the posting of bail is unavailing at all times when the accused is charged with a capital offense wherein the (1) penalty is reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, and the (2) evidence of guilt is strong. It simply stated that the ‘right to bail’ is unavailing when those two conditions exist.

To me that means that the accused cannot invoke his right to bail but he can still plead before the court to decide if he should be allowed to post bail considering that he is presumed innocent until proven guilty. That, I think, is more consistent with the letter and spirit of the constitutional provision on right to bail vis-à-vis the presumption of innocence.

Thousands of defendants are being held in our nation’s cramped jails awaiting trial or the conclusion of their trial, which means they have not been convicted of any crime. By their actual deplorable state and our system’s treatment of them, their presumption of innocence is rendered meaningless. We have simply forgotten the constitutional roots of the right to bail vis-à-vis the principle of presumption of innocence – that is, the right to be released on bail, absent any serious flight risk or clear and imminent danger posed by the accused to society based on, for example, prior criminal conviction.

With our emphasis on guaranteeing the presence of the accused during trial so that he may never escape penalty if convicted, we end up disabling the accused in his options and ability to prepare for his defense. The Supreme Court actually said it in the case of Enrile: “Unless permitted this conditional privilege (of posting bail), the individuals wrongly accused could be punished by the period of imprisonment they undergo while awaiting trial, and even handicap them in consulting counsel, searching for evidence and witnesses, and preparing a defense.”

Enrile was granted bail, while thousands of defendants facing very serious charges remain in detention. We, as a society, have chosen a gut-satisfying and convenient yet unjust manner of dealing with people accused of committing serious crimes: throw them in jail, and when evidence of guilt is supposedly strong (even in the absence of determination of guilt beyond reasonable doubt), deny them bail until their cases are concluded, in which case with our burdened courts, prosecution service, and the legal profession, could take a couple of years or more.

Says the Russian philosopher Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals.” And if I may add, “by how it treats those accused of committing crimes who are presumed innocent until proven otherwise.”


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