MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday said it has remanded to the lower courts a petition filed by several prisoners who alleged that they are among the elderly, sick, and pregnant population of inmates exposed to the danger of contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
In a statement, the SC Public Information Office confirmed that the high court issued the decision on July 28 regarding the petition filed by suspected communist rebels seeking temporary liberty based on humanitarian grounds and either on recognizance or bail.
“These proceedings are within the competence of the trial courts. 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 said.
It added that after the deliberations by the court, it was determined that the petition presented several complex issues making the interaction of applicable principles ridden with far-reaching implications.
The court was unanimous in treating the petition as an application by the petitioners for bail or recognizance, as well as motions for other practicable and suitable confinement arrangements, in connection with the purported threats to their health and lives.
It noted that the petitioners have all been charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetual (up to 40 years imprisonment). As such, they are not entitled to bail as a matter of right under the Constitution, and that in order for them 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 guilt of the petitioners.
“Thus, the Supreme Court in treating the Petition as an application for bail or recognizance as well as petitioners’ motions for other confinement arrangements, referred the same to the trial courts, where the respective criminal cases of the petitioners remain pending, and directed them to conduct the necessary proceedings and resolve the incidents immediately.
The Supreme Court also considered the proceedings before it closed and terminated,” the SC said.
Solicitor General Jose Calida in April asked the SC to dismiss a petition seeking the release of detained communist rebels saying that “to grant the petition would result in grave injustice not only to the people of the Philippines but also to the surviving relatives of petitioners’ victims who are still waiting for justice to be finally served.”
The petition, he said, “is one that involves perception and deception”, noting that while the petitioners in the suit claim to be political prisoners, they are actually under detention for non-bailable offenses.
Some five of the 22 petitioners are charged before the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 with 15 counts of murder for their involvement in the Inopacan massacre, which came to light after 68 skeletal remains were discovered in Inopacan, Leyte in 1992.
They were the victims of the inhumane Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) internal cleansing dubbed project ‘Venereal Disease’, Calida said.
“One must call a spade a spade. The petitioners are all valuable members of the terrorist organization,” he said.
He added that “without a doubt, this petition is a ruse” to remove them from the confines of jail.
“Contrary to their claim, there are no humanitarian considerations involved but merely opportunistic legalism to distort established judicial processes,” Calida said.
He said the petitioners’ continued detention affords them “ready access to government resources if and when the dreaded virus reaches the doors of their cells, no less different outside their cells.”
The petition filed on April 8 by the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of People’s Lawyers was on behalf of 22 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs). They said the petition also covers prisoners who are similarly situated “but cannot be included in this petition due to the difficult circumstances”.
It also asked the high court to compel the government to create a Prisoner Release Committee, “similar to those set up in other countries, to urgently study and implement the release of all other prisoners in various congested prisons” throughout the country.
Among those listed as petitioners at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and at the Manila City jail were Dionisio S. Almonte, 62; Ireneo O. Atadero Jr., 57; Alexander Ramonita K. Birondo, 68; Winona Marie O. Birondo, 61;Rey Claro C. Casambre, 68; Ferdinand T. Castillo, 60; Francisco O. Fernandez Jr, 71; Renante Gamara, 62; Vicente P. Ladlad, 70;Cleofe S. Lagtapon, 66; Ediesel R. Legaspi, 62; Adelberto Silva, 72; Alberto L. Villamor, 63;Virginia B. Villamor, 65; Emmanuel Bacarra, 55; Oliver Rosales, 48; Oscar Belleza, 63; Norberto A. Murillo, 66; and Dario Tomada, 60.
Meanwhile, detained at the Bureau of Corrections is Lilia Bucatcat, 73.
Ge-ann Perez, 21, is detained at the Taguig City Jail Female Dormitory while Reina Mae Nasino, 22, is detained at the Manila City Jail Female Dormitory.
The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
In a statement, Assistant Solicitor General Angelita Miranda welcomed the court’s decision.
“The highest tribunal rejected their plea and instead adopted in toto one of our strongest arguments that this is a great ploy to deceive the SC riding on the pandemic to release them when it is a motion for bail that must be heard in the courts where their non- bailable cases are pending,” she said. (PNA)