SUPREME COURT DIRECTS TRIAL COURTS TO CONDUCT THE NECESSARY PROCEEDINGS FOR POSSIBLE RELEASE OF PRISONERS

September 10, 2020

The Supreme Court Public Information Office (SCPIO) confirms that the Supreme Court, has rendered a decision on 28 July 2020 in the petition entitled: “In the Matter of the Urgent Petition for the Release of Prisoners on Humanitarian Grounds in the Midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic,” and docketed as G.R. No. 252117 (“Petition”).

The said Petition was filed by several prisoners who alleged that they are among the elderly, sick, and pregnant population of inmates exposed to the danger of contracting COVID-19. Hence, petitioners sought temporary liberty based on humanitarian grounds and either on recognizance or bail.

The petitioners are as follows: Dionisio S. Almonte, Ireneo O. Atadero, Jr., Alexander Ramonita K. Birondo, Winona Marie O. Birondo, Rey Claro Casambre, Ferdinand T. Castillo, Francisco Fernandez, Jr., Renante Gamara, Vicente P. Ladlad, Ediesel R. Legaspi, Cleofe Lagtapon, Ge-Ann Perez, Adelberto A. Silva, Alberto L. Villamor, Virginia B. Villamor, Oscar Belleza, Norberto A. Murillo, Reina Mae A. Nasino, Dario Tomada, Emmanuel Bacarra, Oliver B. Rosales and Lilia Bucatcat (“Petitioners”).

After initial and exhaustive deliberations by the Court, it was collectively determined that the Petition presented several complex issues making the interaction of applicable principles ridden with far-reaching implications. Nonetheless, 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.

The Court noted that the Petitioners have all been charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua. As such, 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 guilt of the Petitioners. 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.

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 Public Information Office of the Supreme Court will immediately post a copy of the decision in the Court’s website once the official copy is made available.