DOJ lowers bail amount for indigents to a maximum of P10k; plans more reforms

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 21 2023 01:10 PM | Updated as of Feb 21 2023 09:46 PM

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla interacts with Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL) during a formal ceremony for the release of 328 inmates who have completed their prison sentences. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla interacts with Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL) during a formal ceremony for the release of 328 inmates who have completed their prison sentences. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATED) — The Justice Department has come out with a new circular lowering the amount of bail for indigents who are facing criminal charges to a maximum of P10,000.

In a department circular issued on Monday, February 20, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla ordered prosecutors to determine, during an inquest or preliminary investigation proceeding, if the respondents are indigents and to recommend a much lower bail amount.

“In the event that, after the conduct of inquest or preliminary investigation proceedings, the investigating prosecutor finds probable cause with a reasonable certainty of conviction against the indigent respondent, he or she shall indicate in the criminal information only fifty percent (50%) of the recommended bail as stated in the 2018 Bail Bond Guide, or the amount of ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00), whichever is lower,” section 4 of the circular said.

The fact of indigency should also be indicated in the information or criminal charge, along with the recommended bail. 

Indigents could prove their status by presenting to the prosecutor their latest income tax return or pay slip or other proof of income or a certificate of indigency from the Department of Social Welfare and Development or the office of the barangay chairperson.

The DOJ circular does not distinguish as to the nature of the crimes but sets a cap at P10,000 as the maximum amount for indigents. 

Remulla said this exception applies to all bailable cases.

DOJ spokesperson Assistant Secretary Mico Clavano said the circular is effective immediately.

Remulla said this reform was recommended by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo during a Justice Sector Coordinating Council meeting on January 27, as a possible solution to congestion in jails and detention facilities. 

Remulla himself had noted that some detainees are held for bailable crimes but are unable to afford to post bail.

“Tingnan natin ang laman ng ating mga piitan, ng ating mga kulungan. Marami kasi dito talaga ay kulang lang talaga sa pantustos. Kaya lahat ng ito ay ginagawa natin upang maayos natin ang sistema ng hustisya,” he said.

“Yung mga piitan na punong-puno, 300% to 1,000% full ay sana naman mabawasan natin ang laman at ito ay pinag-aaralan nang husto ng Kagawaran ng Hustisya at ng Korte Suprema para gumaan naman yung kargo ng bayan kasi nga napakahirap naman na ang mga tao ay siksikan sa kulungan,” he added.

But the justice secretary also said they are looking at safeguards to ensure that the reforms will not be abused.

“Kaya nga hindi ito bigla-bigla. Ito’y dahan-dahan natin pinag-uusapan sapagkat kailangan mag-ingat din tayo na makawala yung mga hindi dapat makawala. Kaya kinakailangan tingnan natin nang husto nang may pagtingin sa mga detalye upang hindi naman ito makasama,” he said.

“Ang gusto lang natin ay maging patas ang batas, maging patas ang lahat ng tao sa mata ng batas at yung mga hindi na kaya makapagpyansa ay makapagpyansa,” he added.

Remulla also expressed frustration over weak cases being filed in court which result in the detention of individuals, who are later acquitted of the criminal charges.

In mid-February, he issued a circular ordering prosecutors to withdraw criminal cases filed in the first level courts if there is no "reasonable certainty" of conviction, a higher standard than “probable cause” which prosecutors have been using in deciding whether or not file charges in court.

The Rules of Court, under Rule 112, section 1 on preliminary investigation, only requires that there should be a “well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial" before cases are filed in court.

“Mas malakas ang tsansa na ang prosecution ay mas magiging epektibo, na pag dating ng panahon na ang tao ay dinemanda ng prosecution ay malamang-lamang ma-convict ang tao kasi nga, tinataasan natin ang antas ng pruweba na kailangan upang ang kaso ay maging malakas bago ifile ng ating mga fiscal,” he explained.

Remulla was set to meet with Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and some Supreme Court justices at the Department of Justice on Tuesday to talk about the bail reform and other reforms being considered by the Justice Sector Coordinating Council, composed of the DOJ, DILG and the Supreme Court.

The justice chief said they have been meeting since July or August of last year.

Among these, a new case build-up rule where prosecutors are required to go out of their offices and join the police in talking to witnesses and gathering sufficient evidence, much like the DA system in the United States.

He said the US government is helping in this effort, along with other countries offering support.

Remulla said another reform that they are now implementing is the automatic autopsy of suspicious and wrongful deaths.

The National Union of Peoples' Lawyers welcomed this development, adding it will benefit those who have been detained for a long time because they cannot afford to pay the bail.

"Napakagandang panukala, at sana maimplement kaagad kasi marami ang makikinabang kung bababaan 'yung bail bond for indigents ayon doon sa circular, or doon sa sinabi ng DOJ," NUPL President Atty. Rey Cortez told Teleradyo.

"Marami ang makikinabang diyan na mga akusado na nakakulong na nang matagal na panahon at hindi kaya 'yung ipinataw na piyansa," he added.

Cortez also said that though the new amount seems cheap, there are still a lot of indigents who cannot afford it, and the courts should be allowed to decide on the amount of the bail, and not merely depend on the amounts in the bail bond guide.

"Kapag sinabi mo na indigent, hindi lahat ng indigent, kakayanin ang P10,000," he said.

"At sana 'yung bail bond guide ay isang guide, at hayaan nila 'yung korte ang magdesisyon, dahil 'yung korte ang may discretion kung magkano ang bail na ipapatawa niya. Hayaan sana nila 'yung korte na magdesisyon base sa kalagayan ng bawat kaso at hindi magiging mechanical 'yung pagpapatupad nitong bail bond guide," Cortez added.

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