Supreme Court gives respondents time to comment on petition seeking release of prisoners

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 17 2020 06:21 PM

In Manila City Jail, the age-old problem of congestion has been heightened by the threats of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Jayrex Bustinera

SC ALSO DEFERS ACTION ON PLEA TO DISCLOSE PRESIDENT'S MEDICAL RECORDS

MANILA – The Supreme Court on Friday gave respondents time to comment to a petition seeking the release of political prisoners, the sick and the elderly, as news broke out that 9 inmates at a Quezon City jail had already tested positive for the coronavirus disease or COVID-19.
 
The high court gave the Office of the Solicitor General, which represents government agencies, a non-extendible period of up to April 24 to comment to the petition, according to Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka.
 
“The Supreme Court, without giving due course to the Petition, ordered respondents to file a Comment by April 24, 2020. This period is non-extendible,” he said in a statement to the media.
 
“Respondents are ordered to take the necessary interim preventive measures required by this national emergency (COVID 19) and provide a verified report to the Court within the same period,” he added.

Different groups have urged the high court to act swiftly on temporarily releasing qualified prisoners to avert the possible spread of COVID-19 in jails.
 
Reacting to the high court’s action, lawyer Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers which represents the inmates said they would have wanted the SC to act quickly.
 
“Well, we would have wanted a speedier and accelerated process especially so that the contagion is starting already in some jails. The time bomb is ticking faster and louder,” he said in a statement.
 
“The expediency of the circumstances and imminence of the health threat call for a more decisive, less ponderous approach even as we understand prudent and practical considerations,” he added.

Twenty-two inmates, mostly senior citizens with underlying medical conditions had filed the petition before the Supreme Court, citing compassion and humanitarian grounds. One petitioner is pregnant while another is living with leprosy.

 According to the petition, the congested and unsanitary conditions in jails make inmates more prone to the virus. The continued detention of those highly vulnerable to the disease, they claimed, is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Constitution.
 
On Monday, the President reported to Congress that 74 inmates at the Bureau of Corrections, which houses prisoners who are serving their sentence, were being monitored for COVID-19 infection while 2 others were being investigated.
 
This is apart from 80 BuCor personnel previously indicated as persons under monitoring and another personnel considered a person under investigation.
 
“We cannot afford delays amid a disaster in the making — a disaster that will cost hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Every single day counts in order to avert this catastrophe, and the DOJ, the SC, and all the concerned agencies must heed our calls and act now,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general said in a statement Friday.
 
OTHER PETITIONS

Meanwhile, the high court deferred action on the petition urging it to compel President Rodrigo Duterte and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to release the medical records of the President.
 
“No action was taken by the Supreme Court since the case is still being deliberated,” Hosaka explained.
 
SC sources said the case will be “called again” on the next en banc session, the date of which remains undetermined.

SC had earlier cancelled the Baguio summer session and suspended all hearings as it physically closed all courts nationwide due to the COVID-19 threat.

Hosaka also could not confirm if any date has been set for the release of the 2019 Bar Exams results.
 
“I was not informed of any action by the Court on the Bar Exams,” he said.
 
All 15 justices attended Friday's special en banc session online, the first in the history of the Philippine Supreme Court.