SC lets trial courts decide on plea for release of 22 inmates during pandemic

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 10 2020 04:03 PM

Reina Mae Nasino, a detainee at the Manila City Jail Female Dorm, is one of 22 detainees who urged the Supreme Court in April to release low-risk prisoners vulnerable to contracting the novel coronavirus. She gave birth last July.

MANILA — The Supreme Court said Thursday it would let trial courts handle the appeal of 22 detainees to be released over humanitarian considerations during the coronavirus pandemic — a ruling that took 44 days before it was made public.

The inmates had alleged in their petition that they were "among the elderly, sick and pregnant… exposed to the danger of contracting COVID-19,” said the court’s Public Information Office (PIO).

The court, after initial deliberations, collectively determined that the petition “presented several complex issues making the interaction of applicable principles ridden with far-reaching implications,” said the information office.

For instance, all petitioners were charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua and were not entitled to bail, said the office.

Despite this, the Supreme Court was “unanimous” in treating the petition as “an application… for bail or recognizance, as well as motions for other practicable and suitable confinement agreements, in connection with the purported threats to their health and lives.”

“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,” the PIO said.

“These proceedings are within the competence of trial courts,” it said.

The Supreme Court “is not the proper forum to ventilate factual questions especially if they are presented for adjudication on the first instance.”

The high court made the ruling last July 28, 44 days before the information office confirmed it.

Asked about the delay, Supreme Court Spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said justices had to deliberate on “significant and complex issues.” He said he did not know which particular issues had to be discussed.

“Perhaps it would be best for us to see the actual decision, and if there are any, the separate opinions of the Justices,” he said.

The decision was not yet available to the media and the petitioners, as of this posting.

The petitioners include a 23-year-old woman who gave birth last July.

Supreme Court proceedings were earlier delayed by the failure of a justice to return to Manila from Visayas due to pandemic lockdowns.