MANILA — A group of people seeking the release of their relatives from detention amid the COVID-19 pandemic urged Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to take steps to institutionalize the writ of kalayaan before his early retirement in March.
“I write you again in the hope of convincing you to leave a lasting legacy before your early retirement on your birthday on March 27, 2021 by securing the promulgation under the Peralta Court of the Writ of Kalayaan,” said Fides Lim, wife of detainee Vicente Ladlad, in her letter to the top magistrate on Thursday.
Ladlad, a consultant for the National Democratic Front (NDF), was arrested in November 2018, accused of illegal possession of firearms after various rifles, pistols and ammunition were allegedly recovered from his house in Quezon City — items which Lim described as planted.
He was among 22 petitioners who asked the Supreme Court to release them as the COVID-19 pandemic persisted in April, but the high court referred that petition to the trial courts to decide.
WRIT OF KALAYAAN
In his separate opinion, Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen proposed a measure founded on social justice, which he called a “writ of kalayaan.”
“This will be similar to the writ of kalikasan or the writ of continuing mandamus in environmental cases, but geared toward addressing jail congestion. It shall be issued when all the requirements to establish cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment are present,” Leonen said.
“It shall also provide an order of precedence to bring the occupation of jails to a more humane level. Upon constant supervision by an executive judge, the order of release will prioritize those whose penalties are the lowest and whose crimes are brought about not by extreme malice but by the indignities of poverty,” he explained, saying the pandemic has made the effect of jail congestion even a “more urgent” concern.
Lim, who personally went to the high court to hand over her letter, expressed her disappointment over the SC ruling which took months for magistrates to decide, only to refer any decision to lower courts.
The Supreme Court came under fire over its handling of the petition, with critics accusing the high court of inaction that led to the death in October of baby River Emmanuelle, daughter of detained activist Reina Mae Nasino, who is also one of the 22 petitioners along with Ladlad.
Baby River was separated from Nasino, after only about a month from her birth in July following a Manila court ruling in favor of the Manila City Jail Female Dorm that claimed it does not have facilities for raising a baby.
“While we were frankly disheartened by the Court’s remanding of our petition for the humanitarian release of at-risk prisoners during the pandemic, because this would mean another extremely long, arduous wait for us, the writ of kalayaan gives us hope that not all is lost especially for those of us with elderly and very sick kin saddled with numerous manufactured cases that may outlast them beyond the grave,” Lim said.
She pointed out that the petitioners only appeal for the magistrate’s “sense of compassion and sensitivity” in order to address the conditions in Philippine jails, which she said “have become a systemic problem.”
Lim serves as the spokesperson for Kapatid, a support organization of families and friends of political prisoners in the Philippines that is working for their release and for protecting their rights and welfare.
She was joined at the court by other wives, mothers, daughters and relatives of detainees, who brought with them cut-out paper figures of doves and tied blue ribbons on the Supreme Court’s gate.
Among them is Nally Murillo, whose father, peasant leader Norberto Murillo, was arrested for multiple murder charges over the Hilongos, Leyte mass grave and has been detained at the Manila City Jail for 12 years. His father was among those tagged as terrorists in the Department of Justice (DOJ) proscription case before a Manila court.
Murillo was eventually dropped from the list along with more than 600 others when a Manila court declared in February 2019 that only 2 individuals had unassailable links to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, which the DOJ wanted to declare as terrorist organizations.
“Lumaki po kami at nagkaisip na kasama namin ang aming tatay at sya ay naghahanapbuhay para tustusan kaming pamilya nya. Matanda na po sya at maraming iniindang sakit katulad ng pagkabingi, diabetes at mataas na blood pressure. Hirap na rin syang kumain dahil wala na syang ngipin,” the younger Murillo said in her letter.
(We grew up with our father and he worked hard for us, his family. He is already old, with many illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure aside from suffering hearing loss. He cannot eat properly because he has lost his teeth already.)
Like Nally, many of the relatives of detainees are hoping the writ of kalayaan would be the more viable alternative compared to the usual drawn-out court process of presenting evidence while applying for bail.
“Simula nang makulong sya ay hindi sya nabibigyan ng sapat na atensyong medikal. Senior citizen na po ang tatay ko, wala na po syang kakayahan na tumakas at ang gusto na lang po namin ay maalagaan sya sa kanyang pagtanda,” she added.
(He wasn’t given apt medical attention since he got jailed. He is a senior citizen and is already too weak to be a fugitive. We just want to take care of our aging father.)
PERALTA ON WRIT OF KALAYAAN
In a press conference in October, Peralta said Leonen’s mention of a writ of kalayaan was only the latter's “opinion.”
“That is still the opinion of Justice Marvic. If he will come up with suggestions to the court and there is a need to organize a committee to study the possibility of coming out with a rule on writ of kalayaan, then certainly we will do that,” Peralta said.
“But in the meantime, there is no yet recommendation from Justice Marvic. We have to wait for him. He only indicated it in his separate opinion in the case of Almonte. But if there will be one of course, we have to study it and then organize a committee to study further the recommendation of Justice Marvic,” he added.
In a surprise announcement Tuesday, Peralta said he will step down in March 2021, a year ahead of his expected retirement. No reasons were given for his early exit as top magistrate.
WATCH: Chief Justice Peralta to retire early - sources | ANC
SELDA ON POLITICAL PRISONERS
The Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) on Thursday renewed its calls for the release of all political prisoners and the end to all forms of political repression.
"As a group of political prisoners, we know how it feels to be wrongfully put behind bars… These prisoners – activists, human rights defenders, farmers, union leaders, teachers, members of the LGBTQ+ community, opposition leaders, among others – are unjustly deprived of liberty as a consequence of fighting for their political beliefs and advocacies," said Rosalia Bacarra, SELDA’s secretary-general.
Bacarra noted that the number of political prisoners in the country increased when President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, with human rights group Karapatan counting 426 out of 656 political prisoners arrested so far during the current administration.
“Arresting and incarcerating critics and political dissenters show how repressive governments, such as in the Philippines, employ fascist schemes to cover up their inability and incompetence to address the crisis and to further their anti-people policies,” she said.
Authorities have insisted these cases are not politically-motivated.
"With the over congestion of jail facilities and dismal conditions, these prisoners, who are facing trumped-up charges, are in greater peril in contracting COVID-19. Documented reports also show that many of these prisoners were physically and psychologically tortured," she added.