By Minka Klaudia Tiangco
One of the suspects tagged in the hazing death of law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo III filed a motion for temporary release before a Manila court in light of the threat of the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19).
In a resolution filed through email before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 20, Atty. George Ian Balubar, Mhin Wei Chan’s defense counsel, said the accused is qualified for temporary release, based on the recommendations of the House Committee on Justice, since he is a first-time offender and has no history of jumping bail.
Balubar also said that the Manila City Jail, where the suspect is detained, is a “perfect nesting place” for the virus and staying there can put his life and health “in great danger.”
“We are aware of the fact that the Manila City Jail is notorious for being one of the most congested and overpopulated detention facilities in the Philippines, which makes it a perfect nesting place for the immediate and uncontrollable spread of the COVID-19,” the motion read.
“It will be the height of injustice if we stand by and wait for the COVID-19 to spread and infect hundreds or even thousands of inmates at MCJ, which considering their overpopulation, is a very possible consequence,” it added.
The defense counsel assured that Chan is not a flight risk, citing his voluntary surrender to the National Bureau of Investigation after an arrest warrant was issued against him and his consistent attendance in court hearings.
However, Castillo’s kin said there is no need to release the suspects as the national government and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) are implementing measures to contain the spread of the disease in the city jail.
“We believe the BJMP is more than ready to address this situation. Many options and safety nets are in place to safeguard the needs of all persons affected. There are facilities available for isolation if the need arises,” Minnie Castillo, Horacio’s mother, said in a Facebook post.
“There is no need to release inmates. Setting them free could result to chaos rather than calm, to more injustice rather than justice and more harm than good,” she added.
On Monday, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) told first- and second-level court judges to adhere to the Supreme Court’s (SC) guidelines on jail decongestion through bail and speedy trial issued in 2014.
The circular came a few days after the BJMP announced that nine of their personnel and nine inmates under their custody tested positive for COVID-19.
The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) also announced that an elderly inmate under their custody contracted the disease.
Several elderly and immunocompromised detainees have petitioned for their temporary release to the SC. Prison and jail authorities were ordered by the SC to comment on the petition by Friday.