By Rey Panaligan
Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta on Thursday, April 30, disclosed that 9,731 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) have been released from detention. This was implemented through the initiatives taken by the Supreme Court (SC) to decongest jails due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Of the PDLs released from March 17, 2020 to April 29, 2020, a total of 2,082 of them were in the National Capital Region; 4,657 in Luzon (outside of NCR); 1,072 in the Visayas; and 1,920 in Mindanao. PDLs are persons detained in various jails in the country while their cases are undergoing trial and awaiting decisions. With the declaration of national health emergency and the imposition of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in several areas, courts in the affected areas were physically closed and managed only by skeleton staff.
ECQ prompted the SC to issue various circulars to address the issue of jail congestion as a means to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Notable among the circulars were those that allowed the filing online of pleadings, criminal charge sheets, petitions for bails, and release of resolutions; strict implementation of guidelines on grant of bail and cognizance, and provisional dismissal of cases; and pilot testing of the use of video conference in hearings of criminal cases.
The huge number of PDLs released through the implementation of circular issued the past several weeks, inspired the SC to adopt a new circular that will boost the decongestion of jails, Peralta said. This time, he said, the SC has approved circular on the reduction of bail and recognizance as a mode of releasing indigent PDLs.
“With this instant initiative, more PDLs are expected to be released,” he pointed out. The circular echoed the constitutional mandate that “all persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment) when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law….”
It also gave importance to several court pronouncements that “the amount of bail should be reasonable at all times.” The circular stressed, “We point out that what is reasonable bail to a man of wealth may be unreasonable to a poor man charged with a like offense…. The amount should be high enough to assure the presence of the defendant when required, but no higher than is reasonably calculated to fulfill this purpose. More so during this period of public health emergency when there is a serious need to decongest our overcrowded jails and prison facilities and further prevent the spread of the virulent COVID-19.”
The mechanics of the release of indigent PDLs through reduced bail and recognizance:
“For those charged with a crime punishable with the maximum period of reclusion temporal or twelve (2) years and one (1) day to twenty (20) years, the bail shall be computed by getting the medium period multiplied by Three Thousand Pesos (P3,000.00) for every year of imprisonment.”
“For those charged with a crime punishable with the maximum period of prision mayor or six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years, the bail shall be computed by getting the medium period multiplied by Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00) for every year of imprisonment.”
“For those charged with a crime punishable with the maximum period of prision correccional or six (6) months and one (1) day to six (6) years, the bail shall be computed by getting the medium period multiplied by One Thousand Pesos (P1,000.00) for every year of imprisonment.”
“For those charged with a crime punishable by arresto mayor or one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months, and arresto menor or one (1) day to thirty (30) days, they may be released on their own recognizance.”
“Any violation of the undertaking or conditions imposed on the bail or recognizance shall be a ground for the cancellation of the said bail or recognizance which will justify the issuance of a warrant of arrest against the accused.”
“For indigent PDLs who have not yet been arraigned, they must first be arraigned before being granted bail or recognizance, which arraignment and release on bail or recognizance may be conducted through videoconferencing as provided in A.C. 37-2020.”
“For those who have already been arraigned and undergoing trial, they may likewise avail of this Circular, unless they have already served the minimum imposable penalty for the crime they are accused, in which case, they may be released on their own recognizance….”
“This is without prejudice to the exercise of the court’s discretion to deny the application for bail or recognizance if there are reasonable grounds based on prevailing jurisprudence and existing rules, and to the imposition of additional bail and conditions, or the cancellation thereof, to those who will be convicted, pending their appeal.”
“This Circular shall not apply to those already serving sentence.”
“This Circular shall take effect immediately and may be availed of only during this period of public health emergency.”