Trial courts ordered to hear plea for humanitarian release

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    THE Supreme Court (SC) has directed trial courts to conduct hearings on the merit of the petition filed by 22 political prisoners requesting their release from detention on humanitarian grounds amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

    The high court’s decision was made on July 28 but was made public only yesterday.

    The SC Public Information Office said the justices unanimously determined that the petition pending before the high court was an application for bail or recognizance, and as such, is within the competence of the trial courts to handle.

    The 22 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) had told the SC that they were exposed to the danger of possibly contracting the COVID-19 virus inside their detention cells due to their old age and due to health issues.

    “After initial and exhaustive deliberations by the Court, it was collectively determined that the petition presented several complex issues making the interaction of applicable principles ridden with far-reaching implications,” the SC said.

    It noted that the petitioners were not entitled to bail as a matter of right under the Constitution since they have all been charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment.

    “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 as to the guilt of the petitioners. These proceedings are within the competence of the trial courts,” it said.

    The SC said “it is not the proper forum to ventilate factual questions especially if they are presented for adjudication on the first instance” as it said the proper venue for such are the trial courts.

    With this, the SC directed the various trial courts handling the respective cases of the petitioners to “conduct the necessary proceedings and resolve the incidents immediately.”

    The SC added it also considered the proceedings before it “closed and terminated.”

    The petitioners include Dionisio Almonte, Rey Claro Casambre, Ireneo Atadero Jr., Alexander Ramonita Birondo, Winona Marie Birondo, Ferdinand Castillo, Francisco Fernandez Jr., Renante Gamara, Vicente “Vic”Ladlad, Ediesel Legaspi, Cleofe Lagtapon, Ge-Ann Perez, Adelberto Silva, Alberto Villamor, Virginia Villamor, Oscar Belleza, Norberto Murillo, Reina Mae Nasino, Dario Tomada, Emmanuel Bacarra, Oliver Rosales, and Lilia Bucatcat.

    The 69-year old Ladlad was a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front who was arrested in 2018 while Silva was also apprehended in the same year in connection with his alleged involvement in the killings of purged communist rebels whose bodies were found buried in a mass grave in Inopacan, Leyte.

    Nasino recently hogged the news after a Manila court last month ordered that she be separated from her child since the Manila City Jail was not the best place for her baby to stay amid the pandemic. Nasino was arrested in November last year when she was one month pregnant. She is facing charges for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.