The Supreme Court, through the Office of the Court Administrator, said Monday more than 18,000 persons deprived of liberty had been released from various jails nationwide since the enhanced community quarantine was implemented by the government due to the coronavirus disease pandemic.
Citing data gathered by his office, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said 18,355 PDLs had been released from March 17 to May 15, 2020 since the government implemented the ECQ in different cities.
Marquez, who exercises administrative supervision over lower courts judges and personnel, said those released were charged with crimes punishable under the Revised Penal Code, special penal laws and a few local ordinances.
“This was from the time our courts nationwide ‘drastically reduced its operations’ and after four days were ‘physically closed to all court users’ and may only be reached through their hotlines and email addresses,” Marquez said in a statement.
On March 16, 2020, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta issued Administrative Circular 31-2020 mandating that “all courts nationwide shall drastically reduce operations” and maintain only the necessary skeleton-staff to immediately act on urgent matters brought before them. The circular was in response by the SC to the “exponential spread of COVID-19 cases in the country.”
Due to the unabated rise of COVID-19 infection and in line with the government’s appeal for the public to stay safe, Chief Justice Peralta ordered that all courts nationwide be physically closed to all court users who may reach them only through their hotlines and email addresses, requiring practically all judges and court personnel to work from home.
“We did not stop there. We immediately gave 1,000 of our busiest courts the facility to conduct videoconferencing hearings, again focusing on the concerns of the PDLs. And in two weeks, almost 800 videoconferencing hearings of PDLs were conducted nationwide. And this is the result—more than 18,000 PDLs released,” Marquez said.
“The focus really of Chief Justice Peralta and the Supreme Court is on the PDLs whose cases are still pending in the courts,” the Court Administrator added.
Peralta stressed these PDLs had not yet been convicted and were still considered innocent.
“And yet they are highly at risk of being infected by the deadly virus. It’s already like imposing the death penalty on them even before their guilt can be established beyond reasonable doubt,” Chief Justice Peralta earlier said.
Marquez emphasized that many of the PDLs were released from the lockup cells of the PNP because at the start of the ECQ, many BJMP facilities did not accept the new PDLs anymore for fear that they might infect the inmates inside the BJMP.
“But there were also a number of them who were released from the BJMP and the provincial jails either on reduced bail or self-recognizance, or after already serving the minimum imposable penalty for the crime they were charged,” he said.
Marquez pointed out that they also monitored a few minors or Children in Conflict with the Law who were released to their parents during the ECQ period.
The Court Administrator said he expected more of PDLs to be released in the next few days and other more cases, both criminal and civil, to be heard “as many of our courts are now under GCQ and will be re-opening and additional courts will be authorized soon to conduct hearings of civil and criminal cases through videoconferencing.”