Stranded justice delays resolution of petition to free vulnerable prisoners

The Supreme Court's decision on an urgent petition to release vulnerable inmates has been delayed because the justice in charge of it is stranded in the Visayas, according to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta.

Peralta said on Thursday, June 11, in an online press conference that the member-in-charge cannot get a flight to Manila, which is stopping them from fully deliberating on the petition.

But Peralta said he believes a decision can be made Tuesday, June 16.

"The one who will present to the en banc is the member-in-charge, so I hope that he can come this Tuesday and I can assure you that once he's here I believe that case will finally be now resolved," said Peralta.

The petition was filed April 8 by political prisoners who asked that the release, if ever, be applied also to prisoners similarly situated, like the sick and the elderly.

Since then, as of latest data from the government, 745 inmates have tested positive and 6 have died in Bureau of Jail and Management Penology (BJMP) facilities, meaning prisoners on trial; and 194, including personnel, have tested positive in Bureau of Correction (BuCor) facilities.

In BuCor, at least 6 have died of the virus.

But in the overly congested New Bilibid Prison, an average of 60 have been dying per month, some of them due to unknown causes without ever being tested for the virus.

Groups have called on the government to do a proper investigation of deaths inside prison amid the pandemic that may have been misreported. (READ: 'TAKOT NA TAKOT KAMI' While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails)

Resolution

Asked if the justice-in-charge can just participate in the en banc session online, as the Supreme Court has done before when Metro Manila was on total lockdown, Peralta cited difficulties.

"You know, very hard to have video conferencing, hindi bale sana kung hindi sya ang member-in-charge eh, all questions will be focused on him eh, that's our problem," said Peralta.

(It would be easier if he wasn't the member-in-charge, but all questions will be focused on him.)

"If he will still not be able to come Tuesday then probably we will resort to video conferencing..as I said I believe we can finish it this Tuesday," said Peralta.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) meanwhile has eased the process for parole and executive clemency. So far, 144 convicts have been granted parole.

The Supreme Court also said 22,500 prisoners have been released from March 17 to May 22 because of the court's efforts to do virtual hearings. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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