PH courts inconsistent in letting detainees attend family events

MANILA, Philippines – In October 2007, Jose Flaminiano, the lawyer of former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada who was then detained for plunder, sang inside the courtroom to convince justices to extend his client’s furlough.

Flaminiano sang a touching song about mothers, as Erap was requesting for extension to stay with his ailing mother at the time, Doña Mary Ejercito.

The request for extension was instantly granted by the justices of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, citing humanitarian considerations.

What is the standard?

“Humanitarian considerations” would become a favorite reason of the Sandiganbayan when it came to public officials requesting furloughs, such as the the holiday breaks given to former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

According to legal expert Tony La Viña, the Rules of Court do not provide guidelines on granting furloughs to detainees. It all depends on the discretion of the judge or the justice.

“There are no specific, detailed rules for temporary release of detention prisoners, those not yet convicted but denied bail. Judges have control over them and have full discretion subject to reasonable grounds and of course security procedures,” La Viña said.

Our courts, however, have been inconsistent.

The latest example is when the Quezon City (QC) Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 allowed murder defendant former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan to attend his daughter’s wedding on August 21.

Ampatuan is charged of murder for allegedly masterminding the Maguindanao massacre in 2009, which left 58 people dead, most of whom were journalists.

Humanitarian considerations were again the reason behind the furlough grant of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

"The Court is of the view that despite being a detention prisoner having certain restrictions, the accused may be allowed to attend his eldest daughter's wedding, which, in our culture, is a significant milestone to be cherished and remembered," said the court.

Months earlier, in May, the Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 205 rejected the request  of Senator Leila De Lima to attend the graduation of her son from law school.

De Lima is charged of 3 counts of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade, brought against her after she launched Senate investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Duterte administration.

The resolution of Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz reasoned out that De Lima’s presence at the graduation rites would “disrupt the solemnity” of the occasion for other graduates and their parents.

De Lima would also risk the security not only of the school, but of the entire village where the school is located, said Judge Corpuz.

"Moreover, accused De Lima's family may celebrate the occasion with her in Camp Crame during visiting hours, even during the same day, if they wish to, without endangering themselves or other people," said Judge Corpuz.

Inconsistent

But other courts did not have any problem allowing Erap’s son, former senator Jinggoy Estrada to attend family occasions though they are logistically similar to the request of De Lima.

For example, the Sandiganbayan allowed Jinggoy to attend the high school graduation of his son Julian in March 2015.

Jinggoy was also able to attend Erap’s 80th birthday at the Manila Hotel in April 2017. (READ: Let out of detention: Is the Sandiganbayan consistent?)

Former senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla was not as lucky as Jinggoy. In March 2015, the Sandiganbayan denied his request to attend the graduation of his daughter.

But when it came to other family events, especially visiting his ailing father at the hospital, the Sandiganbayan was more lenient.

Last Christmas, Revilla went home to Cavite to spend Christmas Eve there.

"There is a need for more detailed rules, especially on the grounds, so the decisions are not perceived to be arbitrary. Look at how Senator Leila de Lima was refused a furlough during her son’s graduation for arbitrary reasons. I actually support Zaldy Ampatuan being able to attend his daughter’s wedding but Leila should have been given the same privilege," said La Viña. – 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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