By Tracy Cabrera
Around 82,000 inmates across the country have been released since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early March with the intervention of the Supreme Court (SC) to help curb the spread of Covid-19 among prison populations Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said.
Philippine jails have been notoriously counted among the world’s most congested detention facilities and in an earlier report by Maharlika TV News, jail congestion has been hinted as a possible contributing factor in the spike in Covid cases among inmates—convicted or not.
CJ Peralta explained that the release of several thousands of detainees is part of the SC’s “initiative to help government contain the coronavirus disease and not due to the petition or request of parties involved.”
“There’s a need to decongest the jails. We saw that many of those detained were indigents who could not afford to post bail based on our existing rules,” the chief justice pointed out.
With the issuance of several circulars that helped speed up and relax the bail proceedings, the chief magistrate said a total of 81,888 detainees were freed from March 17 to October 16 the current year.
Of this number, he added, 46,032 inmates, including 880 child offenders, were released after the lower courts heard the cases through video conference as the government issued lockdown orders in Luzon and certain areas in Visayas and Mindanao to contain the pandemic.
Peralta, who marked his first year in office since President Rodrigo Duterte appointed him as the country’s 26th chief justice, also disclosed that 19,173 of those who regained their freedom through video conference paid reduced bail or were released in recognizance of the courts.
He further revealed that 2,980 freed inmates had already completed the minimum prison term for their criminal offenses while the remaining 8,699 were released under probation.
“Under one of the circulars that we had promulgated, an accused standing trial for attempted homicide would only have to pay PhP1,000 for his or her temporary freedom instead of the PhP12,000 formerly stipulated,” Peralta said.
From an average of PhP150,000 in bail bond, those facing other bailable but more severe offenses, such as homicide, were also allowed to post a reduced bail while those charged for offenses carrying a prison term of less than six months were released in recognizance by the lower courts.
“This is one of the reasons why many were released (from our jails),” he concluded.