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PAO says it moved for release of over 1k detainees during ECQ

The Public Attorney's Office (PAO) said it moved for the release of more than a thousand inmates during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) intended to slow down the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

An attached agency of the Department of Justice, the PAO is mandated to provide free legal assistance to indigent litigants.

In a report to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra dated May 4, chief public attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta said the agency moved for the release of 1,359 persons deprived of liberty (PDL) from March 16 to April 23.

She also said public attorneys represented 1,244 persons in court, served as counsel in inquest proceedings of 9,214 persons, and rendered non-judicial services, like giving legal advice, administering oaths, and providing legal opinions for publication, for more than 30,000 people.

The PAO chief said their urgent legal services during the ECQ period included, among others, court representation of litigants in urgent cases like habeas corpus cases, promulgation of judgment, and protection order cases; the filing of motions to secure the release of inmates; legal counselling, and assistance in inquest proceedings.

Inquests mostly involved charges for violation of ECQ rules such as the prohibition on mass gatherings, curfew, liquor ban, as well as a number of common crimes, Acosta said.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said last week that 9,731 detainees were released across the country from March 17 to April 29. He said this resulted from Supreme Court initiatives to expedite the release of qualified PDLs.

Fearing COVID-19 outbreaks in overcrowded jails and prisons would be deadly, several groups have called for the release of inmates whose age and underlying medical conditions make them vulnerable to the infectious disease.

In her report, Acosta added that all public attorneys and personnel worked from home but were told to stay on-call. The agency also took precautions against COVID-19 such as office disinfection, a strict observance of physical distancing, and the wearing of face masks and gloves, she said.

She said the salaries, benefits, and pension of PAO employees and pensioners were timely released during the ECQ. — RSJ, GMA News