Over 4,000 more detainees released amid COVID-19 crisis — Supreme Court


The government has released over 4,000 more detainees in the past week, bringing the total number of releases to more than 14,000 during the health emergency, according to Supreme Court figures.

The SC Public Information Office (PIO) said 4,683 persons deprived of liberty (PDL) were released from April 30 to May 8, after Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta issued administrative circulars providing for reduced bail and for the pilot testing of criminal case hearings through videoconferencing.

Peralta earlier said 9,731 PDLs were released from March 17 to April 29

. The chief magistrate attributed the releases to court initiatives that, among others, allowed the electronic filing of cases and transmission of release orders.

However, the SC figures do not match the numbers President Rodrigo Duterte reported to Congress on Monday, a difference that the court's spokesman indicated had to do with where the detainees were kept in custody.

Duterte said the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has provided paralegal assistance to PDLs, which resulted in the "expedited release" of 4,188 detainees from March 17 to April 30



Asked about this difference, SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said the SC's records are based on reports from courts nationwide and do not distinguish whether the detainees were in the custody of the BJMP or of law enforcement agencies like the police.

"Those not in the BJMP count were PDLs not in their custody," Hosaka explained.

He said there were persons arrested from March 17 to April 29 who were no longer turned over to the BJMP and were detained by law enforcement until they were ordered released by the courts.

Meanwhile, courts in Baguio City, Metro Manila, Cebu City, and some cities in Mindanao have pilot tested hearings through videoconferencing, according to the SC PIO. More courts are expected to do the same.

The SC issued circulars meant to expedite the release of PDLs amid calls from several groups for provisional liberty for inmates whose age and underlying medical conditions make them vulnerable to COVID-19.

More than 20 detainees in at-risk groups have filed a petition for their release. The case is still pending before the SC. — RSJ, GMA News