Families of political prisoners return to the Supreme Court on September 8 bearing black candles to remind magistrates of their 5-month old petition for the humanitarian release of elderly and sickly prisoners.
MANILA, Philippines — After waiting five months for the Supreme Court’s ruling on their petition for humanitarian release for sickly and elderly prisoners, their families are in for “another long wait,” as trial courts decide on their plea.
The SC Public Information Office on Thursday said the justices treated the petition for humanitarian release in this time of COVID-19, filed by 22 detainees on April 8, as an application for bail.
Justices were unanimous in referring their pleas to the trial courts that, they said, can conduct hearings and weigh the strength of prosecution evidence against the petitioners.
KAPATID, a group of families and friends of political prisoners, lamented that the SC already took five months to rule on their plea, only to be remanded to lower courts.
“It has been a long and difficult wait, and hurtful because while we expected swift and positive action, the Supreme Court, despite the prisoners’ life and death situation in overcrowded, disease-ridden jails, let go of five months and neglected the call of prisoners who hoped for at least a chance to survive,” Fides Lim, KAPATID spokesperson and wife of one of the petitioners, said.
Lim noted that what they raised to the courts were more than just legal issues, stressing that the petitioners are old and sick, and one is a nursing mother.
“The issue is about exercising the judicial power of compassionate intervention and equity jurisdiction to protect those least able to protect themselves. The issue is essentially about humanitarian considerations as a ground for the grant of bail in cases where it is a matter of discretion. Because a remedy for unsafe conditions need not await a tragic event,” Lim added.
With the SC’s ruling, they would need to wait more and battle opposition from state prosecutors, she noted.
“Remanding the petition to the trial courts means another long wait as the lower courts would need to hear out the new motion. Government prosecutors will surely oppose this while heaping more false evidence, especially against accused political prisoners to prolong their stay in jail,” KAPATID also said.
When the group filed the petition, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology had placed 15 inmates under isolation after they came in contact with an inmate who died of suspected COVID-19. The BJMP and the Bureau of Corrections have since reported hundreds of COVID-19 infections in their facilities.
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