Gigi freed, Leila next?
The libertarian resolution of the Supreme Court (Reyes v. Director, Jan. 17, 2023, First Division, ably written by Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando) freeing Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes for the vexatious violation of her constitutional right to liberty and to speedy trial raised this question: “May this grant of the writ of habeas corpus to her be extended to detained former senator Leila de Lima?” My short answer is: Not necessarily; at least not immediately; much needs to be done still.
DINO DE LEON, A LAWYER OF DE LIMA, was reported by abogado.com.ph to have admitted in a television interview that he and his legal team must first study whether the facts in Gigi’s case were on all fours with those in Leila’s before trying to “secure a similar ruling for their client.”
The lady senator’s counsel refused to join the frenetic chorus of many politicians and hangers-on who immediately demanded the former solon’s release. For, indeed, precedents can be invoked only when the facts are substantially alike with those in the earlier verdict.
To quote Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra, with whom I respectfully agree, “I believe the Court’s ruling, in this case, will have to be applied on a case-to-case basis, depending on the facts of each particular case, and not as a blanket precedent.”
When I asked Gigi’s counsel, Estelito P. Mendoza, whether the former solon should be similarly freed, he prudently replied, “I do not know enough of De Lima’s case to comment.”
BONI TACARDON, ANOTHER LAWYER OF LEILA, believes it is better to secure bail for their client. Per the Inquirer report last Saturday, he expects the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court to rule on and grant their petition for bail in “two months … at the end of March” whereas a new habeas corpus petition would take much longer as shown in the case of Gigi.
Tacardon’s stance brought to the fore the two remedies to secure temporary liberty for detainees: bail and habeas corpus. The right to bail is guaranteed by our Bill of Rights “to all persons … before conviction” even when “the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended.”
This constitutional guarantee is, however, subject to an exception. It cannot be enjoyed by “those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua [or life imprisonment] when the evidence of guilt is strong.” Thus, to be entitled to bail in capital offenses, the defense must show that the prosecution’s evidence is “not strong.”
Habeas corpus, on the other hand, is available to all persons illegally detained whether they are accused of any crime or not and whether detained in a government facility or not, provided the detaining officer and the detention venue are within the jurisdiction of the tribunal issuing the writ. Here, no bail bond is required.
Parenthetically, extreme violations of the constitutional rights to speedy trial and/or to speedy dispositions have resulted not just in temporary liberty but in the outright dismissal of the charges and the acquittal of the accused regardless of whether the accused is factually guilty or not. Jurisprudence is replete with numerous such dismissals.
AS A RULE, HABEAS CORPUS WILL NOT LIBERATE someone in custody by reason of an order of a court that has jurisdiction over the matter. However, the 19-page Supreme Court ruling made an exception: when “the custody becomes vexatious, capricious, and oppressive amounting to an infringement of the constitutional right to the speedy trial of an accused…”
Gigi was freed because she “was able to prove that her detention had become a form of vexatious restraint, despite being detained by reason of a court order … due to the peculiar protracted proceedings in the principal case … [that were] delayed due to the wrong markings in the prosecution’s evidence … Moreover, during the trial, the Sandiganbayan has so far allowed only one witness per day … and the trial commenced only on March 3, 2022, notwithstanding that the information was filed as early as June 5, 2014.”
The Supreme Court found “that the prosecution had not been able to explain the said prolonged proceedings … there is no assurance that the proceedings would be terminated, even after close to a decade of detention … Indeed, nine years is far too long of a detention…” without sight of any relief. “[H]ad not the prosecution incorrectly marked the evidence, the principal case ‘would have proceeded smoothly and with dispatch and paucity.’”
Let me repeat, will Leila, like Gigi, be freed via habeas corpus or via bail? If via habeas corpus, will her lawyers be able to show that her custody, though legal at the beginning, had become “vexatious, capricious, and oppressive?” Verily, much has still to be done by them. If via bail, will they be able to demonstrate that the prosecution’s evidence is “not strong”? And, more vitally, will they go for broke and prove that the delay had become so excessively long without her fault that would entitle her not just to temporary liberty but to outright dismissal of the charges? Abangan!
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