Supreme Court reduces bail to free more indigent inmates

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 30) — Indigent inmates will pay less for their temporary freedom as the Supreme Court eased bail and recognizance rules, aimed at decongesting detention facilities amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The high court's Administrative Circular no. 38, released on Thursday, grants the following bail bonds to indigent detainees:

- For those charged with a crime punishable with 12 to 20 years, bail shall be computed by getting the medium period multiplied by ₱P3,000 for every year of imprisonment-

- For those charged with a crime punishable with six years to 12 years, bail shall be computed by getting the medium period multiplied by ₱2,000 for every year of imprisonment

- For those charged with a crime punishable with six months to six years, bail shall be computed by getting the medium period multiplied by ₱1,000 for every year of imprisonment

Meanwhile, those charged with a crime punishable with less than six months in jail may be released on their own recognizance, the circular states.

The Supreme Court stressed that inmates have to be arraigned before being released, and that such proceeding may be done online amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

"This is without prejudice to the exercise of the court's discretion to deny the application for bail or recognizance if there are reasonable grounds based on prevailing jurisprudence and existing rules, and to the imposition of additional bail and conditions, or the cancellation thereof, to those who will be convicted, pending their appeal," the Supreme Court ruled.

The circular does not apply to those already serving their sentences, and shall take effect immediately within the period of public health emergency, declared by President Rodrigo Duterte in March amid the surge in coronavirus infections.

The Supreme Court said previous circulars aimed at expediting the release of certain persons deprived of liberty have resulted in the release of some 9,731 inmates from March 17 to April 29.

"With this instant initiative, more PDLs are expected to be released," it said.

Earlier this month, 22 prisoners who have underlying medical conditions filed a petition before the Supreme Court, seeking temporary freedom amid the coronavirus disease outbreak. The motion is still pending with the high court.

The Department of Justice has also approved simpler rules and faster processing of requests for parole and executive clemency to decongest jails.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported in several jails and prison facilities across the country, which human rights groups have called "ticking time bombs" for infection because of their crowded state.