Gigi’s and Leila’s contrasting fates

The High Court ruling should only apply to De Lima’s case if the latter has been incarcerated for nine years in a normal cell for women and without any VIP treatment.

The temporary liberty given by the Supreme Court First Division to the former congressional chief of staff, Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, must have stoked the fires of hope in the camp of ex-senator Leila de Lima. For almost nine years, Atty. Reyes languished in a jail cell with an overflowing toilet while facing charges of plunder.

Meanwhile, Atty. De Lima has been detained for six years at the Philippine National Police while being tried for drug-related offenses. Her special custodial center has basic amenities and even an office. Sans special treatment, Gigi was jailed with other inmates. Leila is in solitary confinement like a VIP (very important person) detainee.

Writ of Habeas Corpus
Recently, Atty. Reyes was released from the Taguig City Jail Female Dormitory after the High Court granted her petition for habeas corpus. The SC took note of Reyes’s preventive imprisonment as violative of her constitutional right to a speedy trial and liberty. Of course, De Lima’s legal team has the right to exhaust all legal avenues to free her from detention. But I disagree that the same remedy applies to the senator’s case.

For due process and equal protection of the laws to apply, the cases of Atty. Reyes and Atty. De Lima should be similar if not exactly situated. They both face non-bailable crimes, but their circumstances are vastly different. In my opinion, the High Court ruling should only apply to De Lima’s case if the latter has been incarcerated for nine years in a normal cell for women and without any VIP treatment. The former senator must also prove that her detention has become vexatious, capricious, and oppressive resulting in a constitutional infringement of her rights.

Article III, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution provides that the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus can only happen during an invasion or rebellion. Further, Article VII, Section 18 states that it shall apply to persons judicially charged for rebellion or offenses inherent in, or directly connected with, invasion.

According to the Supreme Court, the writ of habeas corpus was devised and exists as a speedy and effectual remedy to relieve persons from unlawful restraint and as the best and only sufficient defense of personal freedom (Villavicencio vs. Lukban). The writ of habeas corpus secures a prisoner the right to have the cause of his detention examined and determined by a court of justice, and to have ascertained if he is held under lawful authority (Quintos vs. Director of Prisons).

Sections 14 and 16 of our Bill of Rights entitle every accused under criminal prosecution to a speedy, impartial, public trial. They enjoy the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.

Revamping justice system
Given these constitutional guarantees and laws, such as the 1998 Speedy Trial Act and the 2017 Supreme Court Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases, I urge our legislators to file measures that would institute reforms in our legal system. The government, after all, carries the onus of safeguarding the right to life of the citizenry.

As a lawyer, educator, and former legislator, I have included the Filipinos’ right to life and health in my advocacies. In the last election season, I proposed the expeditious resolution of court cases through the re-adoption of the “inquisitorial system.” During the Spanish period, court judges were allowed to gather evidence themselves. Thus, they adjudicated court cases within days. The system is in place in several European countries up to now. Personally, I witnessed a court case in Bern, Switzerland resolved within one day.

When the United States colonized the Philippines, they introduced the “adversarial system.” It is highly technical in terms of the rules of evidence and is more compatible with the American jury system. Obviously, the system is a major reason for the country’s slow justice system.


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