MANILA – The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on Monday reiterated the government's position asking the Supreme Court (SC) to dismiss a petition seeking the release of detained communists.
In two pleadings – an opposition and a rejoinder – filed before the SC, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the tribunal to "expunge" the "reply" pleading earlier filed by communist rebels and reiterated that measures undertaken by both prison officials along with recent circulars issued by the high court on persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) entitled to temporary liberty are sufficient safeguards for all, including them, during the present coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) health crisis.
The first motion filed by Calida said the petitioners in the case filed a pleading "violative of the rule that prohibits the submission of unauthorized pleadings" to the SC, adding that it is a "belated and futile attempt by petitioners "to fill up inadequacies in their petition."
Likewise filed by the top government counsel was a rejoinder asserting that "the government has adopted measures and taken steps to stymie the spread of the virus in penal institutions."
Calida added that the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) has enlisted the help and cooperation of the World Health Organization (WHO), Department of Health (DOH), International Committee on Red Cross (ICRC), and the City Health Office (CHO) of Muntinlupa, in managing isolation and control measures, mass testing, and making "Site Harry" inside the New Bilibid Prison habitable for the needs of PDLs.
The SC's issuances sufficiently address the concern of decongesting jails during this pandemic, he said.
Calida added that "the petitioners (rebel detainees) will never find any measure enacted by the respondents (government) as sufficient or adequate."
"Other PDLs are more qualified for release, those who are not charged with violent crimes and are less likely to abscond," he said.
Calida added that the petitioners have previously made similar commitments to neither evade trial nor flee from the charges and "have failed to surrender themselves, and continuously evaded arrest."
"There is a very high chance that the petitioners will not honor their commitments nor their promise that they will not evade arrest," he said.
He added that "the petitioners are not the only ones who are suffering because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The others who are also in jail are at risk of infection. The petitioners, therefore, are asking for special treatment for themselves."
"(T)he classifications they have created -- "sickly political prisoners" and "elderly political prisoners" -- are so narrow, so limited, so exceptional that it leaves out almost the entire population of detainees – many no doubt, more deserving of provisional liberty than petitioners--beyond them and those in their annexes. It is a pitiful and callous distinction," Caida added.
On April 24, Calida asked the court to dismiss a petition for lack of merit, saying "to grant the petition would result in grave injustice not only to the People of the Philippines but also to the surviving relatives of petitioners' victims who are still waiting for justice to be finally served."
The petition, he said, "is one that involves perception and deception", noting that while the petitioners in the suit claim to be political prisoners, they are actually under detention for non-bailable offenses.
Some five of the 22 petitioners are charged before Branch 32 of the Manila Regional Trial Court with 15 counts of murder for their involvement in the Inopacan massacre, after after 68 skeletal remains were discovered in Inopacan, Leyte in 1992.
"They were the victims of the inhumane Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) internal cleansing dubbed project "Venereal Disease. One must call a spade a spade. The petitioners are all valuable members of the terrorist organization,” he said.
He added that "without a doubt, this petition is a ruse" to remove them from the confines of jail.
"Contrary to their claim, there are no humanitarian considerations involved but merely opportunistic legalism to distort established judicial processes," Calida said.
He said the petitioners' continued detention affords them "ready access to government resources if and when the dreaded virus reaches the doors of their cells, no less different outside their cells."
The petition filed on April 8 by the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of People’s Lawyers was on behalf of 22 PDLs.
They said the petition also covers prisoners who are similarly situated “but cannot be included in this petition due to the difficult circumstances”.
It also asked the High Court to compel the government to create a Prisoner Release Committee, “similar to those set up in other countries, to urgently study and implement the release of all other prisoners in various congested prisons" throughout the country.
Among those listed as petitioners at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and at the Manila City Jail were Dionisio S. Almonte, 62; Ireneo O. Atadero Jr., 57; Alexander Ramonita K. Birondo, 68; Winona Marie O. Birondo, 61;Rey Claro C. Casambre, 68; Ferdinand T. Castillo, 60; Francisco O. Fernandez Jr, 71; Renante Gamara, 62; Vicente P. Ladlad, 70;Cleofe S. Lagtapon, 66; Ediesel R. Legaspi, 62; Adelberto Silva, 72; Alberto L. Villamor, 63; Virginia B. Villamor, 65; Emmanuel Bacarra, 55; Oliver Rosales, 48; Oscar Belleza, 63; Norberto A. Murillo, 66; and Dario Tomada, 60.
Meanwhile, Lilia Bucatcat, 73, is detained at the Bureau of Corrections.
Ge-ann Perez, 21, is detained at the Taguig City Jail Female Dormitory while Reina Mae Nasino, 22, is detained at the Manila City Jail Female Dormitory.
The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (PNA)