The relatives and friends of political detainees on Thursday asked Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to institutionalize what they called the “Writ of Kalayaan” that was previously proposed by Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen as a measure to address jail congestion in the country, and make it his legacy before he retires from the judiciary next year.
The appeal was contained in a letter sent to Peralta by the members of Kapatid, an organization of relatives and friends of political detainees.
Kapatid’s spokesperson Fides Lim said the Writ of Kalayaan would provide an extraordinary legal remedy grounded on social justice and humanity to address the congestion in the prison system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lim, the wife of detained National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant Vicente “Vic” Ladlad, said institutionalizing the writ of kalayaan would serve as the “lasting legacy of the Peralta Court” before his early retirement on March 2021.
“While we were upset by the Court’s remanding of our petition for the humanitarian release of at-risk prisoners during the pandemic, because this would mean another extremely long, arduous wait for us, the writ of kalayaan gives us hope that not all is lost especially for those of us with elderly and very sick kin saddled with numerous manufactured cases that may outlast them beyond the grave,” the group said in the letter.
“We only seek justice and we appeal to your sense of compassion and sensitivity to urgently address the subhuman conditions in Philippine jails that have become systemic problems.”
The writ of kalayaan was proposed by Leonen in his separate opinion on the high court decision on the appeal of Ladlad and more than two dozen political detainees to be temporarily released on the ground that their medical condition and age made them vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.
Among those who signed the petition last April was Reina Mae Nasino, who was detained at the Manila City Jail female dormitory.
Nasino gave birth last July but her baby died last October after her pleas first to allow her to care for her baby inside the jail and to visit her at the hospital was denied by the Manila regional trial court.
The high court ruling then referred the petition, which it treated as a petition for bail, to the trial courts where the petitioners’ case are being heard.
Leonen explained that a writ of kalayaan should be issued by the Court when “all the requirements to establish cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment are present.”
According to him, such a writ is similar to the writ of kalikasan, only that the former would be a continuing mandamus for agencies concerned to protect persons deprived of liberty from being infected with the novel coronavirus by decongesting the jails.
Leonen said that once a writ of kalayaan was issued, an executive judge would supervise the release of convicts or detainees.
“Those whose penalties are the lowest and whose crimes are brought not by extreme malice but by the indignities of poverty may be prioritized,” Leonen said in his suggestion.
However, Leonen has yet to make a formal suggestion to the en banc.
Lim said it was never too late for Peralta and the high court to exercise compassionate intervention in the case.