Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, the former chief of staff of Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile, January 19 was released from jail after the Supreme Court held that her right to speedy trial has been violated. Reyes spent almost nine years in detention due to an ongoing plunder case.
The high court’s First Division granted Reyes’ Petition for Habeas Corpus, as it held that the plunder defendant’s confinement “though in accordance with a court order of the Sandiganbayan, has become oppressive thus infringing upon her right to liberty.”
Habeas corpus which literally means to “produce the body” is an order to present a person before the court to determine if the arrest or imprisonment is legal or if the inmate must be released from custody.
However the SC stressed that their grant of habeas corpus “does not adjudge the guilt or innocence of the petitioner.”
Reyes and pork barrel queen Janet Lim-Napoles stand as co-accused of Enrile in plunder and graft cases. This in connection with the alleged misuse of the latter’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
Reyes is accused of accepting on Enrile’s behalf a total of P172.83 Million worth of bribes in return for the then senator’s alleged allotment of his PDAF to the non-existing NGO supposedly owned by Napoles.
According to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), the former Enrile staff was released from the Taguig City Jail Female Dormitory, where she has been detained since July 9, 2014 at around 6:30 p.m. of January 19.
In her petition, Reyes argued before the SC’s First Division that the period of her detention is “longer than any other accused similarly charged with the offense of plunder.”
She took example of other plunder defendants like former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla where detained for less than 1,700 days prior to their acquittal. Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and her co-accused Enrile have been released on bail, and both have spent 1,188 and 413 days, respectively, in detention.
“Thus, petitioner claims that she is entitled to a writ of habeas corpus and should be discharged from prison by reason of delay and alleged violation of her constitutional right to speedy trial,” the resolution made public on Thursday night read.
Enrile was released from detention under humanitarian grounds.
However, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), argued that there was no delay in trial attributable to either prosecution or the Sandiganbayan in Reyes’ case. The OSG also urged the Court to take judicial notice that Reyes and Enrile filed cases to question the Sandiganbayan’s interlocutory orders, which may have added time to resolve the plunder case.
In granting her petition, the SC division said that Reyes’ “confinement, though in accordance with a court order of the Sandiganbayan, violates her constitutional right to speedy trial and infringes on her right to liberty.”
Moreover, the high court division said that while the order for Reyes’ detention is lawful, it had “had become an undue restraint on her liberty due to the peculiar protracted proceedings attendant in the principal case.”
It added that although the writ of habeas corpus is generally not available to a person under the custody of an officer process issued by a court or judge, “when such custody becomes vexatious, capricious and oppressive amounting to an infringement on the constitutional right to speedy trial of an accused, the writ of habeas corpus may be provisionally availed of.”
“Inherent in the right to liberty is the right of an accused to speedy trial,” the SC stressed.
Following the said decision, the high court said it has become imperative to “lay own standards in the grant of the writ of habeas corpus anchored on a violation of the right to speedy trial.” These are the following:
Individual seeking such relief must be illegally deprived of his or her freedom of movement or placed under some form of illegal restraint
If a person’s liberty is restrained by some legal process, the writ of habeas corpus is generally unavailing. As an exception, the writ may be issued when there has been a deprivation of a constitutional right resulting in the restraint of a person. When a petitioner invokes such an exceptional circumstance, the threshold remains high. Mere allegation of a violation of one’s constitutional right is not enough. The violation of constitutional right must be shown to be sufficient as to possibly void the proceedings.
The right to speedy trial must have been violated, following three grounds that include vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays in proceedings; unjustified postponements of trial; and when a long period of time elapsed without case being tried.