Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Detention; house arrest - G.R. No. 179817

G.R. No. 179817

"x x x.

In sum, petitioner’s first ground posits that there is a world of difference between his case and that of Jalosjos respecting the type of offense involved, the stage of filing of the motion, and other circumstances which demonstrate the inapplicability of Jalosjos.[14]

A plain reading of. Jalosjos suggests otherwise, however.

The distinctions cited by petitioner were not elemental in the pronouncement in Jalosjos that election to Congress is not a reasonable classification in criminal law enforcement as the functions and duties of the office are not substantial distinctions which lift one from the class of prisoners interrupted in their freedom and restricted in liberty of movement.[15]

It cannot be gainsaid that a person charged with a crime is taken into custody for purposes of the administration of justice. No less than the Constitution provides:

All persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law. The right to bail shall not be impaired even when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended. Excessive bail shall not be required.[16] (Underscoring supplied)

The Rules also state that no person charged with a capital offense,[17] or an offense punishable byreclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, shall be admitted to bail when evidence of guilt is strong, regardless of the stage of the criminal action.[18]

That the cited provisions apply equally to rape and coup d’etat cases, both being punishable by reclusionperpetua,[19] is beyond cavil. Within the class of offenses covered by the stated range of imposable penalties, there is clearly no distinction as to the political complexion of or moral turpitude involved in the crime charged.

In the present case, it is uncontroverted that petitioner’s application for bail and for release on recognizance was denied.[20] The determination that the evidence of guilt is strong, whether ascertained in a hearing of an application for bail[21] or imported from a trial court’s judgment of conviction,[22] justifies the detention of an accused as a valid curtailment of his right to provisional liberty. This accentuates the proviso that the denial of the right to bail in such cases is “regardless of the stage of the criminal action.” Such justification for confinement with its underlying rationale of public self-defense[23] applies equally to detention prisoners like petitioner or convicted prisoners-appellants like Jalosjos.

As the Court observed in Alejano v. Cabuay,[24] it is impractical to draw a line between convicted prisoners and pre-trial detainees for the purpose of maintaining jail security; and while pre-trial detainees do not forfeit their constitutional rights upon confinement, the fact of their detention makes their rights more limited than those of the public.

The Court was more emphatic in People v. Hon. Maceda:[25]

As a matter of law, when a person indicted for an offense is arrested, he is deemed placed under the custody of the law. He is placed in actual restraint of liberty in jail so that he may be bound to answer for the commission of the offense. He must be detained in jail during the pendency of the case against him, unless he is authorized by the court to be released on bail or on recognizance. Let it be stressed that all prisoners whether under preventive detention or serving final sentence can not practice their profession nor engage in any business or occupation, or hold office, elective or appointive, while in detention. This is a necessary consequence of arrest and detention.[26](Underscoring supplied)

These inherent limitations, however, must be taken into account only to the extent that confinement restrains the power of locomotion or actual physical movement. It bears noting that in Jalosjos, which was decided en banc one month after Maceda, the Court recognized that the accused could somehow accomplish legislative results.[27]

The trial court thus correctly concluded that the presumption of innocence does not carry with it the full enjoyment of civil and political rights.

Petitioner is similarly situated with Jalosjos with respect to the application of the presumption of innocence during the period material to the resolution of their respective motions. The Court in Jalosjos did not mention that the presumption of innocence no longer operates in favor of the accused pending the review on appeal of the judgment of conviction. The rule stands that until a promulgation of final conviction is made, the constitutional mandate of presumption of innocence prevails.[28]

In addition to the inherent restraints, the Court notes that petitioner neither denied nor disputed his agreeing to a consensus with the prosecution that media access to him should cease after his proclamation by the Commission on Elections.[29]

Petitioner goes on to allege that unlike Jalosjos who attempted to evade trial, he is not a flight risk since he voluntarily surrendered to the proper authorities and such can be proven by the numerous times he was allowed to travel outside his place of detention.

Subsequent events reveal the contrary, however. The assailed Orders augured well when on November 29, 2007 petitioner went past security detail for some reason and proceeded from the courtroom to a posh hotel to issue certain statements. The account, dubbed this time as the “Manila Pen Incident,”[30] proves that petitioner’s argument bites the dust. The risk that he would escape ceased to be neither remote nor nil as, in fact, the cause for foreboding became real.

Moreover, circumstances indicating probability of flight find relevance as a factor in ascertaining the reasonable amount of bail and in canceling a discretionary grant of bail.[31] In cases involving non-bailable offenses, what is controlling is the determination of whether the evidence of guilt is strong. Once it is established that it is so, bail shall be denied as it is neither a matter of right nor of discretion.[32]

Petitioner cannot find solace in Montano v. Ocampo[33] to buttress his plea for leeway because unlike petitioner, the therein petitioner, then Senator Justiniano Montano, who was charged with multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder,[34] was able to rebut the strong evidence for the prosecution. Notatu dignum is this Court’s pronouncement therein that “if denial of bail is authorized in capital cases, it is only on the theory thatthe proof being strong, the defendant would flee, if he has the opportunity, rather than face the verdict of the jury.”[35] At the time Montano was indicted, when only capital offenses were non-bailable where evidence of guilt is strong,[36] the Court noted the obvious reason that “one who faces a probable death sentence has a particularly strong temptation to flee.”[37] Petitioner’s petition for bail having earlier been denied, he cannot rely on Montano to reiterate his requests which are akin to bailing him out.

Second, petitioner posits that, contrary to the trial court’s findings, Esperon did not overrule Obeña’s recommendation to allow him to attend Senate sessions. Petitioner cites the Comment[38] of Obeña that he interposed no objection to such request but recommended that he be transported by the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms with adequate Senate security. And petitioner faults the trial court for deeming that Esperon, despite professing non-obstruction to the performance of petitioner’s duties, flatly rejected all his requests, when what Esperon only disallowed was the setting up of a political office inside a military installation owing to AFP’s apolitical nature.[39]

The effective management of the detention facility has been recognized as a valid objective that may justify the imposition of conditions and restrictions of pre-trial detention.[40] The officer with custodial responsibility over a detainee may undertake such reasonable measures as may be necessary to secure the safety and prevent the escape of the detainee.[41] Nevertheless, while the comments of the detention officers provide guidance on security concerns, they are not binding on the trial court in the same manner that pleadings are not impositions upon a court.

Third, petitioner posits that his election provides the legal justification to allow him to serve his mandate, after the people, in their sovereign capacity, elected him as Senator. He argues that denying his Omnibus Motion is tantamount to removing him from office, depriving the people of proper representation, denying the people’s will, repudiating the people’s choice, and overruling the mandate of the people.

Petitioner’s contention hinges on the doctrine in administrative law that “a public official can not be removed for administrative misconduct committed during a prior term, since his re-election to office operates as a condonation of the officer’s previous misconduct to the extent of cutting off the right to remove him therefor.”[42]

The assertion is unavailing. The case against petitioner is not administrative in nature. And there is no “prior term” to speak of. In a plethora of cases,[43] the Court categorically held that the doctrine of condonation does not apply to criminal cases. Election, or more precisely, re-election to office, does not obliterate a criminal charge. Petitioner’s electoral victory only signifies pertinently that when the voters elected him to the Senate, “they did so with full awareness of the limitations on his freedom of action [and] x x x with the knowledge that he could achieve only such legislative results which he could accomplish within the confines of prison.”[44]

In once more debunking the disenfranchisement argument,[45] it is opportune to wipe out the lingering misimpression that the call of duty conferred by the voice of the people is louder than the litany of lawful restraints articulated in the Constitution and echoed by jurisprudence. The apparent discord may be harmonized by the overarching tenet that the mandate of the people yields to the Constitution which the people themselves ordained to govern all under the rule of law.

The performance of legitimate and even essential duties by public officers has never been an excuse to free a person validly in prison. The duties imposed by the “mandate of the people” are multifarious. The accused-appellant asserts that the duty to legislate ranks highest in the hierarchy of government. The accused-appellant is only one of 250 members of the House of Representatives, not to mention the 24 members
of the Senate, charged with the duties of legislation. Congress continues to function well in the physical absence of one or a few of its members. x x x Never has the call of a particular duty lifted a prisoner into a different classification from those others who are validly restrained by law.[46] (Underscoring supplied)

Lastly, petitioner pleads for the same liberal treatment accorded certain detention prisoners who have also been charged with non-bailable offenses, like former President Joseph Estrada and former Governor Nur Misuari who were allowed to attend “social functions.” Finding no rhyme and reason in the denial of the more serious request to perform the duties of a Senator, petitioner harps on an alleged violation of the equal protection clause.

In arguing against maintaining double standards in the treatment of detention prisoners, petitioner expressly admits that he intentionally did not seek preferential treatment in the form of being placed under Senate custody or house arrest,[47] yet he at the same time, gripes about the granting of house arrest to others.

Emergency or compelling temporary leaves from imprisonment are allowed to all prisoners, at the discretion of the authorities or upon court orders.[48] That this discretion was gravely abused, petitioner failed to establish. In fact, the trial court previously allowed petitioner to register as a voter in December 2006, file his certificate of candidacy in February 2007, cast his vote on May 14, 2007, be proclaimed as senator-elect, and take his oath of office[49] on June 29, 2007. In a seeming attempt to bind or twist the hands of the trial court lest it be accused of taking a complete turn-around,[50] petitioner largely banks on these prior grants to him and insists on unending concessions and blanket authorizations.

Petitioner’s position fails. On the generality and permanence of his requests alone, petitioner’s case fails to compare with the species of allowable leaves. Jaloslos succinctly expounds:

x x x Allowing accused-appellant to attend congressional sessions and committee meetings for five (5) days or more in a week will virtually make him a free man with all the privileges appurtenant to his position. Such an aberrant situation not only elevates accused-appellant’s status to that of a special class, it also would be a mockery of the purposes of the correction system.[51]

x x x."