Pursuant to the 1987 Constitution and Rule 114 of the Rules of Court, an accused is not entitled to bail in capital offenses - or where the charges would merit the penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment - until the court holds hearings to determine if the evidence of guilt is strong. In this case, bail was granted even though 1) the case involved plunder where the convicted principal shall be punished by life imprisonment; 2) there was no evidentiary hearing (to determine if the evidence of guilt is strong); 3) the granting of bail was based on new grounds: ill health, social standing and the previous favorable conduct of the accused; and 4) the new grounds were not even alleged by the accused.
In Enrile vs. Sandiganbayan, et al. (G.R. No. 213847, August 18, 2015), the Court’s opening statements are telling of its final verdict: “[t]he decision whether to detain or release an accused before and during trial is ultimately an incident of the judicial power to hear and determine his criminal case.” However, the “strength of the Prosecution’s case, albeit a good measure of the accused’s propensity for flight or for causing harm to the public, is subsidiary to the primary objective of bail, which is to ensure that the accused appears at trial.”
Senator Enrile was charged, with several others, of the crime of plunder before the Sandiganbayan with respect to the alleged “diversion and misuse of appropriations under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).” When a warrant of arrest was issued against him, Senator Enrile surrendered himself to the Sandiganbayan and was later confined at the PNP hospital. He then filed the Motion to Fix Bail, arguing that bail should be granted “because: (a) the Prosecution had not yet established that the evidence of his guilt was strong; (b) although he was charged with plunder, the penalty as to him would only be reclusion temporal, not reclusion perpetua; and (c) he was not a flight risk, and his age and physical condition must further be seriously considered.” This was denied by Sandiganbayan. His motion for reconsideration of this resolution was likewise denied. He then filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court.
In the Supreme Court, he further argued that, if convicted, he would not face the penalty of reclusion perpetua “considering the presence of two mitigating circumstances – his age and his voluntary surrender.” There is also no “proof showing that his guilt for the crime of plunder is strong; and that he should not be considered a flight risk taking into account that he is already over the age of 90, his medical condition, and his social standing.”
The Court stated that it could not consider his argument that the “two mitigating circumstances that should be appreciated in his favor, namely: that he was already over 70 years at the time of the alleged commission of the offense, and that he voluntarily surrendered” would entitle him to bail as this would lower the penalty from reclusion perpetua. This was because, “the determination, being primarily factual in context, is ideally to be made by the trial court.”
The Court instead granted bail even in the absence of a hearing to determine guilt “guided by the earlier mentioned principal purpose of bail, which is to guarantee the appearance of the accused at the trial, or whenever so required by the court.” It went on to cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to:
“x x x uphold the fundamental human rights as well as value the worth and dignity of every person. This commitment is enshrined in Section II, Article II of our Constitution which provides: “The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.”
The Court determined that “[t]he Philippines, therefore, has the responsibility of protecting and promoting the right of every person to liberty and due process, ensuring that those detained or arrested can participate in the proceedings before a court, to enable it to decide without delay on the legality of the detention and order their release if justified. In other words, the Philippine authorities are under obligation to make available to every person under detention such remedies which safeguard their fundamental right to liberty. These remedies include the right to be admitted to bail.” [Emphasis supplied]
The Court gave weight to “his social and political standing and his having immediately surrendered to the authorities upon his being charged in court indicate that the risk of his flight or escape from this jurisdiction is highly unlikely. His personal disposition from the onset of his indictment for plunder, formal or otherwise, has demonstrated his utter respect for the legal processes of this country. We also do not ignore that at an earlier time many years ago when he had been charged with rebellion with murder and multiple frustrated murder, he already evinced a similar personal disposition of respect for the legal processes, and was granted bail during the pendency of his trial because he was not seen as a flight risk. With his solid reputation in both his public and his private lives, his long years of public service, and history’s judgment of him being at stake, he should be granted bail.”
Also the “currently fragile state of Enrile’s health presents another compelling justification for his admission to bail xxx.” His various ailments were considered by the Court, from hypertension to COPD which, singly or collectively, could pose significant risks to the life of Enrile xxx.” Even the OIC of the PNP General Hospital where he was confined, did not recommend that this confinement continue “because of the limitations in the medical support at that hospital.”
The Court further held that bail “for the provisional liberty of the accused, regardless of the crime charged, should be allowed independently of the merits of the charge, provided his continued incarceration is clearly shown to be injurious to his health or to endanger his life. Indeed, denying him bail despite imperiling his health and life would not serve the true objective of preventive incarceration during the trial.
Citing Dela Rama v. The People’s Court: “x x x [U]nless allowance of bail is forbidden by law in the particular case, the illness of the prisoner, independently of the merits of the case, is a circumstance, and the humanity of the law makes it a consideration which should, regardless of the charge and the stage of the proceeding, influence the court to exercise its discretion to admit the prisoner to bail; x x x”
The Court observed that “that granting provisional liberty to Enrile will then enable him to have his medical condition be properly addressed and better attended to by competent physicians in the hospitals of his choice. This will not only aid in his adequate preparation of his defense but, more importantly, will guarantee his appearance in court for the trial.”
He should not be made to wait “for the trial to finish before a meaningful consideration of the application for bail can be had is to defeat the objective of bail, which is to entitle the accused to provisional liberty pending the trial. There may be circumstances decisive of the issue of bail – whose existence is either admitted by the Prosecution, or is properly the subject of judicial notice – that the courts can already consider in resolving the application for bail without awaiting the trial to finish.” The Court stated that it was balancing “the scales of justice by protecting the interest of the People through ensuring his personal appearance at the trial, and at the same time realizing for him the guarantees of due process as well as to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
It found that the Sandiganbayan “arbitrarily ignored the objective of bail to ensure the appearance of the accused during the trial; and unwarrantedly disregarded the clear showing of the fragile health and advanced age of Enrile.” The Court ordered his release upon the posting of a cash bond of P1,000,000.00.
Since under the Constitution and the Rules of Court, humanitarian considerations are not grounds for the grant of bail, we remain curious as to the Court’s future decisions once similar humanitarian petitions for bail are filed.