Human rights group pushes for writ of kalayaan rules to address jail congestion


A HUMAN rights group has urged Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo to call a national consultation to hasten the adoption of rules on the writ of kalayaan, which could be used as basis to release prisoners who are vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“We ask Chief Justice Gesmundo to convene a national consultative summit on the writ of kalayaan that can be done by videoconference, similar to the multisectoral summit organized on July 16-17, 2007 by Chief Justice Reynato Puno which consolidated inputs and support for the trailblazing writ of amparo and habeas data,” said Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid, a support group for prisoners and their families.

Ms. Lim explained that the writ of kalayaan “provides a judicial remedy grounded on social justice and humanity to address the problems of extreme jail congestion amid the continuing pandemic and violations of the rights of people deprived of liberty.”   

Last year, Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra of the Justice department, which supervises the Bureau of Corrections, said 476 inmates died from January to July 2020, of which 21 were due to coronavirus.

As such, Ms. Lim said “(t)he time to adopt and adapt rules is now. Not tomorrow, not according to circumstances, but now because the impact of the pandemic is worst in congested prisons.”

In a press conference on Friday, Mr. Gesmundo said the institutionalization of the writ of kalayaan is an “innovation which will obviously require a thorough study.”

“You will know that writing the rules of procedure takes time because we have to consider a lot of factors before arriving in those or adopting those rules because we have to make sure that we do not deviate from what the Constitution requires or allow us to do,” he said.

Nevertheless, the top magistrate assured that the Supreme Court will issue the rules “when the circumstances should warrant for the Court” to do so as “the Court must be able to adapt to these changing times.”

Kapatid, along with 22 other petitioners, filed a petition before the high court last year to institutionalize the writ.

Then Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta said they are “very careful” in exercising their power to promulgate rules as it is a “rare” power exercised by the Supreme Court. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago