Gigi Reyes and everyone’s right to speedy trial

“The SC said while Reyes’ detention is based on a court order, her prolonged detention, without any progress on the case against her, is considered ‘vexatious, capricious, and oppressive.’”

I fully support the decision by the First Division of the Supreme Court to release Attorney Gigi Reyes from detention by granting her petition for the writ of habeas corpus.

This was the right decision for Reyes and should be applied equally to others who have been deprived of their liberty under similar circumstances.

Reyes was the former chief-of-staff of then Senate President Juan Ponce.

She has been in detention since July 2014 after the Sandiganbayan ordered her arrest after she was charged with the crime of plunder in connection with the P172.8-million kickbacks allegedly received from Janet Lim Napoles who was herself convicted of plunder, for the same scheme in a separate case.

Her co-accused, former Senator Enrile, has since been granted bail on humanitarian grounds and is now the presidential legal counsel of President Marcos, a testament to his political endurance and longevity.

Meantime, in detention for nine years, Reyes went to the Supreme Court, via a petition for habeas corpus, insisting she had been in detention for so long without any sign of being freed soon.

In her petition, Reyes argued she is entitled to the privilege of writ of habeas corpus by reason of delay and alleged violation of her constitutional right to speedy trial.

Reyes also reasoned she has been in detention “longer than any other accused similarly charged.”

She cited the following government officials and the days they spent behind bars: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (1,387 days); Senator Bong Revilla (1,643 days); Senator Jinggoy Estrada (1,188 days and released on bail); Enrile, Reyes’ co-accused (413 days and released on bail).

Reyes also pointed out she had filed various petitions before the High Court for her release on multiple grounds but none was granted. She, therefore, invoked the writ of habeas corpus.

Ruling in favor of Atty. Reyes, the Supreme Court reasoned that Reyes’ confinement “has become oppressive, thus, infringing upon her right to liberty.”

The SC said while Reyes’ detention is based on a court order, her prolonged detention, without any progress on the case against her, is considered “vexatious, capricious, and oppressive.”

The Reyes decision is a novel approach to habeas corpus.

The ultimate purpose of habeas corpus is to relieve a person from unlawful restraint.

The writ exists as a speedy and effectual remedy from unlawful restraint and as an effective defense of personal freedom.

Hence, in previous instances, habeas corpus was granted where a person was subject to physical restraint, such as arbitrary detention, or even by moral restraint.

Thus, a prisoner may secure his release if convicted by a court without jurisdiction; or if a person is deprived of liberty due to mistaken identity.

However, habeas corpus may no longer be availed of when a person allegedly deprived of liberty is restrained under a lawful process or order of the court.

In the latter case, the remedy is to pursue the ordinary course and exhaust the usual remedies like a motion to quash the information or warrant of arrest based on one or more of the grounds enumerated under Rule 117, Section 3 of the Rules of Court.

The Reyes decision provides a new way of applying the writ but also shows how temporary liberty may be secured other than bail.

Notice that Reyes, being legally detained for plunder, a non-bailable offense, may not be eligible for the grant of habeas corpus under the normal and ordinary sense and application.

In fact, her previous bids to secure temporary release or dismissal of the case proved futile.

Previously, she filed a Petition to challenge the resolution by the Sandiganbayan denying her petition for bail.

The Sandiganbayan resolution was affirmed by the Supreme Court in August 2020 and Reyes remained in detention for the last nine years awaiting trial.

In its decision, the SC noted the Sandiganbayan detailed across 194 pages the testimonies of the 19 witnesses on direct, re­ direct, and cross-examination at the bail hearing.

It then quoted the parts of the discussion of this Court in Napoles v. Sandiganbayan that pertained or referred to the petitioner.

However, it also explained in full the basis of its findings that there is strong evidence of the guilt of the petitioner.

As such, petitioner Reyes failed to establish that the Sandiganbayan acted with grave abuse of discretion in concluding that there is strong evidence against the petitioner. Thus, her bid for bail on humanitarian grounds failed.

Reyes then took on a new tack via a petition for habeas corpus, this time invoking a violation of her right to a speedy trial, citing Section 14, Article III of the Constitution, which entitles those facing criminal charges to “a speedy, impartial, and public trial.” This time she succeeded when the SC agreed with her.

As earlier pointed out, the SC, her prolonged detention, without any progress on the case against her, is considered “vexatious, capricious, and oppressive.”

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