The Right to Bail: A Different View

It is not uncommon to hear the ordinary folk, or even those who are versed in the field of law, saying that some crimes are non-bailable or classifying offenses as bailable and non-bailable. After all, the general if not the prevailing view appears to be that indeed there are offenses that their very nature foreclose the possibility of admission to bail, such that in actual practice where the Information [indictment] charges a capital offense or those punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, the office of the public prosecutor does not recommend an amount of bail for the temporary liberty of the accused pending the final determination of his case. 

In such instances, the words “NO BAIL RECOMMENDED” are emblazoned in bold letters at the bottom portion of the charge sheet. Thus, when the case is eventually filed, the accused remains in custody if he/she had previously been arrested, or that the court issues a warrant for his/her arrest, and when arrest is subsequently effected, the accused remains incarcerated; unless he/she files a petition for bail wherein a hearing shall then be conducted to determine whether or not evidence of guilt is strong, which is the basis for the court for the grant or denial of the petition.  Pending the resolution of his/her petition for bail, the accused must stay behind bars as a matter of course. Whether or not this is the proper procedure intended by the law will be discussed further in the later parts, but what cannot be denied is the fact that in a great number of cases involving capital offenses or those punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, the accused dispenses with the filing of a petition for bail, and thus remains in custody for the entire duration of the trial, which in quite a number of instances ends up in an acquittal, either by finding that the accused did not commit the crime charged, or by reason of the existence of reasonable doubt. There really is question where the reason for the acquittal is the attendance of reasonable doubt, since it might well be said that in such a case, there is strong evidence of guilt which is sufficient to deny bail, but the same amount of evidence is not sufficient to sustain a conviction or that it does not measure up to the required proof beyond reasonable doubt. But one might cry foul in a case where the dismissal was grounded on the total innocence of the accused, for this means that the evidence of his guilt is not strong, yet for him bail does not come as a matter of right, but is discretionary on the part of the judge as to whether or not evidence of his guilt is strong. By his non-filing of a petition for bail, the judge is precluded from exercising such discretion, and the accused remains under incarceration.

Before going anything further, it is perhaps helpful to look back on to the constitutional basis of bail as well as the provisions on the subject contained in the Rules of Court.

Far from being one with statutory [provided for by law enacted by Congress] origin, the right to bail is in fact something with a constitutional guaranty. Thus the Bill of Rights under the Philippine Constitution, in Section 13 thereof provides:

Section 13. 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.

             On the other hand, the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure of the Philippines, provides in Rule 114, particularly Sections 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8:

Section 4. Bail, a matter of right; exception. — All persons in custody shall be admitted to bail as a matter of right, with sufficient sureties, or released on recognize as prescribed by law or this Rule (a) before or after conviction by the Metropolitan Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, or Municipal Circuit Trial Court, and (b) before conviction by the Regional Trial Court of an offense not punishable by death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment.

 Section 5.        Bail, when discretionary. — Upon conviction by the Regional Trial Court of an offense not punishable by death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, admission to bail is discretionary. The application for bail may be filed and acted upon by the trial court despite the filing of a notice of appeal, provided it has not transmitted the original record to the appellate court. However, if the decision of the trial court convicting the accused changed the nature of the offense from non-bailable to bailable, the application for bail can only be filed with and resolved by the appellate court.

 Xxx

 Section 6.        Capital offense defined. — A capital offense is an offense which, under the law existing at the time of its commission and of the application for admission to bail, may be punished with death. (6a)

 Section 7.        Capital offense or an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, not bailable. — No person charged with a capital offense, or an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, shall be admitted to bail when evidence of guilt is strong, regardless of the stage of the criminal prosecution. (7a)

 Section 8.        Burden of proof in bail application. — At the hearing of an application for bail filed by a person who is in custody for the commission of an offense punishable by death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, the prosecution has the burden of showing that evidence of guilt is strong. The evidence presented during the bail hearing shall be considered automatically reproduced at the trial, but upon motion of either party, the court may recall any witness for additional examination unless the latter is dead, outside the Philippines, or otherwise unable to testify.

From a reading of the above-quoted provisions, it is plain to see that not all offenses are bailable. The Constitution itself as well as the Rules of Court withholds the right to bail from those charged with capital offenses or those punishable by reclusion pertatua, or life imprisonment where the evidence of guilt is strong.  And so, in the interplay of the foregoing provisions in the course of their actual application, the resulting procedure that is followed is similar to the one described in the opening paragraphs of this article. Particularly so, that Section 8, Rule 14, quoted above speaks of a hearing of an application for bail, which emphasizes the requirement that bail is granted only after a hearing on the application for the purpose by a person charged with a capital offense or one punishable by reclusion pertatua, or life imprisonment.

To be sure, the requisites for the denial of a person’s right to bail are the following:

1.  A charge of a capital offense, or any of those punishable by reculsion perpetua or life imprisonment; and

2.  Strong evidence of guilt of the person charged.

To be sure, constitutional requirement is for the concurrent existence of the abovementioned requisites, if a person’s right to bail is to be denied. With respect to the first requisite, one needs only to refer to the Information filed in court to know the nature of the indictment and the imposable penalty. However, as regards the second requirement, the prosecution carries the burden of showing that “evidence of guilt is strong.”

After all, the presumption is in favor of innocence and not of the proposition that evidence of guilt is strong. Section 14 (2), Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution provides, thus:

Section 14.  xxx

(2) In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, xxx

The presumption applies in all criminal prosecutions, that is, including those where the accused is charged with a capital offense, or one that is punishable by reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment. It on account of this presumption that prevailing procedure might take a little bit of modification.

As stated at the outset, the practice is that where the charge is for a capital offense, for any crime punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, admission to bail does not come as a matter of course. The person accused must stay under incarceration and file an application for bail, pending the resolution of which he must remain in detention. If he does not so file his application, the more reason for his continued detention. For he cannot be admitted to bail unless he applies for and is granted the same after a hearing, otherwise, it would be as if the existence of the two [2] requisites for the denial of his right to bail are already established.

However, the fact remains that while a person is charged with a capital offense, or one that is punishable by reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, he is presumed innocent, and to hold that evidence of guilt is strong as against him cannot be made until the prosecution discharges its burden under Section 8, Rule 114 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure. And so, under this point of view, it might well be said that all persons, even those charged with a capital offense, or that which is punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, are eligible for admission to bail, until in the latter case, the prosecution can establish that evidence of guilt is strong, for it is only until then that a person’s right to bail can be properly denied. So, following this ratiocination, the procedure should be that in cases involving capital offenses, and even if the accused does not file an application for the purpose, the right to bail must be granted as a matter of course, until the prosecution files a motion to deny the accused his right to bail, and in the course of the hearing/s conducted on the said motion it establishes that “evidence of guilt is strong”.  This is more in line with the constitutional presumption of innocence, it is submitted, and stands well with the pronouncement in the old case of Pareja vs. Gomez, G.R. No. L-18733, July, 1962, where the Supreme Court distinguished the phraseology “evidence of guilt is strong” from “proof beyond reasonable doubt”.

But in the end, let’s all be reminded that we are in the “Legal Hiccup” blog, and despite the opinion/s raised in here, it is ultimately the prevailing rule that must be held supreme and thus must be followed.

-shortstab

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