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ARTA praises DOJ for ordering prosecutors to remain available, on-call amid ECQ; urges all prosecution offices to not implement cut-off

QUEZON CITY -- The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) lauded the Department of Justice (DOJ) for issuing a department circular to ensure that inquest prosecutors remain available and on-call amid the recent enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

On 4 August 2021, the DOJ released Department Circular No. 01 or the Guidelines for the Duration of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in the National Capital Region for the Period 06-20 August 2021.

“Prosecutors and their support staff shall continue to conduct inquest proceedings online and/or in person, and attend to urgent matters that require immediate action, as may be determined by the heads of the prosecution offices concerned,” the guidelines read.

“Accordingly, all prosecution offices are directed to ensure the availability at all times of inquest prosecutors who shall be on-call for the duration of the ECQ,” it added.

This means that those arrested without a warrant must immediately undergo inquest proceedings.

It can be recalled that the DOJ issued similar policies in the previous implementation of ECQ.

Secretary Jeremiah Belgica, ARTA Director General, welcomed the issuance of the new guidelines that will further streamline processes in the judicial arm of the government, which is not within the Authority’s jurisdiction.

“We laud the DOJ for these new guidelines. This would ensure that no person will be detained more than the time set forth by the law,” he said.

Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) states that persons who are detained without a warrant should be delivered to judicial authorities within 12 hours if they committed crimes or offenses punishable by light penalties, 18 hours for those punishable by correctional penalties, and 36 hours for those punishable by afflictive or capital penalties.

The new directive is in line with Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018, which prohibits the imposition of cut-off schemes.

“Sadly, ARTA received some reports that there are prosecution offices implementing cut-off in conducting inquest,” Belgica said.

The anti-red tape czar said they will forward their reports and recommendations to the Office of the Secretary of Justice for possible actions as soon as they finish collating related complaints and incidents.

“This cannot be countenanced considering that what we are talking about is the liberty of a person,” Belgica stressed. “There is a saying that ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ Imagine if a case is a very petty one with a possible penalty of only a few days in prison or a minimal fine yet it would take 2 to 3 days before the arrestee would undergo an inquest due to cut-off system. There is already an automatic violation of human rights here.”

“Also, cops involved in the arrest have no choice but to wait when the inquest would be set by the prosecutor. This kind of red tape may possibly cause them arbitrary detention charges. Let us remember that the arrestees are still presumed innocent unless proven otherwise. Hence, we must be sensitive with their rights,” Belgica furthered.

The department order is also in accordance with the Office of the President’s Memorandum Circular No. 87, which states that the government must be at full operating capacity even during the ECQ, a call which the Authority supports.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) made a similar order in its Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines.

Belgica encouraged government prosecutors to comply with the DOJ circular.

“Thank you Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra for making the policy very clear. The Authority will continue to train a watchful eye on government workers during this ECQ period. We will continue to work with the Office of the Secretary of Justice and Prosecutor General in a bid to weed out red tape even in the disposition of justice,” the ARTA chief said.

To date, the Manila, Quezon City, and Malabon are among the localities in Metro Manila with prosecutorial services even at night. (ARTA)

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Kate Shiene Austria

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Information Officer III under the Creative Production Services Division of the Philippine Information Agency. 

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