JESSICA Lucila “Gigi” Reyes, former chief of staff of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and a co-accused in the controversial pork barrel scam, was temporarily released from detention on Thursday.
The court allowed her temporary liberty after almost nine years “due to violation of the right to speedy trial.”
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) confirmed Reyes’ release after the Supreme Court granted her Petition for Habeas Corpus, in a resolution issued on January 17, 2023 by the high tribunal’s first division.
The BJMP said Reyes was released from Taguig City Jail-Female Dormitory at Camp Bagong Diwa at around 6:30PM on Thursday.
Reyes was detained in July 2014.
She is facing plunder charges, along with Enrile, in connection with alleged ill-gotten wealth amounting to P172 million. She is accused of receiving kickbacks from businesswoman Janet Napoles in exchange for the allocation of Enrile’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to Napoles’ fictitious non government organizations.
The high court said that Reyes must still stand trial.
“Petitioner (Reyes) is only granted provisional or temporary liberty which is not in any measure equivalent to the dismissal of the criminal cases filed against her,” the court’s resolution said.
Why habeas corpus?
In its resolution, the court distinguished the difference between bail and habeas corpus.
According to the court, the right to bail emanates from the presumption of innocence accorded to every accused facing charges punishable by reclusion perpetua, unless the evidence of guilt against him or her is strong.
Habeas corpus, on the other hand, is issued “due to violation of the right to speedy trial.”
In Reyes’ case, the court is convinced that her detention, though in accordance with a court order from Sandiganbayan, violates her constitutional right to speedy trial and infringes on her right to liberty, considering that she had already been in detention for almost nine years.
“Indeed, nine years is far too long of a detention pending the resolution of a criminal case,” it said.
It also took note of the prosecution’s failure to explain the prolonged proceedings.
“The prosecution merely invoked jurisprudence, without providing reasons or justifications behind the long-drawn-out proceedings,” it said.
Apart from Reyes, several other personalities earlier linked to the PDAF scam had been freed from detention, particularly Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. who was acquitted in 2018 and Senator Jinggoy Estrada and Enrile who were both released on bail.
Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam, is still under detention.
What is pork barrel?
Pork barrel is a discretionary fund allocated to members of the Congress to be used for their pet projects. Each Senator has a P200 million allocation, while members of the House of Representatives were given P70 million each.
However, the Commission on Audit, in its 2013 special report, revealed misuse of the pork barrel allocations of less than 200 legislators, with more than P6 billion released to questionable non government organizations.
The controversy eventually reached the Supreme Court following the petitions filed by several groups and concerned citizens. In November 2013, the high tribunal declared PDAF as unconstitutional.
“[T]he (PDAF) system has violated the principle of separation of powers; insofar as it has conferred unto legislators the power of appropriation by giving them personal, discretionary funds from which they are able to fund specific projects which they themselves determine, it has similarly violated the principle of non-delegability of legislative power,” the court, in its November 19, 2013 decision said.