CA thumbs down massacre convict’s appeal for transfer

THE Court of Appeals (CA) has dismissed the bid of Maguindanao massacre convict and former Gov. Zaldy U. Ampatuan to be “extricated” from the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa due to Covid-19 pandemic.

In a 9-page decision penned by Associate Justice Angelene Mary W. Quimpo-Sale, the CA’s Special Division of Five affirmed the July 20, 2020, order issued by presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City Branch 221. Solis-Reyes denied Ampatuan’s motion.

The appellate court did not give credence to Ampatuan’s claim that Solis-Reyes committed grave abuse of discretion in denying his request to be transferred to a hospital or medical facility despite the “clear and present danger” posed by his continued stay at the NBP during the pandemic.

Ampatuan noted that he suffered a stroke on three occasions prior to his commitment to the NBP and his having hypertension, diabetes and chronic atrial fibrillation puts him vulnerable to contracting the virus.

Ampatuan said he should be allowed to stay in the hospital or medical facility until the country, in general, or the NBP, in particular, have equipped itself with ability to mitigate or prevent Covid-19 transmission.

However, the CA held that Ampatuan’s petition has become moot and academic in light of the recent developments in the country’s bid fight to prevent Covid-19 infections from further spreading.

“In this case, the petition does not expound on how the clear and present danger rule applies to petitioner, when the issue raised herein neither involves the freedom of expression nor of religion,” the CA pointed out.

The appellate court noted that when Ampatuan filed the motion, the National Capital Region (NCR) was on general community quarantine (GCQ). The latter refers to the implementation of temporary measures limiting movement and transportation, regulation of operating industries and presence of uniformed personnel to enforce community quarantine protocols. By the end of July 2020, there were 83,673 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and the vaccines against the Covid-19 virus were yet to be available.

With the roll-out of the vaccines in March 2021, the CA said infections in the entire country have already gone down, and the NCR is no longer on GCQ but is presently on Alert Level 1. The latter refers to areas wherein case transmission [of the virus is low and decreasing, total bed utilization rate, and intensive care unit utilization rate is low.

Furthermore, the appellate court said more than half of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) under the Bureau of Corrections have been fully inoculated as of March 14, 2021, and started receiving booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccines.

“These developments are based on and affirmed by official statements of the government and are also of public knowledge of which judicial notice may be taken,” the CA explained.

“And while the Court in the case at bar is called upon to make a determination of whether respondent judge acted with grave abuse of discretion in issuing the assailed order, these events and developments have supervened thereby rendering the reliefs prayed for moot,” it added.

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