Bilibid inmates challenge revised GCTA law IRR before SC

Robie de Guzman   •   September 30, 2019   •   520

Members of the Police Special Action Force frisk inmates following a peace accord event to stop violence amongst gangs inside the New ‘Bilibid’ Prison’s maximum security compound in Muntinlupa City, south of Manila, Philippines, 27 December 2018.  (PHOTOVILLE)

MANILA, Philippines – A group of inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) have challenged before the Supreme Court (SC) the legality of the revised implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Republic Act 10592, which expanded the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) given to inmates.

In the filed petition for certiorari and prohibition, the group asked the SC to declare as invalid the recently revised implementing rules, particularly the provision disqualifying convicts of heinous crimes from availing of time allowance for good conduct, loyalty, study, teaching and mentoring for “going beyond the law and for being tantamount to executive legislation.”

The petition which was filed last September 24 is the first known legal challenge against the IRR of the controversial GCTA law.

It listed as respondents Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) chief Allan Sullano Iral.

The DOJ and the DILG last Sept. 16 signed the revised IRR of the Republic Act 10592 after a 10-day review following a controversy relating to its application.

The revised IRR now explicitly excludes recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and convicts of heinous crimes from benefitting from the GCTA law. It also enumerated the cases that are defined as heinous crimes under the law, including treason, bribery, parricide, murder, kidnapping, serious illegal detention and rape, among others.

But the petitioners said the revised implementing rules was issued with grave discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction. They also argue that some of its provisions violate the equal protection clause under the Constitution.

The petitioners also urged the high court to order the BuCor and the BJMP to recompute with reasonable dispatch the time allowances due to petitioners and all those who are in similar situations.

This is to pave for their immediate release from imprisonment after fully serving their sentence, “unless they are being confined for some other lawful cause.”

The petitioner-inmates also want the SC to order the BuCor and BJMP to refrain from retroactively applying the exclusions introduced by the revised IRR which they said are disadvantageous to any prisoners.

The review of the law’s IRR was prompted by public outrage on the possible early release of former mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted of rape and murder, after his sentence of seven-term reclusion perpetua was shortened by GCTAs.

The issue led to the revelations of the release of some heinous crime convicts and the anomalies in the BuCor. It also led to the dismissal of Nicanor Faeldon as BuCor chief, and President Duterte to set a deadline for the surrender of nearly 2,000 GCTA-freed convicts or be hunted down by police.

“Regrettably, all these public outrage and media attention have contributed to the actions undertaken by herein respondents. Ultimately, herein petitioners and those who are similarly situated are the ones who are suffering and are continuing to suffer,” the petitioners said.

Guevarra, in response to the petition, said he cannot issue any comment, saying it is the Office of the Solicitor General who will represent the respondents and submit the proper comment on their behalf.

“All I can say is that I’ve eagerly awaited the filing of this petition. Considering that some important provisions of RA 10592 have been interpreted differently by various groups, I have as much interest as anyone in knowing the correct legal interpretation,” Guevarra said in a statement.

“Only the Supreme Court has the final word on the issue and I hope that it will affirm mine,” he added. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Nel Maribojoc)

Supreme Court says no date yet on release of 2019 Bar Exam results

Robie de Guzman   •   April 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court clarified it has not yet set any date for the release of the 2019 Bar Examination results.

The high court issued the statement following information circulating on social media and other platforms about the Bar Exams results.

“There is a spurious document currently circulating in social media and in various electronic messaging platforms stating that the results of the 2019 Bar Examinations will be released on a certain date,” said 2019 Bar Chairperson SC Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

Perlas-Bernabe said the Court en Banc has yet to meet to decide on the date of release of the Bar Exams results.

“As chairperson of the 2019 Bar Examination, I categorically state that the information is false and that the Court En Banc is yet to meet to decide on the date of the release of the results,” she said.

“The Supreme Court will only release official documents and information relative to the Bar Examinations only through its Public Information Office,” she added.

She assured the public that the incident is being investigated and that those found responsible for the circulating false information shall be dealt with accordingly.

Finance Dep’t. issues rules on 30-day extension for loan payments due within Luzon quarantine

Robie de Guzman   •   April 1, 2020

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Wednesday, April 1 issued the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the mandated 30-day grace period for the payment of all loans falling due within the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III signed the IRR which serves as the guidelines for the implementation of Section 4(aa) of Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Law.

Dominguez said this provision covers banks, quasi-banks, non-stock savings and loan associations, credit card issuers and pawnshops, other credit granting financial institutions under the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Securities and Exchange Commission and Cooperative Development Authority, both public and private including the Government Service Insurance System, Social Security System, and Pag-IBIG Fund.

Under the Bayanihan law, these institutions are mandated to “implement a 30-day grace period for all loans with principal and/or interest falling due within the ECQ Period without incurring interest on interest, penalties, fees and other charges.”

All lenders are likewise prohibited from requiring their clients to waive the application of the measure’s provisions.

“No waiver previously executed by borrowers covering payments falling due during the ECQ Period shall be valid. Nonetheless, the grant of grace period by the above-mentioned Covered Institutions shall not preclude the borrowers from paying their obligations as they fall due during the period of ECQ should they so desire,” the IRR added.

The mandatory extension also applies to each of the multiple loans of borrowers with the principal and/or interest falling due within the quarantine period.

Under Section 5.01 of the IRR, borrowers whose loans fall due within the said period are spared from paying an additional documentary stamp tax (DST) as a consequence of the relief granted. Also, no DST shall be imposed on “credit extensions and credit restructuring, micro-lending including those obtained from pawnshops and extensions thereof during the ECQ period.”

The Luzon enhanced community quarantine covers the period from March 17 to April 12, based on the Proclamation No. 929 issued by President Rodrigo Duterte last March 16.

The initial 30-day grace period shall automatically be extended if the ECQ period is extended by the president pursuant to his emergency powers under the Bayanihan law, the IRR also stated.

“All covered Institutions shall not charge or apply interest on interest, fees, and charges during the 30-day grace period to future payments/amortizations of the individuals, households, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and corporate borrowers,” the rules said.

As for the accrued interest for the 30-day grace period, this may be paid by the borrower on a staggered basis over the remaining life of the loan.

“Nonetheless, this shall not preclude the borrower from paying the accrued interest in full on the new date following the application of the 30-day grace period or extended grace period, as the case may be,” the IRR stated.

Violators of the IRR provisions shall be subject to the appropriate penalties under RA 11469, as well as existing laws, rules, and regulations, the DOF said.

The department said the implementing rules shall take effect immediately upon publication.

Senators ask SC to define Senate’s role in treaty abrogation

Robie de Guzman   •   March 9, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III and five other senators on Monday, March 9 filed a petition urging the Supreme Court (SC) to rule on whether or not the Senate’s concurrence is necessary in the abrogation of a treaty previously concurred in by the upper chamber.

In a 56-page petition for declaratory relief and mandamus, Sotto and Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Ralph Recto, Franklin Drilon, Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon asked the SC to declare that a treaty previously concurred in by the Senate should require the concurrence of at least two thirds of its members upon its withdrawal.

The lawmakers also requested the SC to order the executive branch to send the withdrawal notation to the Senate for votation.

The petition was filed after the Department of Foreign Affairs on February 11 notified the United States of its intention to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, which was signed between Manila and Washington in 1999.

The deal outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the final termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa. Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

The military pact will be effectively terminated on August 9 or 180 days from the US’ receipt of the notice of termination.

Named respondents in the petition were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

“As such, the Senate has until August 9, 2020 or the 180th day from the Notice of Withdrawal within which to question the unilateral withdrawal by the President from the VFA,” the petition stated.

“(The) Senate brings the present petition before the Honorable Court to fully and finally settle the issue of the requirement for concurrence by at least two-thirds of all members of the Senate in cases where the Philippines, through the executive department, decides to withdraw from, or terminate a treaty that was duly concurred in by the Senate,” the petition stated.

The senators, however, clarified that they do not intend to undermine the President’s prerogative of implementing the country’s independent foreign policy.

They added that the petition “merely seeks” to subject the notice of withdrawal to the proper deliberative process by the Senate, as required by Section 21, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.

“Specifically, the petition seeks to address the issue of whether the foregoing constitutional provision requiring the concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate also applies to termination of or withdrawing from treaties that have been validly ratified by the President and concurred in by the Senate,” the lawmakers said.

They cited the petition filed by members of the Senate minority bloc in May 2018, urging the high court to review the constitutionality of the executive department’s unilateral revocation of the Rome Statute.

“The recurrence of the issue in such a short period of time highlights the urgency for a definitive ruling on the matter for the demarcation and constitutional limits of the fundamental powers of government,” the senators said.

“The unilateral revocation by the executive of any treaty or international agreement without Senate concurrence violates the principle of checks and balances and separation of powers enshrined in the 1987 Constitution,” they added.

Last week, 12 senators voted in favor of adopting Resolution No. 337 which seeks to ask the SC to rule on the issue. Seven senators abstained from the petition.

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