Sotto retains post as Senate President

Robie de Guzman   •   July 22, 2019   •   1141

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III has retained his post as Senate President after a majority of senators voted for him at the start of the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress on Monday.

During the opening of the session, lawmakers voted viva-voce to support his continuing leadership in the upper chamber of the Congress.

Viva-voce voting is done where lawmakers will shout aye for their bet.

Also reelected are Senator Ralph Recto as Senate President Pro-tempore, and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri as Majority Floor Leader.

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon will also continue leading the opposition bloc.

Twenty-two senators were present during the opening of the session; absent were Senator Manny Pacquiao, who he is still in Las Vegas, Nevada after his boxing bout with Keith Thurman, and Senator Leila de Lima, who is detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center.

After the voting, Sotto led the oath-taking of newly-elected Senators Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Pia Cayetano, Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ Go, Ronald dela Rosa, Sonny Angara, Imee Marcos, Lito Lapid, Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel, Francis Tolentino, Nancy Binay and Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla.

New witnesses, evidence to appear in Senate probe on ‘ninja cops’ issue – Sotto

Robie de Guzman   •   October 8, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – The next Senate hearing on the issue of illegal drug recycling scheme involving several cops, and the anomalies at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) will be “explosive,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Tuesday.

In a press briefing at the Manila Hotel, Sotto told reporters that new pieces of evidence and new witnesses will appear when the Senate justice and blue ribbon committees resume their joint inquiry on Wednesday.

“I do not know if I’m at liberty to tell you but there is really something explosive again. I think there will be new evidence, one or two new witnesses because I signed nine subpoenas last night,” he said.

Sotto said Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Aaron Aquino and former PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief and now Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong will still be invited to the hearing.

Sotto added the investigation on Wednesday will also reveal more information about the controversial anti-drug operation in Mexico, Pampanga in 2013 which involved 13 police officers earlier tagged as ‘ninja cops.’

“Pinagkukuha ang sasakyan ni Johnson Lee that will be part of the investigation tomorrow na lalabas yung mga sasakyan na tinira,” he said.

The 13 cops, led by then Supt. Rodney Baloyo, allegedly made off with kilograms of shabu worth millions that they seized from an anti-drug operation on alleged Chinese drug lord Johnson Lee.

Baloyo’s team was also accused of setting Lee free in exchange for P50 million and presented another Chinese national as a drug suspect.

The police officers were ordered dismissed in 2014 while Albayalde, who was then the head of Pampanga provincial police, was relieved from his post for command responsibility.

The dismissal order, however, was not implemented as the police officers were only demoted in 2017.

Magalong and Aquino both accused Albayalde of intervening in the case of his former subordinates, which the latter denied.

On the alleged anomalies at the BuCor, Sotto said bureau officers Mabel Bansil and Veronica Buño have revealed new information regarding the irregularities in the implementation of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) rule.

“Marami silang sinabi eh, sa executive session, ang mga sinabi nila related to their work,” he said.

The Senate initially started its inquiry into the questionable release of heinous crimes convicts under the expanded GCTA law, which witnesses claimed were given for a price by corrupt BuCor officials.

It later went on to probe the alleged recycling and reselling of illegal drugs by some rogue policemen. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Grace Casin)

Sotto expects GCTA law amended before year ends

Robie de Guzman   •   September 4, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III expressed confidence on Wednesday that the proposed amendments to the Republic Act 10592 or the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law will be passed by the Congress before the year ends.

Sotto said the Senate will expedite the discussion on the proposals to amend the law’s certain provisions following complaints from many of the qualified beneficiaries of the GCTA law whose process for early release has been suspended due to the controversy.

“Maraming sumasama ang loob na sila ay qualified, na hindi mapoprocess sila ngayon, sila na yung napapag-iwanan. So, talagang bibilisan namin ito, fast-break ito,” Sotto told reporters.

The Senate president said he will also ask his counterpart in the House of Representatives to do the same.

“I will be coordinating with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, former Senator Alan, nai-fast-break din nila yung kanila, para mabilis yung amendments. I am sure the President will sign it right away,” he said.

“’Yang mga ganyang emergency measures, kailangan ‘yan apurahin kasi kawawa naman yung those languishing in jail na talaga namang qualified lalo na kung hindi heinous crimes,” he added.

Several senators have earlier filed proposals seeking to amend the GCTA law which recently came under scrutiny after news broke out that convicted rapist-murderer Antonio Sanchez could be among the 11,000 persons deprived with liberty who are eligible for early release due to good behavior.

The report sparked public uproar which prompted the Senate to hold an inquiry into the application of the law.

During the hearing, the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed amendments including a clear definition of heinous crimes as well as clear classification of whether the law should be reformative, rehabilitative or punitive or retributive.

The Senate adjourned the probe Wednesday to hold a caucus and discuss the proposed amendments to the law.

Sotto, along with Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon earlier moved to repeal the law but the Senate president said they realized it would be better to just amend it.

READ: 3 Senators want GCTA law repealed

“There are good amendments that are being proposed, kaya pwedeng amyendahan na namin kaagad yung batas ng mabilisan at linawin,” Sotto said.

One of the amendments they are planning to introduce is that the implementing rules and regulations should be approved by Congress to prevent the law from being abused or misinterpreted.

“Siguruhin doon sa after the repealing clause and all that, ilagay namin na ang IRR ay kailangan with the approval of Congress para hindi nababago yung intention ng batas,” he said.

Sotto added that they might also include this provision in future measures that Senate will approve.

“Itong batas na ito na aamyendahan namin, ilalagay namin yun. Ngayon, pagaralan namin kung paano lalahatin lahat ng mga IRR. Well, of course, this will be prospective,” he said.

The RA 10592 was passed and signed in 2013 during the time of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino. Last June 2019, the SC ruled that the law could be applied retroactively.

“Allow me to reiterate, the law, principally authored and sponsored by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago I think, is very important and very valid at that time that we passed it because the reason for the law according to Miriam was, it would benefit those who are aging, the ailing convicts in the National Bilibid Prison, and it will decongest the NBP,” he said.

“Naka-enumerate naman doon kung alin ang hindi qualified, di ba? Ang heinous crime, nakalagay na hindi qualified. Ang masama at nagpasama nito, nagbigay ng pagkakataon na abusuhin ito, ng ibang tao, ay yung IRR. Yung IRR na ginawa nung dating DOJ at DILG na grupo, or na heads. Yun ang diperensiya,” he added.

3 Senators want GCTA law repealed

Robie de Guzman   •   September 3, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III (center) together with Senators Panfilo Lacson (right) and Richard Gordon (left) want GCTA law to be repealed.

MANILA, Philippines – Three senators have jointly filed a bill seeking to repeal the controversial Republic Act (RA) 10592, the law that increased the good conduct and time allowance (GCTA) for inmates.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III together with Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon on Monday filed Senate Bill No. 993 which proposes to scrap the GCTA law that was enacted in May 2013.

The measure particularly seeks to repeal the amendments in Articles 29, 94, 97, 98 and 99 of the Revised Penal Code as contained under RA 10592.

Amendments contained in the GCTA law provides for partial extinction of criminal liability, including conditional pardon, commutation of sentence by allowing good conduct to be credited in the reduction of stay in detention.

The bill was filed amid a Senate inquiry into the questionable application of the law following the aborted release of convicted murderer-rapist, former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez who was sentenced to 7 terms of reclusion perpetua for raping and killing Eileen Sarmenta and murdering her friend, Allan Gomez.

The senators said the early release of some convicts involved in heinous crime, including Sanchez, has sparked public outrage and prompted the upper chamber to look into the propriety of the law’s application in general.

Sotto, Lacson and Gordon cited Senate Bill 3064 filed in 15th Congress that became the basis of the GCTA, saying the intention of the framers “was primarily to grant good conduct allowance to persons deprived of liberty (PDL) while their case is still pending.”

The senators said the purpose of the measure is laudable in decongesting the overpopulated prison cells in the country.

“However, when it was enacted into law, it caused an absurd interpretation and its very provisions needed harmonization,” they said in a statement, adding that it has been subject to abuse by the persons allowed by law to grant time allowances.

In their explanatory note for the bill, Sotto, Lacson and Gordon said there’s logical reason to abandon the grant of GCTA if the magnitudes of its aftermath “are prejudicial for many of the victims and their relatives who are seeking justice.”

“The provision on GCTA has been in effect since the 1930s and it has not raised this kind of concern from the people and the government. Thus, it is an opportune time to go back to the old law where no question of proper implementation has been put forth to the government and prisoners are enjoying its benefits without a question of the propriety of its applicability on them,” they said.

“The law is always changing. It is usually reactive to what the society dictates and it constantly reflects changes that occur in our society because a law is simply never perfect,” the senators added.

The Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights joined the Committees on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, Finance and Blue Ribbon have conducted an inquiry into the alleged early release of Sanchez and the implementation of the law.

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