De Lima says Ombudsman request for explanation on GCTA rules ‘highly irregular’

Robie de Guzman   •   September 10, 2019   •   857

Senator Leila de Lima (File photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB)

MANILA, Philippines – Detained Senator Leila de Lima on Tuesday said she finds the request of the Office of the Ombudsman to explain the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Republic Act 10592, which increased the good conduct time allowance given to inmates, as “highly irregular.”

In a statement, De Lima confirmed she has received the letter of the Ombudsman directing her to explain or clarify in writing the IRR of the GCTA law.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires earlier wrote a letter, a copy of which was released to the media, requesting De Lima and Mar Roxas to explain the implementing rules they drafted for RA 10592.

READ: Ombudsman seeks De Lima, Roxas clarification amid probe on GCTA rules

De Lima was the Justice Secretary while Roxas was the Interior and Local Government chief when the law was enacted in 2013.

Martires wanted De Lima and Roxas to explain why the IRR they drafted only disqualifies from benefitting from the law those who are recidivists, who have been convicted previously twice or more times of any crime and those who failed to surrender before a court after being summoned.

The Republic Act 10592, which expanded the GCTA stated in the Revised Penal Code, excludes recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes from its coverage.

“In this regard, this (Ombudsman) Office requests the submission, within three days from receipt hereof, of a written explanation/clarification on why the foregoing provision in the IRR does not contain the same disqualifications as enumerated in the last paragraph of Article 29 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 1 of R.A. 10592,” the letter read.

But De Lima noted the opening of the letter, which says the Office of the Ombudsman has “opened a fact-finding investigation on alleged irregularities in the implementation of the GCTA law.”

“Am I to be treated here as a resource person, a respondent, or a probable respondent?” she asked.

“Is this a set-up for me and Sec. Mar into taking the fall for the Sanchez-Faeldon scandal with which we have nothing to do?” she added.

De Lima said she finds this development “highly irregular,” and that she will have to consult her lawyers on the matter.

The senator was referring to earlier reports that convicted rapist-murderer, ex-Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez could be among the 11,000 convicts eligible for early release due to the new GCTA rule.

The news sparked public outrage and led to Sanchez’s aborted release, President Rodrigo Duterte’s dismissal of Nicanor Faeldon as Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief and the Ombudsman’s order to suspend several BuCor officials linked to the questionable application of the GCTA law.

A series of Senate hearing on the issue also revealed the purported ‘GCTA for sale’ and ‘hospital pass for sale’ at the national penitentiary.

The said schemes allegedly involving several BuCor executives purportedly allow moneyed inmates to get hospital referrals and other prison benefits on the basis of tampered medical record that would make it appear that they need to be transferred to less congested facilities for health reasons.

De Lima camp assessing effect of Jaybee Sebastian’s death on her drug cases

Robie de Guzman   •   July 21, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Detained Senator Leila de Lima said her lawyers are now assessing the effects of the death of high-profile inmate Jaybee Sebastian on the drug-related charges filed against her.

“My lawyers are still assessing the effect of Sebastian’s death on the cases against me, considering that he is or was the Duterte regime’s supposed ‘star’ witness,” De Lima said in a dispatch from Camp Crame on Monday.

“However, all testimonies coming from the inmates and some other so-called witnesses are all fabrications anyway. One less fabrication might be good in my case, but let us not forget all the other testimony fabrications. Whether the fabricator is dead or alive does not change the fact that their stories are all lies, and that the cases against me are all fake,” she added.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday said that Sebastian was among the nine high-profile inmates of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City who succumbed to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra made the confirmation following a meeting with Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Gerald Bantag on Monday afternoon. 

Bantag earlier refused to reveal the name of inmates who died from COVID-19 citing Data Privacy Act.

Guevarra has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct an investigation into the deaths of the inmates after Bantag informed him of the protocol in the event of an inmate’s death from coronavirus disease which include the mandatory cremation of the cadaver within 12 hours to prevent the spread of the infection.

Sebastian was the key witness in the alleged Bilibid drug trade and drug trafficking cases against De Lima which are currently pending before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court.

The senator, who is one of the Duterte administration’s vocal critics, has been detained since 2017.

“The Duterte regime can have 100 live witnesses for all I care. But this still does not change the fact that the charges against me are absolutely false and fictitious. Conversely, the regime’s witnesses can all be dead, but this will not prevent Duterte and his operators from inventing other evidence to keep me in jail,” De Lima said.

“My point is, under normal conditions, these cases would have been dismissed a long time ago. But under conditions of a dictatorship where it is the dictator himself who has a very personal stake on the cases, and given the state of our justice system, I will not wonder if dead witnesses can still be made to rise from the grave and made to testify,” she added.

Meanwhile, De Lima raised alarm anew over the “dire conditions” existing in the country’s jails during the public health crisis, and even the pre-pandemic times.

“COVID-19 is not a joke, as the Duterte regime has treated it, especially in our prison system that hosts the perfect conditions for the spread of the virus,” she said.

“Regardless of who the dead are, whether free citizens or PDLs, they shall remain to be counted as the victims of the incompetence, indifference, and impunity of the Duterte Administration in dealing with the pandemic that has resulted in more suffering for our people, not to mention the devastation of the economy after months of lockdown but with absolutely nothing to show for it,” she added.

She then called on the Duterte administration to “step down, and hand over the reins of government” to Vice President Leni Robredo.

De Lima dismayed over court’s dismissal of motion to join Senate ‘hybrid’ sessions

Robie de Guzman   •   June 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Leila de Lima on Friday expressed dismay over the decision of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 to junk her motion seeking to join the “hybrid” Senate sessions and hearing while in detention at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame for drug-related charges.

“In denying my motion, the trial court may have failed to see what the Supreme Court has doctrinally acknowledged in the cases of Jalosjos and Trillanes that it is possible for a person deprived of liberty (PDL) to still legally pursue a profession or legitimately perform the functions of a public office as long as he or she can do it within the confines of his or detention cell,” De Lima said in a statement.

“As the Senate rules now allow for teleconferencing as a mode of participating in sessions and hearings in crisis or emergency situations or pandemic, I can easily do it if I will be provided with a laptop and internet connection, without need for me to get out of the PNP Custodial Center,” she added.

It can be recalled that on May 4, the Senate amended its rules to allow both physical and online attendance to legislative proceedings in a bid to prevent the possible transmission of novel coronavirus disease among its members and employees.

However, De Lima was still not allowed to participate in “virtual” sessions as Senate leadership claimed that she is “not under the chamber’s jurisdiction.”

The opposition senator maintained that disallowing her from taking part in online sessions, hearings, and meetings of the Senate “prevents her from fully performing her mandate as a lawmaker.”

“With all due respect to the Honorable Court, allowing my online participation in the Senate sessions will not negate the fact that I am still in prison. What the court permission can do however is to pay full respect to the mandate that I received from the Filipino people as a sitting Senator,” De Lima said.

“Please note that there is no civil interdiction imposed on me by any court, thus, there should be no unreasonable restrictions on my rights and legitimate interests,” she added.

She also asserted that she is still in “full possession” of her civil and political rights as her cases as still at the trial stage and has not been convicted of any crime.

De Lima filed her omnibus motion on June 1.

But in a Joint Order dated June 17, Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205, presided by Judge Liezel Aquitan denied De Lima’s motion, concluding that “the presumption of innocence does not carry with it the full enjoyment of civil and political rights.”

The court also said that the amendment in the Senate rules states that hearings and sessions via teleconferencing in the upper chamber are only allowed when there is force majeure or an emergency which may prevent senators from physically attending.

“De Lima is prevented to attend the committee meeting or hearings due to her detention. Detention is not a force majeure,” the court order read.

The court said that allowing De Lima to attend the Senate sessions, hearings, and meetings via teleconferencing within her place of detention is “no different from allowing her to attend there physically.”

“Allowing her to do so today would be tantamount to allowing her to participate even after the state of public health emergency,” it added.

De Lima said she is planning to file a motion for reconsideration.

De Lima, one of Duterte administration’s fierce critics, has been detained since 2017 over her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade while she was Justice Secretary. She has repeatedly denied the charges.

Ombudsman probes Duque, DOH execs over alleged COVID-19 response anomalies

Aileen Cerrudo   •   June 17, 2020

Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Wednesday (June 17) ordered an investigation on Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque and other DOH officials over alleged irregularities in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response.

“I directed the creation of two more investigating teams who will jointly investigate alleged irregularities and anomalies committed by DOH officials and employees, including Health Sec. Francisco Duque, in relation to the response of the DOH during this pandemic,” he said.

Martires also tasked the investigating team to file complaints against any DOH official or employee who would refuse to cooperate with the investigation.

Among the accusations to be investigated include:

  1. Purchase of 100 thousand test kits by the Department of Health
  2. Delayed procurement of Personal Protective Equipment and other medical gears necessary for the protection of healthcare workers
  3. Alleged lapses and irregularities that led to the death of medical workers
  4. Rising number of deaths and infected medical frontliners
  5. Inaction in the release processing of benefits and financial assistance of “fallen” and infected medical frontliners; and
  6. Confusing and delayed reporting of COVID-19 related deaths and confirmed cases.

Malacañang said it respects the decision of the Ombudsman to conduct an investigation on Duque and other DOH officials.

“We will let the process run its course as we enjoin Secretary Duque & the entire DOH bureaucracy to cooperate with the investigation and respect the orders of the OMB,” according to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. AAC (with reports from Aiko Miguel)

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