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

Robie de Guzman   •   September 10, 2019   •   383

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.

Bill seeking 5-day paid calamity leave for disaster-stricken workers pushed in Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   November 6, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Detained Senator Leila de Lima has filed a bill seeking to provide a five-day special emergency leave for workers affected by natural calamities.

In filing Senate Bill No. 1123, De Lima proposes to grant disaster-stricken employees special emergency leave with pay.

It shall be made available upon the declaration of a state of calamity by the President or by the local government pursuant to Section 16 of Republic Act 10121.

In the absence of such declaration, the bill states that employers would have the discretion to grant the leave.

“It is incumbent upon the State to allow workers to protect not only themselves and their families but also their properties, in times of natural calamities or disasters,” she said in a statement.

Individuals eligible for a “calamity leave” include those who are either stranded or sick due to typhoons, earthquakes and other natural disasters, as well as those who are taking care of immediate family members or are repairing and cleaning up their damaged house.

To protect both the employer and the employee, De Lima said the availment of calamity leave “shall be limited to the grounds and circumstances, and only upon compliance with the requirements set forth and in conformity with the issued guidelines.”

The senator believes that the proposed measure would both aid Filipinos to stand up after the onslaught of calamities and disasters and provide them a few days of respite to facilitate the resumption of their daily activities.

“The profound environmental effect of natural disasters and/or calamities to the nation is inevitable, and it for that reason this proposed measure seeks to at the very least soften the blow of the unforeseen and the inescapable,” she said.

De Lima issued the statement in the wake of recent earthquakes that devastated parts of Mindanao, leaving more than 20 people dead and destroying thousands of infrastructures.

DILG welcomes petition questioning legality of revised GCTA guidelines

Robie de Guzman   •   October 2, 2019

Inmates listen during 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. EPA-EFE/FRANCIS R. MALASIG

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has welcomed the petition filed before the Supreme Court questioning the legality of the revised implementing rules and regulations of the Republic Act 10592 which increased the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) given to inmates.

DILG spokesperson Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said they are ready to defend their position, adding that the department along with the Department of Justice (DOJ) worked hard to promulgate the revised guidelines to “clarify the ambiguous provisions of the GCTA law that have led to past abuse in its implementation.”

“The revised IRR addresses the many inadequacies of the old IRR that were abused and taken advantage of by corrupt correctional officials,” Malaya said in a statement.

“We will be working closely with our statutory counsel, the Office of the Solicitor General, and the DOJ in vigorously defending the new IRR before the Supreme Court,” he added.

The DILG official also stressed that the law gave the DOJ and the DILG the authority and responsibility to craft the IRR.

Officers from the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) who have the “necessary experience and technical expertise on the matter” helped in the crafting of the guidelines.

“The new IRR is one crucial step in the reform of the BuCor,” Malaya said.

A group of inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) earlier filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to nullify the revised IRR of the GCTA law, 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 petitioners also urged the high court to order the BuCor and the BJMP to refrain from retroactively applying the exclusions introduced by the revised IRR which they said are disadvantageous to any prisoners.

“While we are confident of our legal position, the final arbiter will be the highest court of the land whose decision we shall honor and respect,” Malaya concluded.

Panelo dismisses possible US ban on PH officials linked to De Lima detention

Robie de Guzman   •   September 30, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Monday dismissed the possibility that the United States (U.S.) would prohibit entry to all government officials linked to the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima.

Panelo said that while foreign government officials have the right to express their views against the Duterte administration, the two U.S. senators abused their freedom of expression for “criticizing without basis.”

He added that he does not mind being barred from entering the U.S., adding it is not the only place to visit.

The Palace official made the comment when he was asked for a reaction on the move of U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Richard Durbin to deny entry to all Philippine officials involved in the detention De Lima, one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s staunchest critics.

READ: US Senate panel OKs amendment to bill barring PH officials involved in De Lima detention

Panelo said the proposal seems to have only been coming from the minority of the U.S. Senate and would still have to go a long way before being passed.

“The views of the two senators are in the minority. Otherwise, some senators would have supported that,” he told reporters in a Palace briefing.

“In other words, that ban would only be effective upon approval of the two houses of the united states,” he added.

Malacañang earlier slammed the Senate panel’s move as a brazen attempt to intrude into the Philippines’ internal affairs.

Panelo also reiterated Monday that De Lima was not wrongfully arrested and detained as she was afforded due process.

“The proposed ban is with reference only to government officials who according to the senator when the state secretary has credible information, look at the word credible information that these officials have something to do with the wrongful, dalawa ang collatila, unang-una can it be credible that these officials have something to do, pangalawa wrongful, hindi nga wrongful imprisonment,” he explained.

Vice President Leni Robredo, meanwhile, welcomed the Senate panel’s move to approve an amendment to a bill seeking to ban entry of Philippine government officials in connection with De Lima’s case.

Robredo said the U.S. has the right to deny anyone from entering its territory.

“Karapatan nila iyon. Pareho din noong karapatan ng China na i-prevent iyong officials natin na papasok. Pwedeng hindi tayo sang-ayon pero hindi siguro natin maipagkakaila na karapatan nila iyon bilang isang bansa,” she said in a statement.

De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame in Quezon since February 2017 for drug-related charges.

The senator has repeatedly denied involvement in the illegal drug trade that allegedly proliferated inside the New Bilibid Prisons during her time as justice secretary.

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