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

Robie de Guzman   •   September 10, 2019   •   395

(L-R) former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Senator Leila de Lima

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman has requested detained Senator Leila de Lima and former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to explain or clarify in writing the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) that they drafted for the law which increased good conduct time allowance (GCTA) given to inmates.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires noted in his letter dated Sept. 6 that the Republic Act 10592 which expanded the GCTA excludes recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes from its coverage.

Martires wants De Lima and Roxas to explain why the IRR they drafted only disqualifies the following from benefiting from the law:

  • an accused who is recidivist, as defined under Article 14 (9), Chapter III, Book 1 of the Revised Penal Code;
  • an accused who has been convicted previously twice or more than times of any crime; and
  • an accused who, upon being summoned for the execution of his sentence, has failed to surrender voluntarily before a court of law.

The Ombudsman requested De Lima and Roxas to submit a written explanation or clarification within three days 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.”

Earlier, Martires ordered the suspension of 27 Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials over the release of nearly 2,000 heinous crime convicts for good conduct credits. Said officers will be suspended for six months without pay for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service.

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.

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.

Bilibid inmates challenge revised GCTA law IRR before SC

Robie de Guzman   •   September 30, 2019

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)

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