SEN. Leila de Lima yesterday said the Department of Justice is in a better position to answer any question from the Office of the Ombudsman regarding the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10592 or the law on good conduct time allowance (GCTA).
In a three-page reply to the September 6 letter of Ombudsman Samuel Martires, De Lima also asked if she is part of the Ombudsman’s investigation as a resource person or as a respondent in an administrative case or a criminal complaint.
Martires has requested De Lima to submit a written explanation within three days as to why the IRR issued during her term as justice secretary failed to list the same disqualifications for GCTA enumerated in the last paragraph of Article 29 or the Revised Penal Code.
A similar letter was sent by the Ombudsman to former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who approved the IRR with De Lima in 2015, or two years after RA 10592 was passed.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra declined to comment on De Lima’s statement.
“We at the DOJ don’t dwell on things that have come to pass, much less waste our time on an unproductive blame game,” he said.
Controversy surrounding the GCTA was triggered by reports that heinous crime convict Antonio Sanchez was to be released from the national penitentiary last month for good conduct. Sanchez is serving seven life terms for the rape and murder of a student and the murder of another in 1993.
Among those disqualified under RA 10592 are convicts of heinous crimes. A joint committee of the justice and the interior departments has completed a review of the IRR. The revised IRR excluded heinous crimes convicts from beneficiaries GCTA, among others.
The controversy prompted the Senate to investigate the GCTA implementation. The inquiry has revealed several anomalies at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), including alleged GCTA-for-sale and hospital-pass-for-sale schemes.
De Lima said the language of the Ombudsman’s letter strikes her like she is not being seen as a resource person, pointing to the three-day deadline.
“I presume it is not as a resource person because I am being required to reply within a time period which is not usually a discourtesy that is addressed to resource persons,” she pointed out.
If she is to be treated as a respondent in an administrative investigation, De Lima invoked the question of jurisdiction under RA 6770 or the law that created the Office of the Ombudsman.
“I believe that as senator, the Office of the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over my person as a senator pursuant to Section 21 of RA 6770,” she said.
The same law states the Ombudsman shall have disciplinary authority over all elective and appointive officials of the government and its various agencies, including members of the Cabinet, local government, government-owned or -controlled corporations and their subsidiaries, with the exception of impeachable officials and members of Congress and the judiciary.
If she is being included in a criminal investigation however, De Lima said she will wait to be served a proper subpoena based on a duly filed criminal complaint.
“In the absence of said criminal complaint and subpoena, I believe that any participation of my person in whatever proceeding in your office is conducting on the matter is still premature,” she said.
THE OFFICE, NOT THE PERSON
De Lima also said the IRR is an “institutional output of the Department of Justice” working together with the Department of Interior and Local Government.
But since she is being detained without bail for alleged drug-related offenses, she said she has limited ability to provide satisfactory answers to the Ombudsman’s questions, noting the IRR is a collaborative work among the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) under the justice department and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) under the DILG.
“Please understand that given my current situation, I do not have access now to the members of the joint BuCor-BJMP panel that drafted the IRR and the DOJ’s relevant officers or offices that reviewed or passed upon the same, as well as the records of their proceedings,” De Lima said.
She declared that as final signing authority together with Roxas, she is affirming the IRR’s “regularity, correctness and consistency with the law.”
De Lima stressed that whatever personal view she can give in reply to the Ombudsman’s letter would be irrelevant, whether it is issued in her capacity as former justice secretary or as sitting member of the Senate.
She said the question should be properly addressed to the DOJ as the issue pertains to the official business of the agency.
“I therefore suggest that your good office require the explanation you are demanding from me from the office of Secretary (Menardo) Guevarra,” De Lima said.
Martires earlier announced that his office has started an investigation into reported irregularities in the release of convicted criminals, including those serving time for heinous crimes, under the GCTA.
SEPTEMBER 19 DEADLINE
The PNP said 457 GCTA-released convicts have surrendered to police stations nationwide but only 268 of them have been turned over to the BuCor as of 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Of those who surrendered, 141 were convicted for murder,136 for rape, 10 robbery with rape,47 robbery with homicide, 29 for homicide, 15 rape with homicide, 17 for violation of anti-illegal drug laws, and the rest for other forms of crime.
The justice department said 692 convicts have surrendered and are back in the BuCor’s custody.
Guevarra said GCTA-freed inmates must return to jail to serve the full term of their sentence.
The revised IRR of the GCTA law issued Monday excluded escapees, habitual delinquents, and recidivists, aside from heinous crime convicts.
The GCTA-freed inmates have only until September 19 to surrender, based on the deadline set by President Duterte about two weeks ago.
“We gave you a grace period of 15 days but if you refused without justifiable reason, in effect, you are committing the offense of evasion of prison sentence, so there is legal basis for authorities to have you arrested because you are committing a continuing offense,” he said, adding they can be apprehended without warrant issued by a court since the offense (evasion of sentence) is a continuing crime.