By: Gerome Dalipe
IS it legal for President Rodrigo Duterte to order heinous crime convicts freed due to good conduct credits to surrender to authorities?
Duterte seemed to have overruled the functions of the court, said lawyer Hans Sayno, former Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Iloilo president.
“I am very confused. We are in a very confusing state,” Sayno told Aksyon Radyo station manager John Paul Tia.
Sayno said that it is only the courts that can determine the legality on whether or not the release of convicts based on good conduct credits.
In a hastily called press conference on Wednesday night, Duterte ordered prisoners released because of good conduct credits under Republic Act 10592 to surrender and register themselves with the Bureau of Corrections in 15 days.
“I will give you 15 days, liberty. Provided you make yourself available anytime that you will be called for an investigation, to have a recomputation,” Duterte said.
About 1,914 heinous crime convicts were released since 2013 when the Good Conduct Time Allowance Act (GCTA) was passed, government data showed.
The freed convicts who refuse to obey Duterte’s order will be considered a “fugitive of justice” and will be treated as a “criminal.”
“Maybe three days I will decide if I put up… I will place P1 million per head, dead or alive,” Duterte warned.
Few hours after the President’s order, about 10 freed convicts reportedly gave themselves up as authorities placed all 1,914 identified prisoners on an immigration watch list yesterday.
In the interview, Sayno said the burden to arrest the freed convicts lays on the law enforcement agencies.
“It seems that you are torn between the devil and the deep blue sea,” said Sayno, referring to the President’s warning.
But Sayno said that any legal question on the enforcement of law should be raised directly to the courts.
Nonetheless, he said the counsels for the freed convicts may file an appeal with the courts to question the legality of the President’s declaration.
For his part, Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr. said what Duterte did was merely to enforce amendments of the Revised Penal Code.
“And any regulation for the implementation of that law should not defer from previous rules and regulations,” said Defensor.
It is not a new law, the governor said, but a mere amendment to the Revised Penal Code so the implementation should be the same.
The governor said he did not see any violation of the Constitution on the President’s order.
“So, it should be implemented like the previous rules and regulations of the amended law,” Defensor said.
Article 99 of Republic Act 10592, or the Good Conduct Time Allowance Act (GCTA), this Act, amends Article 29, 94, 97, and 99 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines (RA 3815).
But is it legal to return the freed heinous crime convicts back to jail?
Former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te said that it cannot be done without violating the Constitution, which prohibits the passing of any retroactive law.
Pursuant to Article III of the Bill of Rights, Section 22 states says returning the convicts to jail would mean “a retroactive application of the law in a prejudicial manner, which is prohibited by the Constitution as an ex post facto application of the law.”
The Philippine Article III of the Bill of Rights, Section 22 declares: “No ex post facto law or bill of attainder shall be enacted.”