Palace chides Chiong, but says re-arrest of convicts being studied

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MALACAÑANG said Tuesday, September 3, that it was "unfair" for Thelma Chiong, mother of the kidnapped and murdered Chiong sisters, to blame President Rodrigo Duterte for the release of three of her daughters' killers, but assured her that their possible re-arrest is being studied.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Office of the President urged the DOJ to study the possible re-arrest of those released for good conduct time allowance (GCTA) but were disqualified by law, including those convicted of heinous crimes.

He said the "People vs. Tan" case, from which the Supreme Court ordered the re-arrest of a person who was erroneously released by a jail warden based on GCTA, "may be a good legal basis for the same."

He likewise noted that Article 99 of the Revised Penal Code on the irrevocability on the grant of GCTA is premised on the grant having a lawful justification.

"Without a lawful justification, therefore, the said grant is void and the person who benefitted from it may not invoke its irrevocability hence can be incarcerated to continue his or her sentence," Panelo said.

"The President will not tolerate any form of injustice being committed under his watch and it is for this reason that he will ensure that the practice initiated by the past administration on the granting of GCTA will no longer continue," he added.

To Thelma Chiong, Panelo said she should not question the President's integrity just because three of the seven convicts in the 1997 rape-slay of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong were released based on good conduct time allowance (GCTA).

Panelo made the statement a day after Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Nicanor Faeldon confirmed the release of Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag, and Alberto Caño after they qualified for GCTA provided under Republic Act (RA) 10952.

The three men, as well as the four others convicted of the crime, were each meted two life terms. Their release order was signed by Faeldon on August 16, 2019.

"The Office of the President addresses the mother of victims Marijoy and Jacqueline, Mrs. Thelma Chiong. She appears to question the integrity of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in asking the latter about what happened to his law on good conduct time allowance (GCTA) in view of the release of the convicts in her daughters' case," Panelo said.

"While the Palace understands the plight of Mrs. Chiong and commiserates with her situation, we believe that blaming PRRD for Republic Act No. 10592 with all its ambiguities is undeserved and unfair," he added.

Chiong decried the release of the Aznar, Caño and Balansag, saying that it felt like they killed her children "all over again."

She also blamed Faeldon for the release of the three convicts.

"Four presidents have come and gone, but the Chiong 7 never got a presidential pardon. But here comes Faeldon who easily released them without considering the legal ramifications of his act," she was quoted as saying.

RA 10592 states that only the BuCor head, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology chief, or the jail warden shall grant GCTA, which shortens inmates' jail time for good behavior.

Panelo, however, said it was unjust to find fault with Duterte, especially since the law was signed by his predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III, in 2013.

He also clarified that the granting of allowances for good conduct is "cnot a form of executive clemency."

"For the further information of Mrs. Chiong and the public, the actual computation of GCTA does not pass through the Department of Justice (DOJ) and therefore will not even reach the Office of the President before its benefits can be granted to qualified inmates," the Palace official said.

"We stress that the granting of GCTA is not a form of executive clemency, the awarding of which belongs to the Office of the President. The buck in this case stops with the Bureau of Corrections," he added.

Panelo also emphasized that it has been the practice of the BuCor during the previous administration "to release persons deprived of liberty from imprisonment due to good conduct, regardless of whether they were serving their sentences for a conviction of a heinous crime or not."

He issued the remarks after saying recently that convicts of heinous crimes are ineligible to be granted early release based on good conduct because they are excluded from the benefit of the coverage of RA 10592.

But the implementing rules and regulations of the law cover even those convicted of heinous crimes.

"The basis for this practice was the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the law, crafted and issued jointly by former Secretary of Justice and now detained Leila De Lima and former Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, Manuel Roxas II, in 2014, which included those convicted of heinous crimes as qualified to avail the benefits of RA No. 10592," Panelo said.

"Clearly, the law and its IRR were prepared not by the officials of this Administration but by the previous one. The practice of granting GCTA to those convicted of heinous crimes has also been existent years before PRRD assumed his presidential seat," he added.

Panelo thus said it was clear that those who had a hand in including convicts not covered by the law were "probably employees employed during the previous administrations and are therefore protected by the Civil Service Law."

"Hence, PRRD could not - and cannot - just remove them without violating their security of tenure," he said.

With regard to the BuCor officials, Panelo said Duterte would "maintain the status quo until the congressional hearings are concluded."

"He (Duterte) will be monitoring the conduct of the legislative investigation and give appropriate consideration to the findings of Congress," the Palace official said.

The GCTA law is the subject of a joint hearing of the Senate committees on justice and human rights; constitutional amendments and revision of codes; public order and dangerous drugs; finance; and Blue Ribbon. (SunStar Philippines)


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