DOJ relaxes rules on parole, clemency applications amid COVID-19 threat

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 22 2020 07:37 PM

MANILA – More inmates can now apply for executive clemency as the Department of Justice approved new, simplified rules for parole and clemency, the agency's spokesperson said Wednesday.

DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete announced in a statement that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra approved a Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) resolution dated April 15, 2020, removing some requirements for application for parole and clemency, and widening its coverage.

Under the Interim Rules on Parole and Executive Clemency, inmates who are 65 years old and above can already apply for executive clemency, as long as they have either served at least 5 years of their sentence or their continued imprisonment is “inimical to their health” as recommended by a physician certified by the Department of Health or the Malacañang Clinic Director.

Executive clemency was previously available to inmates who are 70 years old with health problems and also to any inmate who suffers from a serious, contagious or life-threatening illness, severe physical disability, regardless of age.

Parole is the conditional release of a prisoner from a correctional institution after serving the minimum period of prison sentence granted by the BPP, but the parolee will have to report regularly to a parole officer.

Executive clemency, on the other hand, refers to the commutation of sentence, conditional pardon and absolute pardon that the President may grant upon the recommendation of the BPP. Commutation of sentence is the reduction of period of a prison sentence, while pardon is the conditional or absolute extinction of criminal liability.

Excluded, however, from the coverage of the interim rules are those who have been convicted of heinous crimes or illegal drugs-related offenses and those classified by the Bureau of Corrections as “high-risk” inmates. The rules did not define what “high-risk” means.

“In the processing of parole or executive clemency, priority shall be given to PDLs who are already of old age, sickly or are suffering from terminal or life-threatening illness, or with serious disability,” the rules said.

In addition, the new rules did away with several documentary requirements. Only a court certification of no pending cases, court certification of no appeal, and a National Bureau of Investigation records check will be required for all parole and executive clemency requirements.

The BPP is required to take up twice the number of applications to speed up the grant of parole and recommendation for the executive clemency.

The interim rules, which take effect immediately, will no longer require those granted parole and conditional pardon to report to a parole and probation office while the state of national emergency is in effect.

Perete said the approval of the BPP interim rules is part of the study being conducted by the DOJ with respect to calls for the release of prisoners on humanitarian considerations in the midst of the fight against the coronavirus.

“Other proposals are still being vetted,” he said.

MOUNTING CALLS FOR RELEASE OF PRISONERS

Different groups have called on the DOJ and the Supreme Court to release prisoners.

The DOJ has jurisdiction over inmates serving their sentence, while the SC will decide over inmates with ongoing trial and awaiting sentencing.

These groups include the Free Legal Assistance Group, the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Karapatan, and Kapatid (Filipino word for brother/sister), an organization of families and friends of political prisoners in the Philippines that has lobbied for the release and protection of their rights and welfare. The Communist Party of the Philippines also supported the call.

Makabayan lawmakers and business sector-backed Judicial Reform Initiative sent letters to the SC in support of the move.

The House of Representatives Committee on Justice on April 6, recommended to the Peace and Order Cluster of the Defeat COVID-19 Committee the temporary release of prisoners to decongest jails, while the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) also backed the plea as long as there is a court order.

The SC has yet to rule on a petition seeking to release 22 political prisoners who are either old, sick or pregnant, due to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, a number of jails have already reported COVID-19 cases:

BJMP Quezon City Jail – 9 inmates, 9 staff

Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong – 19 inmates, 1 staff

Cebu City Jail - 127 inmates and staff (including 1 inmate dead)