2 SC cases, not law, bases for ordering re-arrest of freed prisoners: Guevarra

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 05 2019 12:55 AM | Updated as of Sep 05 2019 09:25 AM

MANILA – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Wednesday night clarified that 2 Supreme Court cases, not a law, were the legal bases he cited in his advice to the President that prisoners erroneously-released on good conduct time allowance (GCTA) may still be ordered rearrested.
“Basis for rearrest is not a law (statute) but jurisprudence, which forms part of the law of the land,” he said in a message, hours after President Duterte said in his press conference in Malacanang that Guevarra supposedly cited a law that is the basis for rearresting prisoners erroneously-released who refuse to voluntarily surrender.

Guevarra told reporters that he was referring to the cases of People v. Fidel Tan (1967) and City Warden of Manila City Jail v Estrella (2001).

The Tan case, first cited by Senator Franklin Drilon during the Senate hearing Monday, involved the release of a convict upon application by the provincial warden of Samar of GCTA. It appears that the provincial warden did not commit Tan to the national penitentiary and took it upon himself to apply the GCTA.

The Supreme Court, in a decision penned by Associate Justice JBL Reyes, ruled the warden usurped the authority of the Director of Prisons (now the Director General of the Bureau of Corrections) in crediting prisoner with GCTA. It also found there was an error in the computation as there remained an unserved portion of 11 months and 5 days.

In justifying the order to rearrest Tan, the Court said:

“The prisoner’s re-arrest would not place him twice in jeopardy because his re-incarceration is merely a continuation of the penalty that he had not completely served due to the erroneous act of the warden; it is not a new or subsequent conviction. Neither would his re-arrest deprive him of liberty and without due process of law, because he was not yet entitled to liberty at the time he was released.”

The 2001 case of City Warden of Manila City Jail, meanwhile, involved the erroneous release of 22 out of 34 prisoners.

Lawyers from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines had asked the warden to release the prisoners but he refused citing Art. 99 of the Revised Penal Code which vested the authority to grant GCTA only in the Director of Prisons (now the Director General of the Bureau of Corrections).

The warden, however, issued good behavior certifications, which became the trial court’s basis for ordering the release of 8 other prisoners.

But SC reversed the trial court’s ruling citing the absence of the BuCor director’s certification of good conduct.
Citing the 1967 People v. Tan case, SC said only the BuCor director has the authority to issue certification of good conduct and order prisoners’ release. SC then ordered the re-arrest of the prisoners.

“[W]e are constrained to order the re-arrest of all of respondents. This can be done without placing them in double jeopardy of being punished for the same offense because their re-incarnation is merely a continuation of the penalties that they had not completely served due to the invalid crediting of good conduct time allowances in their favor,” the high court said.

In both cases, the order for re-arresting prisoners was issued by the SC despite a provision in Art. 99 of the Revised Penal Code which states: “Such allowances once granted shall not be revoked.”

This provision has been cited by those who believe the grant of GCTA can no longer be withdrawn or revoked.

A crucial difference however between the 2 cases cited by Guevarra and the close to 2,000 prisoners who have been released under the new GCTA law since 2014 is that the latter have been ordered by no less than the chiefs of the BuCor spanning 2 administrations. 

Thus, there is no question about the BuCor chief’s authority, only issues with respect to the proper computation of GCTA and the right interpretation of the provisions of the new GCTA law.

In the two cases cited by Guevarra, it was the court ordered the rearrest of the prisoners and not a verbal directive by the President.