DOJ chief: President has power to order prisoner transfers

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 07 2019 03:05 PM | Updated as of Sep 07 2019 09:23 PM

MANILA – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Saturday said the President has the power to order the transfer of convicts to another facility, amid questions surrounding his directive to move 10 high-profile convicts from the national penitentiary to a Philippine Marines facility.

“The President, as Chief Executive, has control and supervision over all offices and agencies under the Executive department,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday admitted during a speech in Naga City, Cebu that he ordered the transfer of the 10 convicts from the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City to a detention facility of the Philippine Marines in Taguig City out of fear that detained Sen. Leila De Lima’s underlings might kill them.

Seven of the transferred convicts had testified in the drug cases against De Lima, accusing the senator of involvement in the Bilibid drug trade during her time as justice chief. 

They were moved on June 12 to the Marines Barracks Rudiardo Brown in Fort Bonifacio. 

Guevarra earlier said the 10 were moved as they were under threat. He said there would be "nothing irregular" with the transfer if there was a court order authorizing it but added he was not aware if such approval was sought. 

On Saturday, he clarified that if the transfer of convicts from the New Bilibid Prison is to an extension facility of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), no court order is needed.

“If the transfer is to a facility not controlled by the BuCor, the court that committed the PDL (persons deprived of liberty) to the original penitentiary should at least be notified or its approval secured,” he said in a text message.

“But if the transfer is made to a BuCor extension facility, such as a military camp by agreement, no court approval is required as long as custody and control remain with the BuCor,” he added.

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According to Guevarra, there is a memorandum of agreement between BuCor and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Marines on the use of the latter’s facility as extension of BuCor’s, noting a similar MOA between BuCor and Camp Aguinaldo executed a few years ago.

He does not have a copy of the MOA but said “any MOA should spell that out clearly.”

De Lima had criticized the transfer, saying it was meant to control the witnesses against her.

She laughed at the President’s latest admission.

“Hahaha... So, in Duterte’s twisted mind, I’m that powerful! So powerful that I can actually command my alleged NBP “allies” to harm or assassinate their fellow inmates! This is insanity in its most diabolical form!,” she said in a statement.

She said the President should admit to the "real reason" why the convicts were transferred.

"For you and your equally evil operators to further control these witnesses in terms of pinning me down in the drug cases against me. Malapit na kasing isalang sa witness stand ang mga convicts-witnesses na yan sa (Those convicts are set to be put to the witness stand) ongoing trial in my drug cases,” she added.

De Lima challenged Duterte to “strike more clandestine deals” with the convicts to ensure her conviction. 

“You need to give them further special treatment in exchange for falsely testifying against me, if not to further threaten, coerce and pressure them into standing by their grossly fabricated tales about me. In sum, more orchestrated lies!” she said.

De Lima had moved to disqualify the witnesses against her on account of their conviction on crimes of moral turpitude ranging from kidnapping and murder to drug-dealing.

Her motion was denied and is on appeal at the Court of Appeals.