De Lima to Ombudsman: Ask Guevarra, not me, about GCTA rules

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 17 2019 03:58 PM

MANILA - Detained Sen. Leila de Lima on Tuesday told the Office of the Ombudsman to ask Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, not her, about the implementing rules and regulations of a controversial law which expanded the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) for prisoners.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires earlier asked De Lima and former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to explain why a provision of the IRR of Republic Act 10592, which expanded the GCTA for prisoners to include detention time in 2013, did not disqualify recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes. 

De Lima was justice secretary at the time. 

De Lima and Roxas approved the law’s IRR, which was blamed for the release of some 2,000 heinous crime convicts since the measure was enacted. 

But in her response to Martires, De Lima said as senator, she “cannot reply to a query that exclusively pertains to official business of the Department of Justice (DOJ) whose present Secretary is Menardo Guevarra.”

“I therefore suggest that your good office require the explanation you are demanding from me from the office of Secretary Guevarra,” she said in her letter dated Sept. 17.

De Lima also noted that the IRR was “not issued in my personal capacity” nor her capacity as senator.

“Whatever query you may have regarding the IRR, therefore, may be properly and officially answered by the DOJ and the DILG, being the institutions and agencies responsible for the implementation of the said IRR,” she added.

Asked to respond to De Lima's comment, Guevarra said: "We at the DOJ don't dwell on things that had come to pass, much less waste our time on an unproductive blame game."

De Lima also asked for understanding since given her current situation, she does not have access to the members of the joint Bureau of Corrections-Bureau of Jail Management and Penology panel as well as DOJ’s relevant officials who drafted the IRR and could shed light on the matter.

Nonetheless, De Lima said as the justice secretary who approved and signed the IRR, “I affirm its regularity, correctness and consistency with the law.”

De Lima has been detained since February 2017 on drug charges she denies, calling the allegations political persecution. 

De Lima also noted it was not clear in Martires’ letter whether she was being asked to respond on the matter as a resource person, as a respondent in an administrative investigation, or as a respondent in a criminal investigation.

“I presume it is not as a resource person because I am being required to reply within a time period which is not usually a discourtesy that is addressed to resource persons,” she said.

“On the other hand, if I am required to clarify as a respondent in an administrative investigation, I believe that as a Senator, the Office of the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over my person.”

If Martires’ query is in relation to a criminal investigation, De Lima said she would rather wait for a subpoena on a criminal complaint first.

“In the absence of said criminal complaint and subpoena, I believe that any participation of my person in whatever proceeding your office is conducting on the matter is still premature,” she said.

RA 10592 was signed in 2013 under then President Benigno Aquino III and was meant to decongest prisons and give reformed inmates a new lease on life.

But senators heavily criticized the law’s implementing rules as these supposedly did not fully follow the measure, which supposedly states that recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes should not benefit from the GCTA system.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra conceded the law had various and conflicting interpretations.

The justice department has since revised the IRR to explicitly exclude recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes from the GCTA system.

"The revised IRR reflects our best interpretation of RA 10592 as it was actually crafted, finalized and signed. The current DOJ has done its part. Let Congress do its own," Guevarra said.