117 convicts get parole amid pandemic

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has granted parole to 117 convicts as part of the government's decongestion measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"An initial batch of One Hundred Seventeen (117) Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) have been confirmed eligible for parole under the Interim Guidelines for Parole and Executive Clemency," Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete told reporters on Thursday, May 21

Perete said another 424 have been deemed eligible for parole but are still awaiting clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

The DOJ relaxed the rules for application of both parole and executive clemency to respond to calls to decongest Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) facilities, where 117 convicts have already tested positive for coronavirus, and 5 have died.

Garcia and Palparan not among them

Among the high profile convicts of BuCor are two retired military generals – former army comptroller Carlos Garcia, and Jovito Palparan, both of whom are elderly.

Perete said Garcia and Palparan are not qualified.

"According to the Board of Parole and Pardons (BPP), both are not qualified.  Garcia has a pending case while Palparan has a pending appeal," said Perete.

Garcia has been in jail since 2011, for direct bribery and facilitating money laundering. HIs sons were arrested in the United States in 2003 for smuggling $100,000, an incident that led to Garcia's investigation and criminal charges against him.

He was initially granted a plea bargain deal where plunder charges against him were dropped but he would serve jail time for direct bribery and money laundering. The Supreme Court, however, stopped the deal in 2013, resulting in his continued detention for the non-bailable plunder charge.

Garcia chose to remain in Bilibid despite a choice to be transferred to a detention facility. He is still appealing the plea bargain.

In 2018, a Bulacan court sentenced Palparan to up to 40 years in prison for the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of student activists Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno. He is appealing his conviction.

Clemency

The DOJ also relaxed the rules for clemency, which exclude heinous crime convicts.

While the grant of clemency is upon the discretion of the President, there are some "extraordinary circumstances" laid out in the law. For example, it could be applied to a 70-year-old inmate whose continued detention will harm his health.

The new DOJ rules lowered the age from 70 to 65 years old.

The DOJ said there are no data yet on the number of convicts who will be granted clemency.

"The BPP is set to receive a new batch of carpetas for evaluation this week," said Perete.

The DOJ also has not released updated data on the grants of Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA), which was derailed due to outrage over the supposed release of murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez as a GCTA beneficiary.

Due to the Sanchez scandal, the DOJ revised the rules to exclude heinous crime convicts from coverage of the GCTA law, but the amendment is facing constitutional challenge for violation of equal protection in a petition still pending before the High Court.Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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