By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 4, 2017 – 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) has recommended 134 inmates to President Duterte for executive clemency.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the list he submitted to the President before Christmas included elderly, sickly and qualified inmates in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City and other penal colonies of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
He said his recommendations for presidential pardon followed an endorsement from the Board of Pardon and Parole (BPP) after reviewing the inmates’ eligibility.
In a press conference, Aguirre yesterday said the list included 100 inmates recommended for commutation of sentences, 18 for conditional pardon without parole, 14 for conditional pardon with parole and two for absolute pardon.
He said he could not recall if the list included political prisoners asked to be released by the leftist National Democratic Front. But he said no prominent inmate is on the list.
He said 14 in the list are elderly inmates, recalling the President’s promise to free inmates at least 80 years old, and those who have spent at least 40 years behind bars.
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“I already sent messages to the President requesting to expedite the action on our recommendation,” Aguirre said.
Last November, the President granted pardon to actor Robin Padilla, a supporter of his presidential bid, and upon recommendation of the BPP last August.
Padilla, Robinhood Ferdinand Cariño Padilla in real life, had applied for absolute pardon for his 1994 conviction for illegal possession of firearms, which sentenced him to a maximum 21 years in prison.
He served three years at the NBP in Muntinlupa before former president Fidel Ramos granted his release in April 1997 on conditional pardon.
The actor has filed for pardon to regain his civil rights, including right to vote and run for public office.
Aguirre said the number of inmates he recommended for pardon under the Duterte administration is much higher than in the previous administration.
As of November 2015, the BPP had listed at least 473 convicts seeking executive clemency, but the Aquino administration granted clemency to only nine inmates.
In July 2011, the Palace issued pardon to convicted kidnapper Mariano Umbrero, who died of cancer four days before his release papers were signed.
In December 2012, Aquino granted pardon to eight elderly inmates. Six of them were given conditional pardon: Agustin Caballero, 71; Nicanor Medel, 72; Clarita Miranda, 71; Pablito Estrada, 73; Felipe Gahit, 72; and Venerando Generaldo, 83. It reduced the sentences for two others, Aurelio Amolong and Celerino Sanchez.
Aquino reportedly planned to grant executive clemency to qualified inmates during Pope Francis’ visit in January 2015 as a “gift” to the pontiff.
The DOJ had then submitted a list of inmates recommended for pardon, but the Palace was not able to finish the vetting before the pope left.
A month after, 91-year-old inmate Petra Lukingan was released from the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City not on pardon, but on parole.
Executive clemency or pardon is a power given to the President for any prisoner under Article VII, Section 19 of the Constitution. It pertains to reprieve, absolute or conditional pardon, with or without parole conditions and commutation of sentence.
On the other hand, parole is the conditional release of a prisoner from a correctional institution after the person has served the minimum of his or her sentence.
One jail for accused criminals and convicts?
After uncovering an illegal drug trade inside the NBP, the committee on justice of the House of Representatives now recommends a common prison facility for accused criminals called detention prisoners and convicted felons.
The committee, headed by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, recommended such setup, which the House plenary adopted in toto.
The committee proposed a “rationalization of the jail management system by placing the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) under a single department or agency.”
BJMP, an agency under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), supervises inmates called detention-prisoners, or defendants accused of criminal offenses whose cases are still undergoing trial.
Most of these offenders are detained for allegedly committing rape, murder, drugs, robbery and even petty crimes, but who cannot afford to post bail. Defendants facing non-bailable cases are also taken under the custody of the BJMP until their trial reaches conclusion. – With Delon Porcalla