DOJ needs one more week to look into release of low-risk offenders amid COVID-19 crisis
Inside the Philippines’ overcrowded prison facilities, 76 Bureau of Corrections inmates are placed under isolation for possible infection of the novel coronavirus that has claimed more than 300 lives in the country.
The STAR/Krizjohn Rosales, file

DOJ needs one more week to look into release of low-risk offenders amid COVID-19 crisis

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - April 15, 2020 - 5:14pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice needs at least another week to study the proposal for the release of low-risk offenders to decongest penal facilities under the Bureau of Corrections amid COVID-19 crisis.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters in a message that the release of persons deprived of liberty considered as “low risk offenders” is “still under study.”

He explained: “The term ‘low-risk offenders may have reference to the gravity (or lack of gravity) of the offenses committed or charged, or it could refer to the general conduct shown by the person detained.”

Their release, Guevarra said is a “multi-faceted matter” where “the pros and cons have to be carefully evaluated.”

The Corrections bureau oversees the New Bilibid Prison, Correctional Insitution for Women and five other prison and penal farms across the country.

Inside its overcrowded penal facilities, there are 76 BuCor inmates and 81 personnel under isolation for possible infection of the novel coronavirus as of April 7, as stated in President Rodrigo Duterte’s report to Congress.

74 PDLs and 80 BuCor staff are considered persons under monitoring, while two PDLs and a BuCor personnel are deemed persons under investigation.

BuCor inmates may be released through GCTA, parole or executive clemency

Guevarra has earlier said that he asked the BuCor to expedite the processing of the release of sickly and elderly inmates even before COVID-19 broke out.

BuCor has yet to respond to Philstar.com’s query on how many PDLs have since been released.

The Justice chief explained that PDLs in BuCor facilities are those serving final judgment. “So they may be released either through [Good Conduct and Time Allowance], parole or executive clemency.

“All of which go through a process,” Guevarra said.

This means that the release of low risk offenders would also fall under the jurisdiction of the executive branch and need approval of Duterte, the Justice secretary added.

“It’s an act of grace that is vested in the chief executive,” he added.

Release of BJMP inmates would fall under court jurisdiction

Guevarra, meanwhile, said the decision of the Supreme Court on a pending petition of 22 inmates will cover those who are still facing trial.

This refers to detainees at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

The petitioners sought for the SC’s “compassion and protection of their right to life and health amid the COVID-19 pandemic” and asked that they may be released on humanitarian grounds.

The SC will meet on a full court session on Friday. Reports said the petition filed by PDLs is included on the meeting’s agenda.

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