COLONIST STATUS OF PRISONERS: A DISCUSSION
VJT Blog on Philippineprisons.com re The New Good Conduct Time Allowance for Prisoners and related DOJ Circular on Penal Colonist status.
Last March 18, 2014, Secretary of Justice Leila M. De Lima issued Memorandum (LML-M-18C14-366) clarifying the grant of Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) and Penal Colonist status to prisoners. There were six issues resolved accordingly. First, “a colonist status can only be granted if the sentence of life imprisonment or reclusion perpetual was commuted by the President of the Philippines.” Second, “the duration of reclusion perpetua and life imprisonment is forty (40) years and remains to be a single and indivisible penalty.” Third, “the 30 year period in RA 7659 has no effect on the grant of a colonist status considering that reclusion perpetua is a single and indivisible penalty and its maximum duration is forty (40) years.” Fourth, “ there should be commutation of sentence on life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua before additional GCTA is applied.” Fifth, “subject to the requirement of commutation of sentence by the President, the grant of GCTA will be governed by the original provisions in the Bucor Manual.” And sixth, the Technical Working Group created to draft the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 10595 (Bucor Act of 2013) will address the question on the determination of granting and withdrawing the privilege of GCTA and colonist status.
Mel Faustino’s reaction on the blog:
On issue No.1
It can be deduced that colonist status is given only to convicts sentenced to RP or LI; and their sentence was commutted by the president. That is not the case in the Bureau.
Vauge on the memorandum is who has the authority to grant colony status, which actually grants additional time credit akin to GCTA. In effect, CS reduced the sentenced to be served. The problem, CS has no legal basis not like GCTA. The sole basis of CS is the unsigned BuCor Manual.
BuCor should clarify the matter to DOJ, CS is in the nature of commutation.., a power rested on the President.
To date, there are several convicts who have granted CS by DC. It should be addressed and corrected at once.
First Issue: How a colonist status will be applied and granted to an inmate sentenced to life imprisonment and to an inmate sentenced to Reclusion Perpetua. (Ref: DOJ Memorandum from the Secretary dated March 18, 2014)
A colonist status can only be granted if the sentence of life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua was commuted by the President of the Philippines.
The requirement of executive approval can be traced back from the provisions of Act. No. 24895, a 1915 law granting special compensation, credits and modification of prison sentence as a reward for exceptional conduct and workmanship. The term “executive approval” refers to the executive clemency which can only be exercised by the President of the Philippines.
Section 19, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution provides that:
Sec. 19. Except in cases of impeachment, or as otherwise provided in the Constitution, the President may grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, and remit fines and forfeitures, after conviction by final judgment.
Xxx xxx xxx”
The power of executive clemency is a non-delegable power and must be exercised by the President personally. (Villena v. Secretary of Interior, 67 Phils. 451, 463 (1939). The above-quoted provision gives the President said power for correcting infirmities in the administration of justice and for mitigating harshness by a too strict application of the law. (The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, A commentary, Bernas, 2009 ed. Pg. 924).
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A cursory reading of the DOJ Memorandum on the first issue regarding the grant of colonist status (CS) on prisoners distinguishes those with indeterminate sentence and those sentenced to Reclusion Perpetua and Life Imprisonment. There is no contentious angle on the matter of the grant of CS on qualified prisoners with indeterminate sentence. There is however a certain degree of confusion when CS is conferred on prisoners under Reclusion Perpetua or Life Imprisonment.
There were numerous instances in the past when the Director of Corrections , on the basis of Bucor Manual, signed by then Justice Secretary Artemio G. Tuquero in March 30, 2000, applied the provision of granting colonist status on inmates recommended for its grant.
Sec. 6. Colonist.—The Director (of Corrections) may, upon recommendation of the Classification Board, classify an inmate who has the following qualifications as a colonist:
- Be at least a first class inmate and has served one (1) year immediately preceding the completion of the period specified in the following qualifications;
- Has served imprisonment with good conduct for a period equivalent to one fifth (1/5) of the maximum term of his prison sentence, or seven (7) years in the case of a life sentence.
Sec. 7. Privileges of a colonist.—A colonist shall have the following privileges:
- Credit of an additional GCTA of five (5) days for each calendar month while he retains said classification aside from the regular GCTA authorized under Article 97 of the Revised Penal Code;
- Automatic reduction of life sentence imposed on the colonist to a sentence of thirty years;
xxx xxx xxx”
Paragraph b of Section 7, Chapter 3, Bucor Manual has no basis in law. As a matter of fact, it has forgotten a law (Act No. 24895) on the “Executive approval”, meaning the exercise of Executive Clemency which the President of the Philippines has the sole authority to grant; and, that there is no such provision as “automatic reduction of life sentence” unless it passes through the Chief Executive in the manner of exercising Executive Clemency where commutation of sentence through Executive Clemency is issued and granted.
While the Bucor Manual is a “reference guide for the men and women who safely keep prisoners confined in national prisons” according to then Secretary of Justice Artemio G. Tuquero in his Message reflected on the Bucor Manual, it was never meant as an occasion to skip certain important provisions of law, much more so, in the manner of clipping executive powers unless expressly allowed by the Chief Executive through a proclamation or through legislative intent.
The previous acts of Directors virtually by passed if not presumed executive grant and without waiting for any executive commutation before granting CS on inmates under Life Imprisonment or Reclusion Perpetua. While the Director of Corrections has the power to recommend the grant and even on a delegated power (from DOJ) to grant CS to an inmate who was properly screened and recommended for the grant, he cannot by any stretch of administrative act liberally presume executive prerogative by skipping the commutation process for prisoners under Life Imprisonment or Reclusion Perpetua before any grant is to be conferred on an inmate.
This concern is predicated on the observation made by the Secretary of Justice as the DOJ Memorandum dated March 19, 2014 as it qualified the situation accordingly. The memorandum provides guidance to Bucor leadership . Thus:
“The foregoing were made in order to finally address the pending issues relating to the release of the herein prisoners as well as those whose application for release are being processed by your office. We are aware that the with the foregoing pronouncement, particularly the requirement of executive clemency, the same will greatly affect the rights of prisoners and former prisoners who already availed or are in the process of availing of the privileges of a colonist. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that there had been error in the interpretation of the Bucor manual, and the same needs to be addressed immediately in order to avoid further confusion or error in the implementation of the Bucor Manual.”
The controversy and awareness over this situation where some prisoners and former prisoners were favoured as a result of having availed of the privilege do not in a way cure the past errors. It should be rectified pursuant to what is just and fair.
While it can be argued that the grant of Colonist Status is manifestly defined in the Bucor Manual, it cannot escape scrutiny when it comes to the presumption of executive power on commuting a prisoner under Life Imprisonment or Reclusion Perpetua to qualify for the grant. The Director of Corrections is presumed to know all laws relating to his administrative and operative powers and prerogatives. He must likewise know if his power eclipses that of higher authorities. He is however given the necessary leeway to inquire and clarify any contentious or ambiguous provision within the territory of his administrative concerns. More so, such considerations border on a sensitive matter related to the principal mandate of admitting, securing, maintaining and eventually releasing prisoners in accordance with or by operation of law.
From the legal standpoint, there was an improvident abuse of discretion or grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction committed in the process where such act carried the application of CS leading to the release of some favoured prisoners over and above others similarly situated. This situation has created an iniquitous condition and class distinction in the course of its application.
This is a situation where “justiciable controvery”may arise as basis to review, resolve and correct cases to serve the ends of justice.