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‘Chop-chop lady’ case convict seeks freedom

Invokes factors used in Jalosjos’ release

By Miko Morelos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:01:00 06/04/2010

Filed Under: Crime and Law and Justice, Prison

MANILA, Philippines?If sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, then the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) should be releasing the man convicted in the grisly ?chop-chop lady? case in the 1990s, based on a time credit formula for good behavior given to child rapist Romeo Jalosjos, which the Department of Justice (DOJ) approved over two years ago.

The order that credited at least two years? worth of good conduct time allowance (GCTA) to Jalosjos, leading to his release in March the same year, is being invoked by Stephen Mark Whisenhunt as a ground for his release.

?What is assailed now is the bureau?s adoption of a new GCTA formulation, which is not in accord with the honorable office?s GCTA formulation relative to the release of inmate Romeo Jalosjos,? read his 16-page petition, obtained by the Inquirer.

Time credits

It cited a memorandum the Bucor sent to the DOJ on March 18, 2009, which itemized the time credits received by the former congressman, who obtained executive clemency from President Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004. From two life terms, Jalosjos? sentence was reduced to 16 years, three months and three days.

The DOJ approved two years, nine months and 27 days worth of time credits to Jalosjos, as provided by Article 97 of the Revised Penal Code. The law provides a graduated scheme of GCTA for prisoners serving their sentences.

Using the same provision of the law, Whisenhunt should be given a GCTA of seven years, 11 months and six days, credit equivalent to his sentence of 20 years, three months and five days, argued his lawyer Joanna Pilapil.

Same computation

In their DOJ petition filed in February, Pilapil insisted that the Bucor use the same computation for the GCTA of Jalosjos to her client, citing the equal protection doctrine.

In 1996, a Pasig lower court sentenced Whisenhunt to reclusion perpetua for killing Elsa Santos Castillo, whose remains were mutilated and scattered in a deserted road three years before. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2001. (See sidebar.)

Taking a leaf from the Bucor computation of Jalosjos? sentence, the lawyer claimed that Whisenhunt already served the maximum prison term in his case.

In 2008, Bucor director Oscar Calderon granted colonist status to Whisenhunt and 49 others, which accorded them certain privileges like fixing to 30 years the maximum prison term of inmates sentenced to reclusion perpetua.

Whisenhunt completed 30 years, two months and 16 days of prison time, his petition claimed, and this should be sufficient ground for his release.

Bucor replies

Commenting on the case, the Bucor pointed out that per their computation of Whisenhunt?s GCTA, he had only two years, two months and 10 days worth of time credit under Article 97 of the Revised Penal Code.

The Bureau also insisted that computations of inmates? sentences vary from case to case, as it had ?different reckoning periods of computation.?

?Adherence to precedents is not applicable in the adjudication of administrative dispute or controversy, and administrative bodies or tribunals decide on a case to case basis,? according to the Bucor.

While Whisenhunt?s camp acknowledged that computations of sentences are on a case-to-case basis, it said ?the bureau cannot dispel the truth that the applicable law affecting the computation of inmates? prison sentence, particularly on the allowance for good conduct, sets forth a fundamental formulation? in penal laws.

The petitioner also dismissed the bureau?s assertion that precedents like that of Jalosjos? case could not be applied to his predicament.

To become a colonist, a prisoner must attain a status of first class inmate for a year and must serve at least 1/5 of their prison term or seven years in case of inmates sentenced to life imprisonment.

Colonists also get an additional five days per month credit to their GCTA, as part of their privileges. The DOJ added five more days to the time credit when it modified GCTA rules in November 2009.

The November amendment also reduced to five years the requirement of time served for colonist serving a reclusion perpetua sentence. The DOJ subsequently scrapped this provision on Jan. 18, 2010, clarifying that the additional GCTA could immediately be earned by colonists from the time of their classification and had retroactive effect.

Whisenhunt?s camp had sought clarification with the Bucor about the computation of his sentence as early as December 2009, but apparently the request was not processed. He sought the resolution of the case before the DOJ which oversees the Bucor.

?Despite the approval of the [DOJ] of the computation which resulted in the release of former inmate Jalosjos, the Bureau unjustly refuses to adopt and adhere thereto, particularly the formulation for the credit of good conduct time allowance,? the petition said.

The Jalosjos computation, contained in the DOJ resolution released in Jan. 1, 2008, ?in effect, provided a basic rule or formula which the bureau should not be at liberty to outrightly disregard,? the petition argued.

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