Drilon slams PAO over 862 still behind bars
More than 800 people are still behind bars, even though they are entitled to be released under a new law adjusting penalties for light offenses, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said on Tuesday night.
During the Senate plenary debates on the budget on Tuesday night, Drilon admonished the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) for “sitting” on petitions for the release of detainees, who could have been freed last year with the passage of Republic Act No. 10951.
The new law amended the Revised Penal Code and adjusted conditions for the imposition of prison time and fines on criminal offenders.
“I am disappointed. How can the bureaucracy react in this manner when the liberties of people are on the line?” Drilon said during his interpellation on the Department of Justice (DOJ) budget.
“Let’s face it: This is criminal neglect. They did not mind this because it involves prisoners. That’s the truth. They did not mind it at all,” he said of PAO, an attached agency of the DOJ.
Only 39 petitions
After the law was passed in August last year, PAO has only filed 39 petitions for the release of prisoners in the Supreme Court, and 12 others in regional trial courts, Drilon said.
Only two prisoners have been released on the strength of the law that adjusts outdated amounts in the Penal Code, which was based on the value of money in 1932.
The law is intended to benefit poor inmates convicted with inordinately long prison sentences and excessive fines for crimes that are considered petty today.
Drilon warned the DOJ that he would review its performance with regard to the implementation of RA 10951.
“We are going to file a resolution asking for a review of the performance of the DOJ insofar as this is concerned. You are given fair warning,” the opposition senator said.
As an example of how the law should be applied, a case for the qualified theft of a sack of rice that costs P370 would have merited the penalty of reclusion temporal, or imprisonment ranging from 12 years and 1 day to 17 years and 4 months, under the old Penal Code.
Detailed SC guidelines
Under the new law, the offense would only get a prison term of a maximum four months.
The Supreme Court has issued detailed guidelines on the implementation of RA 10951, primarily naming the PAO as the agency tasked with filing the requisite petitions, according to Drilon.
“There are 862 inmates who could have been released but are still languishing in jail because of the bureaucracy that is responding slowly. How could this be?” Drilon said.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III agreed with Drilon and vowed to participate in reviewing DOJ’s performance.
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