SC: Convicts seeking early release under RPC amendment law should file petition before RTCs
The Supreme Court (SC) has issued guidelines on petitions for the modification of final sentences and early release of convicts under the law that amended the Revised Penal Code (RPC) last year.
Convicts seeking to be immediately released due to the reduction of their sentences under Republic Act (RA) Number 10951 should file such petitions before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) which has jurisdiction over the area of their confinement.
The SC laid down this rule in its recent 9-page en banc decision on the case of Bacolod City high school disbursing officer Rolando Elbanbuena, a malversation convict who argued that he had already served his reduced sentence under the law enacted by President Rodrigo Duterte in August 2017..
Under the guidelines, the inmate, his counsel or representative, or the Pubic Attorney’s Office (PAO) may file the petition for modification of the penalties and immediate release.
The petition must contain a certified true copy of the judgment, the mittimus (commitment order), and/or the Bureau of Corrections’ (BuCor) certification regarding the length of the inmate’s stay in prison. It must also be verified by the prisoner himself.
The RTC will be required to raffle off the petition within three days of its filing.
Only the petition and the comment of the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG) may be entertained, and motions for extensions of time or postponements shall not be allowed.
The OSG comment must be filed within 10 days of notice. Otherwise, the court shall resolve the petition motu proprio (on its own impulse) or upon the inmate’s motion.
To avoid prolonging the imprisonment, the court shall issue its judgment within 10 calendar days after the lapse of the period for the OSG to file its comment.
The judgment shall pertain to the imposable penalty under RA 10951, the length of the inmate’s stay and whether time allowance for good conduct shall be allowed, and whether the inmate is entitled to be immediately released for completing his sentence.
Such judgments shall be immediately executory, although they may still be challenged before the SC.
The SC applied these said guidelines in Elbanbuena’s petition, remanding it to the Muntinlupa City RTC to determine the proper modified penalty and his entitlement to immediate release.
It said a petition for immediate release involved the determination of an inmate’s service of his sentence, and the task would be “better undertaken by a trial court, which is relatively more equipped to make findings of both fact and law.”
Elbanbuena, a disbursing officer of Alingilan National High School in Bacolod City, was convicted by the Sandiganbayan of four counts of malversation for allegedly keeping and faking four checks and encashing them for himself in October 1993.
He took out the amounts of P29,000, P38,100, P24,595, and P8,350.24, or a total of P100,045.24.
The Sandiganbayan convicted him in August 2000 and Elbanbuena began serving his sentence on January 9, 2003 as he did not appeal the verdict.
For the first three offenses, he was sentenced to imprisonment from prision mayor maximum to reclusion temporal maximum, or a total of 30 to 60 years. This was because the pocketed amounts exceeded the P22,000 threshold set by the RPC for the most severe penalty.
For the last offense, he was sentenced to prision mayor medium to reclusion temporal minimum, or eight years to 14 years and eight months, a lighter penalty since the pocketed amount fell within the P6,000 to P12,000 range.
Since the RPC was enacted way back in 1930, RA 10951 in 2017 adjusted the thresholds for the penalties.
The lightest penalty of prision correccional medium to maximum—two years and four months to six years for each count—would now be applied to cases that did not exceed P40,000.
The SC did not compute yet the penalty that could be imposed on Elbanbuena, leaving it for the Muntinlupa RTC to determine if he should now be released after 15 years in prison.