By Czarina Ong Ki
There is no reason for the Sandiganbayan Third Division to let former Palawan Governor Joel T. Reyes out of jail early, even after he reasoned that he has already served the minimum period of his sentence.
Reyes was convicted of graft due to the issuance of the Small Scale Mining Permit to Olympic Mines and Development Corporation (OMDC) from April 6, 2006 to April 5, 2008, even though OMDC already mined and extracted the annual maximum of 50,000 dry metric tons of ore as set forth by its previous permit.
Reyes, together with Mining Operations Officer IV Andronico Baguyo, were convicted for conspiring with one another and giving unwarranted benefit to OMDC since they allowed it to operate in excess of the allowable limit and using heavy equipment in its mining operations, which is prohibited by R.A. 7076 and Presidential Decree 1899.
He was sentenced to a minimum imprisonment of six years and one month, and a maximum of eight years, but was allowed to post P60,000 for his provisional liberty as he filed a motion for reconsideration.
When he was released from Puerto Princesa City Jail weeks ago from a different case involving the murder of environmentalist and journalist Dr. Gerry Ortega, the prosecution became alarmed and filed an urgent omnibus motion hoping to revoke his bail and have him sent back to jail.
In turn, the Sandiganbayan promulgated on January 17, 2018 to revoke the bail he has posted for his provisional liberty and issued a warrant of arrest against him.
Reyes then filed a Motion to Release Accused After Service of Minimum Penalty dated July 22, 2019. However, it was denied by the anti-graft court on August 22. Reyes then filed a motion for reconsideration on September 2.
In his MR, he argued that Section 5 of Administrative Matters (A.M.) No. 12-11-2 of the Supreme Court (SC) does not distinguish between an accused who is detained pending trial and an accused who is detained after conviction.
He added that both Section 16 of Rule 114 of the Rules of Court and Section 5(b) of R.A. 10389 “mandate the release of an accused who has been in custody for a period equal to the minimum of the penalty for the offense charged.”
Reyes also reasoned that the Sandiganbayan’s ruling revoking his bail is immaterial to his present prayer for immediate release. “The release of an accused from detention, regardless of whether before or after conviction, is mandated once the period of accused’s detention is equal to the minimum of the penalty for the offense charged,”
But the anti-graft court once again found his arguments devoid of merit. In fact, the court ruled that his intentions are “misplaced.”
“It must be stressed that the ‘release after service of minimum imposable penalty’ provided in Section 5 of the said issuance is still in the nature of a grant of bail and not a separate mode of liberty to a detention prisoner or convicted prisoner on the ground of service of the minimum penalty imposable,” the resolution read.
The Sandiganbayan likewise stressed that the SC expressly recognized that the service of the minimum term only entitles the accused to be eligible for parole and does not guarantee immediate release, as Reyes insists.
Even if Reyes is indeed eligible for release as provided by the law, the Sandiganbayan said it is “powerless” to do anything since the judgment of Reyes’ conviction is now under review by the SC.
“All told, the Court sees no reason to reconsider its resolution promulgated on August 22, 2019 denying accused-movant’s Motion to Release Accused After Service of Minimum Penalty,” the resolution stated.
The nine-page resolution is written by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang with the concurrence of Associate Justices Bernelito Fernandez and Ronald Moreno.