House leaders bat for higher compensation for wrongfully convicted persons

Published September 5, 2021, 5:27 PM

by Ben Rosario

Leaders of the House of Representatives are batting for the increase in compensation of persons wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.

Prison cells

Deputy Speakers Michael Romero (1PACMAN Partylist) and Evelina Escudero (2nd District, Sorsogon) called for the immediate consolidation of five bills proposing amendments to Republic Act 7309 that created the Board of Claims (BOC).

Reps. Jesus “Bong” Suntay (4th District, Quezon City); Manuel Cabochan (Magdalo Partylist); Luis Campos (2nd District, Makati City) and Mercedes Cagas (Lone District, Davao del Sur) filed separate but similar bills proposing to amend RA 7309.

Romero said the BOC, an agency under the Department of Justice, processes and approves claims for compensation for those unjustly convicted, imprisoned and later found innocent of the crime to which they are being punished.

In its initial deliberation of the measures that was conducted by the House Committee on Justice chaired by Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, , Romero manifested his strong support for the approval of a consolidated bill.

“Briefly put, RA 7309 is a very good law which now finds itself outdated in terms of the amounts awarded to the victims. Further, the process of compensation is slow and tedious resulting in the discouragement of claimants, hence the law is underutilized and the law is not effective at this point,” he said.

The House official said if enacted the pending legislative proposals will “breathe life to the noble intentions of RA 7309”.

“There is a the very popular principle that it is better to let the guilty person go unpunished than condemn the innocent. We are also reminded that no justice system is infallible,” he explained.

Romero stressed: “The various House bills will not right a wrong but it will allow a more well-deserved compensation for the victims.”
 The justice committee assigned Bukidnon Rep. Jonathan Keith Flores to head a technical working group that will consolidate all legislative proposals seeking an increase in the compensation which currently stands at P1,000 per month of imprisonment served.

In her bill, Escudero sought to increase the compensation from P1,000 to P3,000 per month. However, House Bill 2347 which she authored proposes a new provisions to allow victims to file civil action due to unjust conviction and imprisonment.

Suntay, author of HB 5347, said RA 7309 has not been amended since it was passed in 1992.

“The amount provided in the law is not relevant considering the present economic conditions,” he said.

“Moreover, the process of claiming the compensation is slow and tedious. Effectively, it discourages claimants from applying for compensation and getting paid for the injury that they sustained as a result fo the injustice committed against them” he said.

The QC lawmaker noted that there has been a significant drop in the claims, pointing to the P18.66 million paid by BOC in 2018 to the P7.80-million total compensation in 2019.

In HB 1664, Cabochan called for the adjustment of the allowable P1,000 compensation to P5,000 per month.

HB 1664 provides that qualified awardees of compensation are those who have been imprisoned but later acquitted or found innocent bya final judgement or resolution of a court after a full blown trail on the merits.