The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) last Friday, Jan. 7, released from the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City Juanito T. Itaas, an alleged member of the New People’s Army (NPA), who was convicted in the 1989 killing of United States Army Col. James Rowe.
Itaas’ release, which was ordered in a decision issued by the Muntinlupa City regional trial court (RTC), was confirmed in a statement issued on Saturday, Jan. 8, by Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid, a group of relatives and friends of political prisoners in the country.
Itaas was arrested on Aug. 27, 1989. He was convicted in 1991 for the killing of Rowe and the attempted killing of Rowe’s driver Joaquin Binuya while they were on their way to the Joint US Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) in Quezon City. Rowe was then the deputy commander of JUSMAG.
In a 28-page decision dated last Nov. 8, RTC Judge Gener M. Gito granted the petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Jarel M. Itaas who sought the release of his convicted father.
In his decision, Judge Gito noted that the petition assailed the provision of the 2019 amended implementing rules and regulation (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10592, the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law, for excluding those convicted of heinous crimes from getting GCTA that would reduce their jail term.
Ruling that Itaas “is entitled to be credited the equivalent days of the GCTAs earned by him,” the judge said:
“Mr. Itaas was sentenced to suffer penalty of reclusion perpetua for the killing of Col. Rowe and imprisonment for ten (10) years and one (1) day of prision mayor as minimum to seventeen (17) years, four (4) months and one (1) day of reclusion temporal as maximum for the crime of frustrated murder against Binuya.
“Under the two (2) convictions, Mr. Itaas has to serve a total of thirty-nine (39) years and six (6) months imprisonment. Considering that he has already served thirty-two (32) years, one (1) month and twelve (12) days and applying GCTAs he has already earned, which is ten thousand seven hundred fifty-eight (10,758) days or twenty-nine (29) years, five (5) months and twenty-three (23) days, Mr. Itaas is deemed to have already served his sentence for his two convictions.”
The judge ruled that Section 2, Rule IV of the 2019 amended IRR as ultra vires (beyond one’s authority) because it “goes beyond what the law provides” and “exceeds the law that it seeks to implement.”
The IRR cited that those who are not entitled to GCTA credits are recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) convicted of heinous crimes.
However, Judge Gito pointed out that the provision of the IRR is based on Section 1 of RA 10592 which amended Article 29 of the Revised Penal Code that provides that credit for “preventive imprisonment will be deducted for the penalty of reclusion perpetua” but “recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of this Act. “
“It is, however, the view of the Court that the phrase ‘provided, finally, that recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of this Act,’ cannot be used as justification for the expansion of the exceptions from the benefits provided by R.A. 10592. This phrase properly pertains only to those accused covered by Article 29 of the RPC – those who are undergoing preventive imprisonment,” he explained.
“We commend the decision of the court and we hope this will presage more releases of political prisoners who are foisted with trumped-up charges in retaliation for their activism or to make them the fall guy to take the blame for NPA operations.
“We ask the government to let Juanito Itaas live a peaceful life without threats to his security as he deserves to make the most out of every second of his life with his family. This will be the first instance they can begin a normal life together outside prison bars.”
It also said that Itaas got married inside the NBP and now has three children.