VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Transfer of Bilibid inmates: 3 things you should know

The Senate investigation on the controversial Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) has opened a can of worms -- among them the transfer of 10 “high profile” New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmates to a Philippine Marines facility on June 12. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Understanding good conduct time allowance for prisoners: 4 things you should know)

President Rodrigo Duterte admitted in September that he “ordered” the transfer, saying the inmates would be killed by the “henchmen” of his detained Sen. Leila De Lima. Calling Duterte’s claim an "insanity in its most diabolical form," De Lima said the transfer was meant to "prepare" the witnesses in their impending testimony against her.

De Lima was referring to seven of the 10 transferred NBP inmates. Peter Co, Hans Tan, Jojo Baligad, Vicente Sy, Froilan Trestiza, Nonilo Arile and Joel Capones testified on her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.

Here are three things you should know about the transfer of the 10 inmates.

Conditions for inmate transfers

Section 6 of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Act implementing rules and regulations grants the agency authority to transfer inmates to military or police "confinement camps," supervised under BuCor's terms, as a "decongestion scheme and security related purpose." Such arrangements should be covered by a memorandum of agreement or understanding.

BuCor has yet to act on VERA Files’ request for a copy of the agreement with the Philippine Marines on the use of its facility for the detention of convicts. The Department of Justice denied VERA Files’ request for the same documents, saying it “does not have the information.”

Only a male inmate classified as “minimum security risk” -- who can be “reasonably trusted” to serve his sentence “under less restricted conditions” -- may be granted transfer to a military facility, according to BuCor’s operating manual. He must also:


In the Sept. 4 Senate hearing, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra agreed with Sen. Richard Gordon that court "permission" must be secured before transferring Co and the others to the Philippine Marines facility.

On Sept. 7, a day after Duterte publicly admitted he ordered the transfer, Guevarra changed his position, saying court approval is no longer necessary to transfer inmates to a BuCor "extension facility."

However, Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyer Lorenzo "Erin" Tañada and human rights lawyer and former Sen. Rene Saguisag said, in a television interview on Sept. 9, the transfer of inmates needs court permission.

In an Oct. 11 email, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) cited the Supreme Court’s Administrative Circular No. 6 dated Dec. 5, 1977, stating:

"No prisoner sentenced to death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment and who is confined in any penal institution shall be brought outside the said penal institution for appearance or attendance in any court unless authorized by the Supreme Court."

Source: Office of the Court Administrator, Response Letter, Oct. 11, 2019

Seven of 10 transferred inmates witnesses to pending case

Among the 10 NBP inmates, seven -- Arile, Baligad, Sy, Tan, Trestiza, Capones, and Co -- are witnesses in the drug case of De Lima, a criminal offense. Based on BuCor's operating manual, this should have disqualified them from such a transfer.

In November 2018, De Lima filed a petition before the Court of Appeals to disqualify, among others, these inmates as state witnesses against her after the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 206 denied her motion. Ferdie Maglalang, De Lima’s head of Media and Communication Unit, told VERA Files in a text message on Oct. 17 that the motion is still pending.

Inmates described as 'high risk'

The 10 transferred Bilibid inmates were all described as "high risk and high profile" in the copy of their transfer of confinement to the Philippine Marines signed by former BuCor Director General Nicanor Faeldon on June 12, as shown in an ABS-CBN report.

Maximum security inmates are defined by the manual as those sentenced to death or whose minimum sentence is 20 years imprisonment, among others. Out of the 10 inmates, Co, Sy, and Trestiza were verified as serving reclusion perpetua or a minimum of 20 years to 40 years jail time.



Senate of the Philippines, De Lima refutes Duterte's claims about her continued influence over Bilibid inmates as 'insanity in its most diabolical form', Sept. 11, 2019

Senate of the Philippines, Sen. Leila M. de Lima’s Statement on Duterte’s and Panelo’s lying about the reason for the transfer of high-profile convicts-witnesses from Bilibid to Marines HQ, Sept. 9, 2019

Official Gazette, Revised IRR of Republic Act No. 10575, May 23, 2016

Department of Justice, Response Letter, Sept. 26, 2019

Bureau of Corrections, Operating Manual

People’s Television, Senate Hearing on Good Conduct Time Allowance Law - Day 3 - Part 2, Sept. 4, 2019

CNN Philippines, Justice chief now says no court order needed for inmates' transfer to Marine barracks, Sept. 7, 2019

Philippine News Agency, DOJ clarifies terms of transfer for inmates, Sept. 7, 2019

ABS-CBN News, DOJ chief: President has power to order prisoner transfers, Sept. 7, 2019

ANC 24/7, Only courts have jurisdiction over prisoners' transfer: human rights lawyers | ANC, Sept. 8, 2019

Office of the Court Administrator, Response Letter, Oct. 11, 2019

Congress of the Philippines, Committee Report No. 14, Oct. 18, 2016

GMA News Online, De Lima asks CA to bar convicts from testifying against her, Nov. 26, 2018, De Lima asks Court of Appeals to bar convicts from testifying against her, Nov. 26, 2018, De Lima to CA: Stop convicts from testifying against me in drug case, Nov. 26, 2018

Senate of the Philippines, De Lima asks Court to vacate order vs. motion to disqualify 13 witnesses, Oct. 1, 2018

ANC 24/7, Duterte admits ordering transfer of inmates to Marines barracks | The World Tonight, Sept. 6, 2019

Supreme Court, G.R. No. 150663, February 05, 2004 (Peter Co)

Supreme Court of the Philippines, G.R. NO. 171397, September 27, 2006 (Vicente Sy)

Supreme Court, G.R. No. 193833, November 16, 2011 (Froilan Trestiza)

(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)


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