by: Dianne Nicole L. Ramos[1]


      It is a settled principle that laws shall have no retroactive application[2]. However, a penal law that is favorable to the accused can be applied retroactively, provided that the accused is not a habitual criminal[3]. This is provided in Article 22 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). In the words of the Supreme Court, these foregoing principles are the rules, the exception, and the exception to the exception on the effectivity of laws.

      A question arises when a law affects criminals but is not penal in nature. This was resolved in the case of Inmates of the New Bilibid Prison v. DOJ Secretary De Lima and DILG Secretary Roxas. The said case involves Republic Act 10592 (R.A. No. 10592) or “An Act Amending Articles 29, 94, 97, 98 And 99 Of Act No. 3815, As Amended, Otherwise Known As The Revised Penal Code[4]”, which increased the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) to be deducted from a prisoner’s sentence. GCTA is a sentence reduction provision afforded to prisoners who show good behavior.

      In line with this, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). Section 4, Rule 1 of such IRR states that the provisions of the law shall be applied prospectively. This prompted the petitioners in this case, being prisoners who would have benefited from R.A. No. 10592, to assail the validity of the abovementioned provision in the IRR. They contended that R.A. No. 10592 is penal in nature and is beneficial to the accused. Therefore, it must be given retroactive application, pursuant to Article 22 of the RPC.

      The Court agreed. To contextualize, the Court defined a penal law as one that defines offenses and prescribes penalties for their violation. While the Court conceded that R.A. No. 10592 neither defines a crime or offense nor provides a penalty therefor as it only addresses the rehabilitation component of our correctional system, its provisions have the purpose and effect of diminishing the punishment attached to a crime. The further reduction in the length of the penalty of imprisonment is beneficial to prisoners; hence, Article 22 of the RPC should apply.

      The Court upheld the petitioners’ argument that R.A. No. 10592 is a penal law because by amending the RPC, it becomes an integral part of the Code. The Court went further to rule that the prospective application of the beneficial provisions of R.A. No. 10592 would deprive the prisoners of time off, thus making more onerous the punishment for the crimes the committed.

      The discussion of this case is relevant in the case of Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton. On September 7, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte had granted absolute pardon to Pemberton, who has been in prison since 2014 for the homicide of transgender woman, Jennifer Laude. Pemberton and Laude met in a nightclub in Olongapo City in October 2014. That same night, upon learning that Laude was a transgender, Pemberton choked Laude and pushed her head into a toilet bowl until she drowned. Pemberton was sentenced to 6 years to 12 years in prison, which was later reduced to 10 years. Pemberton did not serve his sentence in the New Bilibid Prison. Instead, due to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the United States and the Philippines, he was placed in a private air-conditioned cell in Camp Aguinaldo. The VFA is a legal framework, which governs many aspects of the US Military presence in our country. It also affect the determination of where convicted American personnel will be detained.

      In August of 2020, Pemberton’s lawyer submitted a motion to the Court, stating that Pemberton had qualified for the benefits of the GCTA. Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde, the same official which convicted Pemberton in 2015, ruled that since Pemberton had served almost 6 years in prison and had earned 4 years off of his sentence for good behavior while he was in jail, Pemberton is free to go.

      Rommel Bagares, the lawyer representing the Laude family stated that the GCTA should not have been applied to Pemberton because his case is covered by the VFA, which is silent as to the application of the GCTA. Bagares and the Department of Justice immediately moved to oppose Pemberton’s release, but to no avail as President Duterte had granted Pemberton absolute pardon.  That same month, Pemberton was put on board a US Military cargo plane and was brought to Camp Smith in Hawaii, where the US Marine Corps are now taking administrative actions against Pemberton. According to the Bureau of Immigration, Pemberton has also been placed on the agency’s blacklist and can no longer return to the Philippines.

      To this day, there are still many L.G.B.T.Q. organizations around the world that cannot rest easy with the conclusion of this issue. It is therefore important that we keep abreast of the cases related hereto.

[1] Dianne Nicole L. Ramos, UST Faculty of Civil Law, 2C, UST Law Review Understudy

[2] Civil Code, Article 4.

[3] Sr. Insp. Valeroso v. People, 570 Phil. 58, 61-62 (2008) and People v. Alcaraz, 56 Phil. 522 (1932).

[4] R.A. No. 10592 took effect on June 6, 2013.

Featured Photo by Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash


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