Justice chief now says no court order needed for inmates' transfer to Marine barracks

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 7) — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Saturday clarified there is no need for the court's approval in moving inmates from the New Bilibid Prison to any "extension facility," such as the Marine barracks where the convicts who testified against Senator Leila de Lima were transferred.

"Note this carefully, for clarity. If the transfer is to a facility not controlled by the BuCor (Bureau of Corrections), the court that committed the PDL (persons deprived of liberty) to the original penitentiary should at least be notified or its approval secured," Guevarra said in a statement.

"But if the transfer is made to a BuCor extension facility, such as a military camp by agreement, no court approval is required as long as custody and control remain with the BuCor," Guevarra said.

He said there was a memorandum of agreement between the BuCor and the Marines to that effect, similar to the deal with the Armed Forces' headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo. Guevarra, however, said he does not have the copy of the document with the Marines.

Guevarra in his new statement now shares the view of sacked BuCor Director-General Nicanor Faeldon, who approved the transfer of 10 inmates from the Bilibid to the Philippine Marine Barracks Rudiardo Brown in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, based on a June 12 document obtained by CNN Philippines.

This follows President Rodrigo Duterte's revelation Friday night that he ordered the transfer of witnesses against De Lima out of the national penitentiary. He said his decision was based on fears De Lima's allies inside the Bilibid may harm them.

Prior to Duterte's pronouncement, Guevarra said there is “nothing irregular about that (transfer) for as long as court approval is secured."

READ: Guevarra defends transfer of high-risk, high-profile inmates from Bilibid

On Saturday, however, Guevarra said Duterte can decide to move inmates from the Bilibid to any other facility considered by the BuCor as an extension.

"The president, as chief executive, has control and supervision over all offices and agencies under the executive department," Guevarra explained.

Among the convicts who are now held at the Marine's headquarters are Peter Co, Hans Anton Tan, Jojo Baligad, Vicente Sy, Froilan Trestiza, Nonilo Arile and Joel Capones – who all testified against De Lima on her supposed drug links.

They said De Lima, as Justice Secretary from 2010 to 2015, allowed the illegal drug trade in Bilibid in exchange for money. The Justice Department has supervisory powers over the Bureau of Corrections, which manages the Bilibid.

De Lima, who has been detained since 2017 over drug charges, maintained that these are trumped-up charges hurled against her for being a staunch critic of the Duterte administration. She accused Duterte of securing the inmates to make sure they will continue to pin her down in the trial of her cases.

READ: De Lima mocks Duterte order to transfer witnesses out of Bilibid

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.