By Jaime Pilapil
NO one among the three Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials knew for certain why murder convict Jose Antonio Leviste was granted a “sleep-out” privilege.
Sleep-out privilege means the “living-out” inmate can sleep in any house, whether owned by a resident inside the National Bilibid Prisons (NBP) compound or in a special hut the prisoner has built himself.
In the case of Leviste, a 71-year-old former governor, he constructed a hut near the Ina ng Awa Catholic Church or right inside the Environmental Center that his pro-environment foundation has built.
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno was said to have donated to the foundation P200,000 as seed money.
During a hearing conducted by a panel from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday, BuCor Assistant Director and Officer-in-Charge Teodora Diaz, NBP Superintendent Ramon Reyes and his predecessor, Armando Miranda, seemed confused about the sleep-out scheme.
State Counsel Wilberto Tolitol noticed that approval of application for the sleep-out privilege was a decision of the NBP superintendent and was not even in the BuCor manual.
BuCor Director Ernesto Diokno canceled the sleep-out privilege for 109 inmates on sleep-out status right after the May 18 incident where Leviste made his way to Makati City (Metro Manila), apparently right under the noses of BuCor officials.
The officials explained that the sleep-out system for inmates is different from the living-out system.
Reyes said that inmates detained at the minimum security camp are automatically granted living-out status either because they are about to complete the service of their sentences or because they are 70 years old or above.
He added that those living out can roam the NBP compound during daytime as part of BuCor’s program to help them reintegrate into society.
Diaz said that the sleep-out privilege is given to inmates who have “special skills” such as those of Leviste who, he added, is n expert in tree-planting.
The DOJ panel discovered that the former governor right after a Makati City court convicted him of murder was first detained at the NBP’s Reception and Diagnostic Center (RDC) for a year in 2009, or a year before he was transferred to the minimum security compound in July 2010.
BuCor Agricultural Production head Wilson Marquez then recommended to Miranda to grant Leviste a sleep out status that year.
The DoJ panel members were amazed at the reason why the former governor was granted sleep-out privilege when any person can plant a tree.
“He has a special skill in propagation of seedlings, is that a special skill?” State Prosecutor Rohaira Lao asked.
Diaz explained that Leviste has the right to sleep near his project.
“Maybe, but since this is the project of Mr. Leviste, I think he has the option to be there to supervise it,” she said.
Diaz then disclosed that it was Marquez who requested that Leviste be given sleep-out status, although this privilege is not provided in the BuCor operating manual
Miranda explained that the scheme has been a practice since 1986.
But State Counsel Charlene Mae Tapic asked why the sleep-out policy was not included in the revised manual in 2000.#