By Renato Tibon
“It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.” – Mahatma Gandhi
IGNORANCE of the law excuses no one. This legal truism should be a good reason for everyone, as a civic duty, to actively pursue learning a substantial amount of the law, to protect one’s rights and prevent abuse and to potentially help those who are clueless about it. Just like politics, the law is too important to be left in the hands of lawyers and yes, politicians. Sciolism notwithstanding, it is equally wrong to skirt around the law to evade responsibility and avoid the corresponding penalty, especially when aided by those who have the knowledge and power to manipulate, abuse or otherwise make the law expendable.
The public uproar involving the near release of convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez, has tapered down but in the hearts and minds of the families of the victims, eternal vigilance will remain until the perpetrator has fully served his sentence, seven terms of reclusion perpetua (at least 30 years imprisonment before eligibility for pardon, maximum of 40 each term) for heinous crimes which, in the absence of death penalty he probably better deserved, would just as well satisfy the ends of justice. He, together with some heinous crime convicts stood to benefit from a lax interpretation of R.A.10592, otherwise known as GCTA law, by some scheming individuals, causing deliberate “confusion for their own personal gains.” There is no guarantee that the law has not been corrupted favoring powerful and influential inmates even as they were screened by the Management, Screening and Evaluation Committee of the Bureau of Corrections which blandly assured there is “presumption of regularity in the screening.” The Bucor chief confirmed that since June 2019, when the Supreme Court made the GCTA retroactive, they released 200 convicts who have qualified. Could GCTA have been abused and “sold” indiscriminately? It’s a question heavy in the minds of the public grown weary with graft and corruption rooted in the culture of governance in this country.
R.A. 10592 passed in 2013 modified some of the provisions of the Revised Penal Code (Act 3815) by increasing the good conduct time allowance, which may be credited to persons deprived of liberty (PDL) or those under preventive imprisonment, who have shown good behavior and diligence, in effect, reducing their jail terms. The law was enacted to keep up with restorative justice – a belief that inmates can be reformed and are given a second chance, according to the Supreme Court, “to reform and induce habits of industry and good conduct.” Nothing in the conduct records of convicted detainee Sanchez could qualify him under the law. GCTA would have probably granted freedom to 11,000 inmates in penal colonies around the country. Now public backlash precipitated by the aborted release of Sanchez could jeopardize the cases of many deserving inmates. Talk about good conduct, bad timing. Many of those who were released but whose orders were recalled have since surrendered, albeit many are now taking the risk being fugitives after the deadline to recommit themselves expired.
When the House bill which was enacted into Republic Act 10592 was filed in the House of Representatives, it was only focused on granting prisoners the fullest benefits of preventive imprisonment. Further, the law made it clear that recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage. However, some saw loopholes, under the final GCTA law, which were manipulated to benefit even those who were meted out stiff penalties based on the gravity of the crimes. In the case of Sanchez, who has only served 24 years of his seven-term reclusion perpetua sentence, public outcry has been more pronounced due to the severity of his crime of rape and murder, deemed heinous (beastly) under the statutes. The law, as passed, already included provisions on good conduct which provided very generous terms for prisoners although there is also a need to make the process transparent. There is a further need for the Secretary of Justice to approve the applications of prisoners meted out the penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment for high-risk inmates.
Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez, who is in favor of a reformative, rather than retributive justice system, is thus proposing further amendments to R.A. 10592, which he co-authored under a congressional bill, to make some otherwise vague provisions clearer, avoiding misinterpretations to suit the interests of those who should serve their time, in full, according to the penalty meted out by the Court.
• In Article 29, as amended, the statement ”Provided, finally, that recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of this Act” is removed to be given a specific provision to emphasize the restriction under the same Act.
• Section 3 of Article 97 on allowance for good conduct of the Act is further amended to read as follows (reduced time allowance):
• During the first two years of imprisonment, he shall be allowed a deduction of eight (instead of 20) days for each month of good behavior during detention;
• During the third to the fifth year, inclusive, of his imprisonment, he shall be allowed a deduction of TEN (instead of 23) days for each month of good behavior during detention;
• During the following years until the tenth year, inclusive, of his imprisonment, he shall be allowed a deduction of 12 (instead of 25) days for each month of good behavior during detention;
• During the 11th and successive years of his imprisonment, he shall be allowed a deduction of 15 (instead of 30) days for each month of good behavior during detention; and
• At any time during the period of imprisonment, he shall be allowed another deduction of fifteen (15) days, in addition to numbers one to four hereof, for each month of study, teaching or mentoring service time rendered.
• Article 98 on Special time allowance for loyalty is proposed to be deleted
• Article 99 of the same Act, the statement “Such allowances once granted shall not be revoked” is deleted with the addition of the following provision: “The said authority to grant allowances for good conduct or to release prisoners shall not apply to prisoners/inmates sentenced to life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua or high-risk inmates, whose release due to expired sentences shall only be implemented upon prior approval of the Secretary of Justice.”
• Section 6 under Penal Clause of the Act is also amended to read as follows:
“Faithful compliance with the provisions of this Act is hereby mandated. As such, the penalty of two (2) years imprisonment, a fine of five hundred thousand pesos (instead of P100,000) and perpetual disqualification to hold office shall be imposed against any public officer or employee for each violation of the provisions of this Act.”
• A new Section 7 of R.A. 10592 is hereby inserted to read as follows:
“Recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of this act. Persons deprived of liberty who are given good conduct allowance shall forfeit the same if he/she commits any crime, violations of prison rules or any misconduct.”
(Renato Gica Tibon is a fellow of the Fellowship of the 300, an elite organization under Centrist Democracy Political Institute with focus on political technocracy. He holds both position as political action officer and program manager of the Institute. He is the former regional chairman for Region 10 and vice president for Mindanao of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines.)