All Filipinos want heinous convicts back

GCTA Feature

The law that may shorten an inmates’ service time in jail due to good conduct has benefited more than 22,000 prisoners, and on its sixth year of implementation, legal questions on who is eligible to it have been raised.

Public outrage followed the possible early release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez, who may benefit from retroactive application of Republic Act 10592.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Sanchez may not walk free soon after all, because the former Laguna town mayor is convicted on heinous crimes—rape and murder—that render him ineligible to apply for GCTA.

The GCTA, however, is a law that has been implemented for years now, and Guevarra’s legal opinion may be a new interpretation of provisions of RA 10592.

According to data of the Bureau of Corrections, there have been more than 22,000 persons deprived of liberty whose GCTA were granted and whose sentences were shortened. Of these, 1,914 inmates were sent to imprisonment for committing heinous crime.

Panelo: Bring them back to jail

BuCor data showed that prisoners whose GCTA were granted since 2014 had been convicted of parricide, murder, kidnapping with illegal detention, robbery with violence or intimidation, destructive arson, rape and violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

Sanchez was convicted on murder and rape.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said these nearly 2,000 prisoners who were freed in the past five years should be sent back to prison.

“Obviously, they should be brought back to prison until they serve the full term of their service,” Panelo, who is also the presidential chief legal counsel, said.

What the Revised Penal Code says

Former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te pointed out that Panelo’s remarks would mean “a retroactive application of the law in a prejudicial manner, which is prohibited by the Constitution as an ex post facto application of the law.”

An ex post facto law is that would penalize a crime that was committed when the act was not deemed illegal yet. The Bill of Rights states: “No ex post facto law or bill of attainder shall be enacted.”

“The GCTA that may serve to shorten a sentence and entitle the inmate to be released extinguishes liability and, even if applied erroneously but in good faith to unqualified inmates (e.g., those serving time for heinous crimes who under the law are not entitled to GCTA), cannot justify sending back to jail those set free,” Te, who is a professor on criminal law, explained.

Te also stressed: “Unlike conditional pardon, the only item under Article 94 of the RPC (Partial Extinction of Liability) that can justify sending back the convict to jail (upon violation of the condition for the pardon), Article 99 expressly says that the GCTA, once granted, cannot be revoked and its consequences, once set in place, cannot be reversed.”

Section 5 of RA 10592—amended Art. 99 of the RPC, on who grants time allowances— provided: “Such [time] allowances once granted shall not be revoked.”

Guevarra, for his part, opted to refrain from commenting on Panelo’s remarks. He stressed that the issue at hand is a “very complicated legal and factual issue.”

“We have to study this question very carefully,” he added.

A pending interagency committee review

GCTA application of inmates is currently suspended as the government looks into its guidelines.

On Thursday, the Departments of Justice and Interior and Local Government issued a joint department order creating an inter- agency committee that is tasked to file a report and draft of the Implementing Rules and Regulation of GCTA.

The committee will submit its report 10 days from the issuance of the department order. (By Kristine Joy Patag – Philstar.com)