More jail congestion feared with review of ‘good conduct’ law

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 26 2019 06:50 PM | Updated as of Aug 27 2019 09:30 AM

MANILA—A U.S.-based professor, who was once wrongfully jailed here, cautioned Monday against suspending good conduct rewards for inmates in response to the public outcry over the possible release of convicted rapist and killer Antonio Sanchez.

Holding off implementation of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law will “prolong the agony” of eligible inmates and likely worsen jail congestion, said Raymund Narag, who teaches at the Southern Illinois University.

“There is nothing wrong with the law,” he said of RA 10592, which expanded rewards for good behavior.

But the law, he said, was not meant for the likes of Sanchez, who violated prison rules. The ex-mayor was twice caught with illegal drugs and other prohibited items at the New Bilibid Prison.

“My other concern is that now, Antonio Sanchez has become the face of the GCTA law,” said Narag, who has been assisting in the implementation of RA 10592.

GOOD BEHAVIOR

Narag saw first-hand the benefits of the old GCTA law, which was amended in 2013, when he was jailed for nearly 7 years for his alleged involvement in the death of a frat man at the University of the Philippines.

Before he was acquitted in 2002, Narag spent time mentoring fellow inmates and conducting functional literacy classes at the Quezon city jail.

He has since focused on the subjects of correctional administration, criminal victimization, and youth violence.

The new law allowed a 15-day deduction in sentence for inmates “for each month of study, mentoring, or service time rendered.”

“It tries to reward good behavior,” said Narag. “Because if they don’t participate, they become idle and you know, idleness is the root of all evil in the prison.”

GCTA EARNED

The justice department earlier called for the suspension of good conduct rewards pending review of their implementing rules.

Last week, justice and correction officials floated the possibility that Sanchez might be freed for “good conduct,” drawing widespread public condemnation.

Sanchez is serving 7 counts of reclusion perpetua for the rape and killing of Eileen Sarmenta, a 21-year-old student he got as a “gift” and who was later gang-raped by his bodyguards in 1993. They also tortured and killed Sarmenta’s companion, Allan Gomez.

The ex-mayor is also serving time for the murder of 2 former political supporters.

Narag sought to correct misconceptions that the GCTA law would automatically benefit all inmates.

“No, it does not say that,” he said.

“It will be given only when it is actually earned, when you have demonstrated good behavior, that you are willing to change your ways, that you’re working toward your rehabilitation and reintegration in society as a responsible citizen.”

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

The GCTA law should be seen as a way to move from retributive to restorative justice, said Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Commission on Prison Pastoral Care.

The mothers of Sanchez’s victims earlier said the former mayor neither showed remorse nor indemnified the families.

“That’s enough reason already not to award the GCTA,” Diamante told ABS-CBN News.

Healing process begins with the restitution of the offender, he said, or working for a victim’s forgiveness.

“Wala naman ako involvement d'yan. 'Yan naman ay love triangle, itinapon lang sa Calauan tapos ikinarga sa akin,” Sanchez said last week.

(I have no involvement there. That case is a case of love triangle. The bodies were dumped in my area. They falsely charged me.)

“Talagang ako'y walang kasalanan, maski lumubog na itong mundo, mamatay na ang dapat mamatay kung ako ay may kasalanan," he said. 

(I am innocent. I swear, I am innocent, even if the world crumbles.)