Sotto, Gordon, Lacson seek repeal of expanded law on early release of convicts

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 03 2019 05:03 PM

MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon have filed a bill seeking the repeal of a law that increased good conduct time allowance (GCTA) for convicts, thus allowing their early release. 

The three senators filed Senate Bill No. 993 on Monday, even as the chamber’s justice and Blue Ribbon committees, led by Gordon, have yet to finish a joint inquiry into alleged irregularities in the implementation of the 2013 expanded law, including the release of heinous crime convicts. 

They said while the intention of the framers of Republic Act 10592 was noble, the measure has to be scrapped because “it caused an absurd interpretation and its very provisions needed harmonization.”

“The provision on GCTA has been in effect since the 1930s and it has not raised this kind of concern from the people and the government,” they said in the bill’s explanatory statement.

“Thus, it is an opportune time to go back to the old law where no question of proper implementation has been put forth to the government and prisoners are enjoying its benefits without a question of the propriety of its applicability on them,” they said. 

Minority Sen. Risa Hontiveros, for her part, believes the law's implementing rules and regulations must be revised because these allowed abuses in the measure's application.

RA 10592 was passed in 2013 under then President Benigno Aquino III with the goal of decongesting prisons and giving a second chance to reformed convicts. It added into the GCTA computation a convict's time while detained or period held during trial. 

The Supreme Court ruled in June that this law should be applied to prison sentences given even prior to its passage.

The 2013 law recently came under scrutiny following reports that it could lead to the release of Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 7 terms of reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years' imprisonment for each term) for the 1993 rape-slay of University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and the death of companion Allan Gomez.

The law, based on the interpretation of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), allowed Sanchez to avail of GCTA and be released ahead of the end of his prison term.

BuCor data, meanwhile, showed nearly 2,000 heinous crime convicts have been released since 2014, when the law was applied. 

But several senators believe heinous crime convicts and those who committed grave offenses while in prison such as Sanchez do not deserve reduced prison terms. 

The former mayor had been caught possessing illegal drugs in prison. 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said during Monday's hearing that since he was appointed to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in April 2018, he had not received any request for approval for the release of any convict on the basis of good conduct time allowance. 

This despite a 2015 department order requiring the DOJ’s approval for release of those sentenced to life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua.

Guevarra said the confusion arose because in the law, the disqualification of “recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes” pertains solely to the grant of time credit for preventive imprisonment, not for the granting of GCTA.

The law’s section 3, which revises the Revised Penal Code’s Article 97, merely increased the GCTA.

Guevarra said had there been a “stand-alone provision” on the disqualification of recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes in the law, “there probably would be no confusion.”

He said upon the DOJ’s review of the law, it concluded that the proper implementation of that measure would be to exclude those convicted of heinous crimes from getting GCTA.