'DOJ reborn': Guevarra says justice dept survived GCTA crisis ‘almost unscathed’

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2019 03:15 PM

DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra during a press conference on the revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) on the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law at the Department of Justice in Manila on September 16, 2019. The GCTA Law has gone under intense scrutiny amid alleged abuse of its provisions, after high-profile detainees jailed for heinous crimes are listed candidates were released or set to be released under the said law. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – In the face of the controversy surrounding the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Department of Justice (DOJ) has survived an “institutional crisis” and even gained “new-found strength.”

“During the past several weeks, the DOJ, as an institution, could have been damaged severely if not ruined because of what happened. However, because we continued to uphold the rule of law, we continued to follow what is right, what is just, and because you, my co-workers at the department, have rallied behind the leadership of the DOJ, the DOJ has survived this major institutional crisis,” he told DOJ officials and staff in a speech on the occasion of the department’s 122nd anniversary on Thursday.

“And as a matter of fact, [the DOJ] came out almost unscathed. If I may say, even smelling good,” he added, citing one senator who said “the present DOJ enjoys a clean public image.”

The DOJ and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) were placed under public scrutiny over the supposed impending release of former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted for the rape and killing of University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen Sarmento and the death of her companion, Allan Gomez.

Both Guevarra and former BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon confirmed to the media on August 20 the possible release of Sanchez, only to backtrack two days later, saying Sanchez was not qualified at all to benefit from the GCTA.

The controversy led to a Senate and House inquiry where it was revealed Faeldon had in fact signed a memorandum for Sanchez’s release dated August 20, and that he himself told the Sanchez family about the possible release but he recalled the order.

The public uproar caused the DOJ to reexamine its interpretation of Republic Act 10592, the law granting expanded GCTAs, and eventually led to a new interpretation excluding convicts of heinous crimes, like Sanchez, from benefiting from the law.

It also led to the crafting of a new implementing rules and regulations set to take effect next week.

It became apparent during the congressional hearings that DOJ was unaware of Faeldon’s actions, despite a DOJ department order requiring BuCor to seek its approval in releases involving convicts sentenced to reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment and high-risk inmates.

“Had we exercised closer supervision over the BuCor, we could have found out that this is what's happening. We were quite complacent that things were going smoothly. Why? Because nobody's complaining. This had been going on for the past what? Since 2014. No one has complained about the implementation of the GCTA until pumutok yung situation ni Mayor Sanchez (until the situation of Mayor Sanchez broke out), so we have to review everything, so to a certain extent, the DOJ was caught unaware of what had been happening,” he told the media in an ambush interview.

“Simply because the BuCor had become more autonomous because of the BuCor law in 2013 and the DOJ was relegated to general administrative supervision but that really doesn't mean a lot. So unless problems cropped up, talagang hinahayaan namin ang (we really allowed) BuCor to do what they ought to do, operationally speaking,” he added.

Guevarra said it was a good thing they “nipped” the GCTA issue “in the bud.” The DOJ is now in the process of cleaning up the list of persons deprived of liberty who were prematurely released on account of the GCTA.

“For one, bills are now pending in Congress bringing back a greater amount of control to the DOJ over some of its attached agencies. So that is probably a recognition to some extent, kailangan ng (we need) a more active oversight function, on the part of the DOJ,” he said in his speech.

He also touted that some senators and lower house representatives are even offering additional funding to the DOJ.

“So kung yung problema ng ibang agencies paano dagdagan ang budget dahil ang tendency ng Congress ay magbawas, maglipat, magputol, sa DOJ, di ‘yan ang ating problema. Ang ating problema, saan ilalagay, saan ilalaan ang additional funds na gusto ibigay sa atin,” he said.

(So if the problem of other agencies is how to increase the budget because the tendency of Congress is to cut and transfer funds, in the DOJ, that’s not our problem. Our problem is where to allocate the additional funds that they want to give us.)

Guevarra thanked his “co-workers” for their support during a time of crisis, which he called a “major shock in the system.”

“I just want you to rejoice in our new-found strength, new-found public image. I’d like to say the DOJ has been reborn,” he said.