DOJ survived GCTA mess 'almost unscathed': Guevarra

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2019 03:29 PM

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

“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 said in a speech during the department's 122nd anniversary 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 were under public scrutiny over the supposed impending release of former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted for the rape and killing of University of the Philippines Los Banos student Eileen Sarmenta 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 Congressional inquiry where it was revealed Faeldon had in fact signed a memorandum for Sanchez’s release dated August 20.

The public uproar caused the DOJ to reexamine its interpretation of RA 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 DOJ 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... the DOJ was caught unaware of what had been happening,” he told reporters.

Guevarra said it was a good thing they “nipped” the GCTA situation “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 added that some senators and House representatives even offered additional funding for the DOJ.

Guevarra also 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.