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Bureau of Corrections

House justice committee to conduct own GCTA probe, eyes revision of RA 10592

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House justice committee to conduct own GCTA probe, eyes revision of RA 10592
Photo Release on the Committee on Justice meeting

The House Committee on Justice is likely to conduct its own hearing on the application of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) provisions of Republic Act (RA) 10592, with the revision of the law to “avoid absurdity and confusion” as the end in view.

Assistant Majority Leader Fidel Nograles, who is also the vice chair of the justice committee, said they will focus on reviewing Article 29 and Article 97 of the Revised Penal Code as amended by RA 10592, noting that these two need to be reconciled.

“In Article 29, which speaks of credit for preventive imprisonment, has certain exclusions which are not found in Article 97…The conflicting part, these exclusions are not found in Art. 97 of the Revised Penal Code as amended by the GCTA, because all that we can find in Art. 97 is that persons who are entitled to credits for preventive imprisonment and persons convicted by final judgement and detained in penal institutions,” Nograles said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel on Friday (September 13).

“You have to reconcile because you have to harmonize the two provisions , such as to give effect to all of the provisions of the law so there has to be specific exclusions, specifically in Art. 29, you need to adopt these exclusions on Art. 97 as well in order to avoid confusion.”

Article 29 excludes habitual delinquents, escapees, persons charged with heinous crimes and recidivists from the GCTA scheme.

Nograles also said they are looking at giving a clearer definition of what “heinous crimes” are.  Right now, heinous crimes, as defined by the death penalty law, are those that are ”grievous, odious, hateful offenses of such monstrosity as to spark public outrage”.

The Senate justice and blue ribbon committees are now conducting hearings on the GCTA, with illegal practices such as the “GCTA for Sale” and “Hospital Pass for Sale” already uncovered. 

Former and current officials of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), as well as several experts, had said the ambiguities in RA 10592, and even its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), led to liberal application of the GCTA that resulted in the early release of some 2,000 heinous crime convicts since 2014. The controversy became the talk of the town after Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced last August 20 that even convicted killer-rapist Antonio Sanchez was set for early release because of the GCTA scheme.

More than a hundred life termers who were released due to RA 10592 have already surrendered after they were given by President Duterte 15 days to present themselves to authorities. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that a revised IRR is due for release next week. This is the product of the joint review conducted by the DOJ and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). “The Joint Review Committee has completed its work and submitted the draft IRR to the Secretaries of Justice and of the Interior and Local Government,” Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete told reporters. “Both will now review the draft IRR and decide on its promulgation.”

Ombudsman recommends suspension, filing of charges vs 27 BuCor officials over GCTA mess

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Ombudsman recommends suspension, filing of charges vs 27 BuCor officials over GCTA mess
Image Credit: @OmbudsmanPH / FB

The Office of the Ombudsman has recommended to the Department of Justice (DOJ) the suspension of 27 officials and personnel of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) over the “anomalous release” of heinous crime convicts using the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) provisions of Republic Act (RA) 10592.

Among those recommended for suspension for six months without pay were Ramoncito Roque, BuCor Documents and Record Section chief, and Corrections Senior Insp Ma. Belinda Bansil, who were identified by witnesses as behind the so-called “GCTA for sale” scheme during the Senate hearing on the controversy.

Also listed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires for suspension were:

  1. Benjamin Barrios, Supervisor, Board of Discipline, Maximum Security Camp
  2. Gerardo Padilla, Chief, NBP Superintendent
  3. Francisco Abunales, NBP, Superintendent
  4. Celso Bravo, Officer-in-Charge, Directorate for Security and Operations
  5. Melencio Faustino, Regional Superintendent, Davao Prison and Penal Farm
  6. Cherry Caliston, Chief, Documents Division, Davao Prison and Penal Farm
  7. Ruelito Pulmano, Inmate Documents and Processing Section
  8. Emerita Aguilar, Chief, Reformation and Rehabilitation Office
  9. Raymund Peneyra, Chief Overseer, Maximum Security Compound
  10. 10.Jomar Coria, NBP South Reformation Coordinator for Education and Training, Maximum Security Compound
  11. Roy Vivo, COG, Maximum Security Compound
  12. 12.Wilfredo Bayona, Deputy Superintendent, NBP South Maximum Security Compound
  13. 13.John Edward Basi, Assistant Chief, Reformation and Rehabilitation Office, Maximum Security Compound, NBP
  14. 14.Abel Dr. Ciruela, Commander of the Guard -Management, Screening and Evaluation Committee, Maximum Security Compound
  15. 15.Roger Boncales, Directorate for Security and Operations -NBP North
  16. 16.Eduardo Cabuhat, OIC Training and Education Office
  17. 17.Dr. Lourdes Razon, Medical and Dental Office
  18. 18.Mary Lou Arbatin, Chief, Behavior Mod. Office
  19. 19.Susana Ortega, OIC, Prison Industry Office, Maximum Security Compound
  20. 20.Anthony Omega, OIC, Sports and Recreation Office, Maximum Security Compound
  21. 21.Antonio Calumpit, OIC, Overseer, Maximum Security Compound
  22. 22.Roberto Rabo, Superintendent, NBP
  23. 23.Jones Lanuza, Deputy Superintendent for Reformation, NBP
  24. 24.Victor de Monteverde, Chief, Alternative Learning System, Maximum Security Compound  and
  25. 25.Veronica Buño, Custodial Officer, NBP

Martires asked the DOJ to effect their suspension within five days. They will also be charged with grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

“The office finds that the evidence in the form of testimonies of witnesses and public documents showing the anomalous release of prisoners convicted of heinous crimes appear to be strong,” Martires said in his six-page decision issued on Monday (September 9).

BuCor officials in alleged ‘GCTA for sale’ scheme agree to lifestyle checks

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BuCor officials in alleged ‘GCTA for sale’ scheme agree to lifestyle checks

Bureau of Correction (BuCor) officials, who were reported to have demanded money in exchange for the early release of heinous crime convicts, accepted the challenge of senators that they be subjected to lifestyle checks at the resumption of the Senate probe into the application of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law on  Monday (September 9).

Those who agreed to voluntarily submit themselves to lifestyle checks were BuCor Legal Division chief Fredric Anthony Santos; Staff Sergeant Ramoncito Roque, head of BuCor’s documents division; Correctional Senior Ins. Maria Belinda Bansil and Corrections Officer 3 Veronica Buño.

They will submit their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) in the last six years, as raised by Senator Risa Hontiveros during the Senate hearing on the GCTA mess.

In the previous hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon and Justice committees last week, witness Yolanda Camilon revealed that some BuCor officials demanded P50,000 from her in exchange for the early release of her husband through the GCTA provisions of Republic Act (RA) 10592.

He identified Roque, Bansil and Buño as some of the BuCor officers who demanded money from her, in what is now called as the “GCTA for sale” scheme. Camilon was forced to come out and disclose the scheme after her husband was not released.

Roque, Bansil and Buño had already denied Camilon’s accusation.

In an earlier hearing of the Senate, former BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon and Regional Superintendent Melencio Faustino also told senators that they are willing to be subjected to lifestyle checks.

At the resumption of the hearing on Monday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said another witness will corroborate Camilon’s revelations on the alleged GCTA for sale scheme. A third witness is still not sure if he/she will come out. 

The application of the GCTA provisions of RA 10592, which was enacted in 2013, has been in the national spotlight since Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra disclosed last August 20 that convicted killer-rapist Antonion L. Sanchez and several other convicts of heinous crimes could be released soon due to their reduced prison terms for good behavior under the law.

Since 2014, more than 22,000 convicts had been freed under the law, around 2,000 of them life termers.

President Duterte himself stopped the early release of Sanchez, stressing that the law does not cover those who were convicted of heinous crimes. He also gave those who have been released 15 days to surrender to authorities. As of Sunday, more than a hundred of these convicts have already surrendered, although some were reported to have fled to other countries. The Philippine National Police said it will now seek the help of the Interpol to effect the arrest of these convicts. 

Drilon defends GCTA law, calls for suspension of BuCor officials in early release of life termers

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Drilon defends GCTA law, calls for suspension of BuCor officials in early release of life termers
Image Credit: frankdrilon / FB

Senator Franklin Drilon said all officials of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) that were accused of having a hand in the early release of heinous crime convicts should be immediately relieved to prevent them from tampering with the evidence.

“At the very list, they should be suspended immediately. That is the purpose of preventive suspension,” Drilon said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel on Friday (September 6). 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, in an interview with radio station DZMM also on Friday, said his next action after appointing the officer in charge (OIC) of the BuCor is the suspension of these prison officials and personnel who demanded money in exchange for the early release of life termers.

“The first thing I will discuss with the new OIC is the immediate suspension of those allegedly involved in the GCTA for sale and temporarily lock up the GCTA processing,” he said.

Drilon said the revelations on the third day of the Senate hearing on the implementation of the good conduct time allowance provisions of Republic Act (RA) 10592 proved that indeed prison officials were making money out of the early release of convicts, even those facing life imprisonment for heinous crimes.

A witness said BuCor personnel demanded P50,000 from her if she wanted her husband released through the GCTA provisions.

“We have always speculated that the application of GCTA was tainted with corruption…it (testimony of witness) confirms all suspicions that money changed hands,” Drilon added.

Still, Drilon said the lawmakers do not need to repeal or amend RA 10592 “because the law itself is clear. If properly implemented, the law would have excluded those guilty of heinous crimes.”

He noted that Section 3 of the law did not include those charged with heinous crimes. “If those who are charged are excluded from the law, how much more those who are already convicted. It is so absurd to say life termers are included in the law simply because it is not clear.”

He stressed that it is the procedure and the implementation which were maliciously screwed up.

This, he said, should have not been the case since Department Order 953 issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2015 even made it clear that life termers should only be released upon prior approval by the DOJ secretary. 

In the release of close to 2,000 heinous crime convicts since 2014, Drilon said there was no authority from the DOJ secretary.

Duterte had nothing to do with early release of heinous crime convicts — Panelo

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Duterte had nothing to do with early release of heinous crime convicts -- Panelo
Image Credit: pcoo.gov.ph

As the Senate continues its probe on the early release of convicts for good behavior under Republic Act (RA) 10592, Malacanang on Tuesday (September 3) made it clear that President Duterte did not have any hand in the orders of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to free prisoners serving life imprisonment for heinous crimes.

Duterte’s spokesman and chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said it is very clear that the “ambiguous” RA 10592 and its “flawed” implementing rules and regulations (IRR) were crafted and enacted during the previous administration. 

Aside from this, Panelo stressed that the review of prisoners’ good conduct time allowance (GCTA) and release are functions of the BuCor and do not reach the halls of Malacanang under the law.

“The actual computation of GCTA does not pass through the Department of Justice (DOJ) and therefore will not even reach the Office of the President before its benefits can be granted to qualified inmates. We stress that the granting of GCTA is not a form of executive clemency, the awarding of which belongs to the Office of the President. The buck, in this case, stops with the Bureau of Corrections,” he said.

Still, Panelo said the President has directed the DOJ to review the law’s implementation to make sure the early release of heinous crime convicts will no longer continue.

“The President will not tolerate any form of injustice being committed under his watch and it is for this reason that he will ensure that the practice initiated by the past administration on the granting of GCTA will no longer continue,” he said.

Duterte also directed the DOJ to determine if the freed convicts can still be brought back to prison. He also wants the Congress to start the process of amending the law.

The Senate is now on the second day of its probe of the GCTA law. On Monday, BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon admitted that he did sign the release order of convicted killer-rapist Antonio L. Sanchez. He also said Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Caño, three of the seven rapists and killers of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, had been freed due to the GCTA law.

Meanwhile, Cayagan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, one of the authors of RA 10592, said Faeldon should be charged for the early release of heinous crime convicts.

“He did not harmonize the law. He did not see that this exclusion is to the entire act so therefore there should have been no release and absolutely no release of those involved in heinous crimes,” Rodriguez said in an interview with ANC’s Headstart, referring to the provisions of RA 10592 that disqualify heinous crime convicts from the GCTA benefits.

Faeldon, according to Rodriguez, is liable under Section 6 of Republic Act No. 10592, which states that any public officer or employee who violates the provisions of the act could face one year imprisonment, a fine of P100,000 and perpetual disqualification to hold office.

Faeldon blames implementing rules of GCTA law in early release of heinous crime convicts

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Faeldon blames implementing rules of GCTA law in early release of heinous crime convicts
Image Credit: Phil News Agency

With senators quizzing him on the early release of heinous crime convicts, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Nicanor Faeldon on Monday (September 2) passed the blame on the implementing rules of Republic Act (RA) 10592 that he said they only followed in reviewing the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) of prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison.

Faeldon stressed before members of the Senate Blue Ribbon and Justice committees that the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) RA 10592 issued in 2014 did not disqualify those convicted of heinous crimes.

Image Credit: Philippine News Agency

Faeldon was forced to attend the Senate hearing after he was subpoenaed by the lawmakers to answer queries regarding the implementation of the GCTA provisions, which already led to the early release of more than 20,000 prisoners, with close to 2,000 of them convicted of heinous crimes.

The controversial law and the BuCor have been on the spotlight for two weeks now after Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced last August 20 that around 11,000 inmates and prisoners are due for release in the next two months due to the retroactive implementation of the GCTA, including convicted killer-rapist Antonio L. Sanchez.

This immediately drew the ire of the public, until President Duterte himself said Sanchez is not qualified to avail of the GCTA benefits because RA 10592 does not cover those convicted of heinous crimes.

The decision of Duterte, who served as a prosecutor before he became mayor of Davao City, was later affirmed by the Department of Justice. 

Reports, however, surfaced that Sanchez, who was sentenced to seven life imprisonment in 1995 for the rape-slay of University of the Philippines – Los Banos student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend Allan Gomez in 1993, was indeed about to be freed, with his release order purportedly signed by Faeldon. 

The BuCor chief told the senators that the IRR of RA 10592 mandated them to apply the GCTA provisions to all prisoners.

“All convicted of any crime when they behave well in jail, they were granted GCTA. You will notice that not a single PDL (persons deprived of liberty) has not been denied in whole of GCTA,” Faeldon noted.

Image Credit: Philippine News Agency

The only time a prisoner cannot avail himself of the GCTA benefits, Faeldon added, is on the month he violated prison rules. In the succeeding months, however, when the prisoner behaves, “the granting of GCTA resumes regardless of the gravity of these offenses.”

He added: “Even grave offenses like drugs confiscated inside their cells, they are only penalized for one month. This has been their application [of the law] since 2014 up to this day.”

Guevarra echoed Faeldon’s view, noting that the wordings of the GCTA provisions probably created a confusion in the implementation.

But he said the DOJ is now of the opinion that those convicted of heinous crimes are indeed disqualified from the GCTA benefits.

Sanchez indeed set to be freed based on order purportedly issued by Faeldon

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Sanchez indeed set to be freed based on order purportedly issued by Faeldon

A disturbing news reported by GMA News TV said convicted rapist-killer Antonio Sanchez was indeed set to be released from prison based on a memorandum purportedly issued by Nicanor Faeldon, chief of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

A copy of the document obtained by GMA News TV showed prisoner “Sanchez Leyza Antonio”, the name of the former Calauan, Laguna mayor, was already qualified for release under Republic Act (RA) 10592.

The document said Sanchez “was found to have served 40 years upon retroactive application of RA No. 10592 and was certified to have no other legal cause to be further detained, shall be released from confinement.”

The memorandum was issued on August 20, 2019 and bore the signature of Faeldon. 

The BuCor chief had earlier denied issuing a memorandum ordering Sanchez’ release. He said if such a document indeed existed, it would have been sent to his office already for his approval.

In the report of GMA News TV, the relatives of Sanchez said they have been informed of his release and were already preparing to fetch him at the New Bilibid Prisons.

It was also on August 20 when Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra made the announcement that thousands of prisoners, including Sanchez, were set to be released in the next two months based on the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) provisions of RA 10592.

This, however, stirred public outcry, with President Duterte himself saying Sanchez is disqualified from availing himself of the GCTA benefits because he was convicted of heinous crimes.

Sanchez was sentenced to seven life imprisonment in 1995 for the rape and murder of University of the Philippines – Los Banos student Eileen Sarmenta, as well as the killing of her friend Allan Gomez.

The Department of Justice also confirmed that Sanchez was not eligible for release under RA 10592.

Faeldon has not yet responded to the GMA News TV report as of Saturday (August 31) morning. However, the report also said Faeldon’s signature in the Sanchez release memorandum is different from his signature in another document.

Anti-crime groups demand transparency in GCTA implementation to prevent abuse

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Anti-crime groups demand transparency in GCTA implementation to prevent abuse
Image Credit: Bureau of Corrections

Anti-crime groups are seeking transparency in the early release of prisoners for good behavior, as they expressed dismay and shock that close to 2,000 heinous crime convicts had been freed already since 2013 when the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law was enacted.

Teresita Ang See, founding chairman of the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order, said in an interview with GMA7 that victims of kidnap for ransom syndicates, in particular, now fear for their safety anew.

“Panic ngayon ang mga kidnap for ransom victims. Panic sila. Nagtatanungan sila baka naman kasama dun sa 2,000 na napakawalan na e mga kidnapper nila,” Ang See said. ”Eh, they’re out there in the streets. Ang laking threat sa kanila na naman.”

Republic Act (RA) 10592, now popularly known as the GCTA law, allows deductions in the prison term of convicts and those still facing trial upon evaluation of their good behavior and services rendered while in prison.

Since 2013 when it was enacted, more than 22,000 inmates had been released due to the implementation of the GCTA provisions, with 1,914 of them convicted of heinous crimes.

Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) data said 797 of these released prisoners were convicted of murder; 758, rape; 274, robbery with violence or intimidation; 48, drug-related offenses; 29, parricide; five, kidnapping with illegal detention; and three, destructive arson. 

Arsenio Evangelista, president of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, said the GCTA could embolden those who are planning to commit crimes.

“Ang masakit dito, ‘yung mindset nu’ng mga would-be criminals and criminals. Oh sige, gawin na natin itong mga major crimes. Anyway, mayroon naman isang batas na prone to corruption and abuse,” Evangelista said. “We earn credits then  soon, mare-release tayo.”

See and Evangelista believes that to prevent abuse of RA 10592, particularly jail officials getting paid in exchange for GCTA credits, there should be transparency in its implementation every step of the way.

“We are demanding, asking DOJ (Department of Justice), BuCor to make it transparent,” Evangelista was quoted in a report of GMA7.

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