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RA 10592

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.”

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. 

PACC says GCTA law’s ambiguity not an excuse for prison officials, to exclude Dela Rosa in probe

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Image Credit: OFFICIALPAGEofRonaldBatoDelaRosa / FB

President Duterte’s own probing body—the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC)—will not go easy on its investigation into possible administrative and criminal culpabilities of former and current prison officials who had a hand in the early release of heinous crime convicts due to erroneous implementation of good conduct time allowance (GCTA) benefits under Republic Act (RA) 10592.

But the PACC said former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa will not be called by the agency in respect of the Senate, which dela Rosa is now representing.

PACC Commissioner Manuelito Luna said the law’s ambiguity or following ongoing practice—now the reasons being used by former and current BuCor officials in approving the release of heinous crime convicts—will not exculpate anyone in their probe.

“They thought that was right because that was the practice. But ignorance of the law excuses no one,” Luna was quoted in a report of ABS-CBA News.

He said the PACC’s target is to submit its findings and the accompanying recommendations to Duterte in less than 60 days. “The circumstances dictate we have to submit our recommendations to President as soon as possible.”

The PACC, under Executive Order (EO) 73 signed by Duterte in December 2018, has the authority to probe government officials and after due investigation recommend the filing of criminal charges before the Office of the Ombudsman or Department of Justice (DOJ).

PACC chief Dante Jimenez, in an interview with the Manila Times, said they are conducting the probe on GCTA “to make those officials at BuCor answerable from 2014-2019 since the start of the releases of convicts on heinous crimes.” 

The Senate is also investigating the early release of prisoners under the GCTA law, but Jimenez said the “Senate hearing is in aid of Legislation only.”

Data showed around 2,000 convicts of heinous crimes have been released under the GCTA provisions since RA 10592 was enacted in 2013, including three of the seven BuCor prisoners who were convicted in the rape-slay of the Chiong sisters. Former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio L. Sanchez , a convicted killer-rapist sentenced to seven life imprisonment, was almost released, but the public outcry forced the DOJ and the BuCor not to cancel it. 

Luna said current BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon will be placed under the PACC. It will also investigate former BuCor officials, except dela Rosa, because he is now representing the Senate, a co-equal branch of the Executive.

But dela Rosa, Luna said, can also volunteer to be included in the PACC probe.

Luna, however, advises dela Rosa against it, noting “he represents the Senate, and therefore he has to think of the institutional independence of the Senate.” 

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.

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