When a case is titled “People of the Philippines vs. Juan Santos,” it is a criminal case, or a crime against society. When a case is titled “Pedro Reyes vs. Juan Santos,” it is a civil case between two persons.
Republic Act 7659 (An Act to impose the Death Penalty on certain Heinous Crimes, amending for that purpose the Revised Penal Laws as amended, other Special Penal Laws and for other purposes) dated Dec. 13, 1993 focused on “grievous, odious and hateful offenses and which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society.”
“Heinous Crimes” evokes three shocking and abominable rape-slay cases: that of the Chiong sisters, Marijoy and Jacqueline, raped and killed in Cebu, on June 16, 1997; that of Mary Eileen Sarmenta, raped and killed, and Allan Gomez, killed, in Laguna on June 28, 1993; and that of Carmela Vizconde, raped and killed, and her mother Estrellita, killed, on June 30, 1991 in Parañaque. And the “people of the Philippines” trembled in fear and hate for the heinous crimes. Raping and killing can only be done by a satanic mind.
Yet Satan laughed his hellish triumph once more when news started circulating into a tempest in media that former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, convicted for the Sarmenta-Gomez rape-slay case and sentenced to seven simultaneous life sentences, could be released soon after having served 25 years, with 15 years remaining under the 40-year maximum incarceration in law. He was availing of the shortened service of sentence for good behavior under the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA).
The little-known GCTA was an embryo in the Revised Penal Code of December 1930, Chapter 2 which already talked of “partial extinction of criminal liability,” including conditional pardon, commutation of sentence, and good conduct allowances. A Rappler timeline (as of Aug. 27) of the present tremulous interest in the GCTA and Sanchez’s possible early release under it showed that specific legislation for good conduct allowances started with Senate Bill 3064 (2012) and House Bill 419 (2013), ending with Republic Act 10592 or the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law signed by Benigno Aquino III on May 29, 2013. The GCTA amended several articles under the Revised Penal Code, including Article 97, which lays out the allowance for good conduct for persons deprived of liberty (PDLs).
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Senator Richard Gordon painstakingly ferreted out the circumstances and details of the memorandum order releasing Sanchez, signed by Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Nicanor Faeldon. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the justice secretary at the time Sanchez was convicted, clarified Mr. Faeldon’s claim that “(he) was just following procedures” under the IRR for RA 10592. Mr. Drilon cited that the IRR, penned by then-justice secretary Leila de Lima and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, provided for a prospective application of the GCTA law, which was later finally judged on June 25, 2019 by the Supreme Court to allow retroactive application.
Mr. Faeldon still had a problem, Mr. Drilon showed, because he acted beyond his authority to release Sanchez, or any other prisoner or detainee without the clearance of the Secretary of Justice. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who according to the Rappler timeline told reporters on Aug. 20 that Sanchez “may actually be released,” and, in another instance, “is very likely for release,” turned around two days later and said those charged with heinous crimes are not eligible for credit of preventive imprisonment, then they are also not supposed to benefit from the GCTA. “It’s been a tough process of interpreting the wordings of a law that has certain ambiguities in its provisions. In the end, however, it is the spirit and the intention of the law that guided us in taking a position,” Mr. Guevarra was quoted as saying by Rappler.
Mr. Drilon, in an interview with Karen Davila on ANC on Sept. 6, talked about delicadeza and propriety in the interpretation of the law. Commenting on Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo’s “referral letter” to the Bureau of Corrections to “look into” the petition of Sanchez’ wife for the early release of Sanchez, Mr. Drilon said: “First, it is on the letterhead of Malacañang; second, Panelo was one of the defense lawyers of Sanchez. The letter should have been signed by someone else. There is the perception of pressure, by dint of the position of Panelo. Perception is very important in government.”
Mr. Panelo said on Sept. 3 that he will file libel charges against Inquirer.net and Rappler for calling his pro-forma “referral letter” for the Sanchez plea for clemency (not the GCTA) a “recommendation.” Inquirer.net publicly apologized, but the apology was rejected by Mr. Panelo, as reported by ABS-CBN News on Sept. 6.
But just as Mr. Panelo might have leapfrogged out of hot water, the heat was on Mr. Faeldon, who was questioned about the loose mechanics of release, specially the quantification and recording of good behavior points and the demerits of bad conduct. CNN Philippines reported on Sept. 4 that President Rodrigo Duterte said he called Mr. Faeldon to stop further releases, but Mr. Faeldon instead “tried to justify” the computations of the inmates’ good conduct time allowance.
“I was trying to provide the fire extinguisher so that the people would no longer have any doubts. No releases. If he said that, then this would all be over… The problem is, the following day, he came up with his statement, with his own computation,” Mr. Duterte said, according to CNN. And Mr. Faeldon was fired right then and there.
Yolanda Camilon, the common-law wife of a minimum security inmate at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, surfaced late Thursday to give a first-hand account of an alleged racket involving ranking Bureau of Corrections officials, Philstar Global reported on Sept. 5. “GCTA for sale: So far, we have discovered and will pursue to validate (gather evidence as well) a price range of P50K to P1.5M per prisoner. At least 8 are known to have paid up to P100K each. It is also well organized. Let’s see where it leads us,” Senator Panfilo Lacson declared in his Twitter account.
According to Mr. Drilon in the aforementioned ANC interview, of the 20,000 prisoners released through the GCTA, 1,914 had been charged with heinous crimes. Mr. Duterte publicly asked those released prisoners to report to the police in their area for re-evaluation of their discharge. Philippine National Police Chief General Oscar Albayalde said on Friday that 25 heinous crime convicts released under the GCTA Law have surrendered to various police stations, a PNA report bared on Sept. 7.
For two weeks now, people have stopped what they are doing to watch the Senate hearings on the proposed GCTA law. To the lawmakers: please consider that those amendments to tighten and improve measures under restorative justice must first protect “people of the Philippines,” the common good, over and above the personal rights of prisoners who have compromised their liberties by willful commission of crimes against the people.
Consider our common rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in assurances under the law that we will be safe and secure, without the feared threat of re-established power and influence of recidivist criminals freed under the corrupted GCTA.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.