The Bilibid redemption

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Just Cause

We all have our purpose in life, to find our own place under the sun. We grew up in the gory days of the Vizconde massacre in Parañaque in 1991, Chiong sisters rape-slay in Cebu in 1997, and the murder of Bubby Dacer in Cavite in 2000. We remember the crimes against Maggie dela Riva, Pepsi Paloma, and Leonardo Villa in the decades past.

The 1993 double murder case against convicted ex-Mayor Antonio Sanchez is front and center once again. At age 73, perhaps ex-Mayor Sanchez may have found his redemption — when his imminent release from the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa became public knowledge, it exposed the problem that is the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law that allows for early release of convicts for good behavior.

Without him and this controversy, we may never have known that our criminal justice system is broken.

The Senate hearings continue but who investigates the legislators responsible for the passage of legislation that is sloppy and skewed? This is a perennial problem when laws that are systemic in nature, like criminal justice, are written by amateurs in disregard of the existing legal framework, historical context, and actual situation. It is law-making sari-sari style.

It is clear that the GCTA does not exclude those convicted of heinous crimes. It means that even rapists and murderers are entitled to early release by law as passed by Congress and signed by the President. It is a substantive right that cannot be revoked provided the convict meets all the requirements. We only passed a heinous crimes law in 1993 as a response to the crimes of then Mayor Sanchez.

The Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Government, in crafting the GCTA Implementing Rules and Regulations, intended the prospective application of the 2013 law, meaning it would only apply to those convicted after the GCTA law. The early release of prisoners needs to be balance with the demand for justice for victims and their families, and the need to rehabilitate and transform prisoners.

Mere passage of time in jail is not enough. Redemption is not only about saving one’s self, it is about saving others too.

However, in June 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that since GCTA is favorable to prisoners, it should apply retroactively, meaning all those currently in prison are entitled.

For those released heinous or hideous criminals, by entitlement or by corruption, it is a dilemma whether to bring a case in court challenging the “return to prison” order, or to quietly surrender and be re-incarcerated. Live free and invoke your right, or have a bounty on your head like a fugitive all over again.

Even if Congress amends or repeals the GCTA law, the rights in favor of the prisoners are already vested and cannot be taken away. This demonstrates the ill effects of a bad criminal justice law with the good intent to reward good conduct but which actually fosters corruption and destroys public trust in our criminal justice institutions.

It does not absolve the Justice department and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) if preventive measures were not in place, or as shared by Senator Tito Sotto that redemption for a price happened at the BuCor. For example, for alien criminals, their immediate deportation to their country of origin, or to continue intelligence build up post-release of any illegal activities.

It is one thing to pardon a murderer who grew up or grown old in prison without any violation, or to forgive a rapist who truly repented to atone for his sins. It is another matter to absolve drug lords who run their business in and out of Bilibid. It is not as if they will suddenly close shop because they are now out of the walls.

The solutions are simple and straightforward:

1. Do a complete review of all criminal laws and procedures and fix the problems one by one, step by step, but under an integrated framework;

2. More than any other institution, let meritocracy reign in criminal justice agencies. Select, appoint, and train only persons with integrity and competency to manage these large bureaucracies that are the bedrock of a just society; and

3. Operationally and for a permanent solution, relocate the whole rotten Bilibid complex to a new place with new systems and new policies in a new environment.

We are living in gorier days of daylight killings and street executions. These are all heinous crimes against citizens, from police officers to prosecutors, from doctors to judges, and from councillors to congressmen. Inflation rates and economic growth rates are meaningless if our right to life is forfeit. Our purpose in life can only be realized if we exist in safety and live in peace. And for deviants and criminals, to know for sure that they will have to meet their fates under a rule of law that is fair and true.