1,914 inmates already freed are in peril due to Sanchez case
MANILA, Philippines – The fates of 1,914 heinous crimes inmates hang in the balance because of persisting government opinion that heinous crimes should have been excluded from the coverage of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law.
The 1,914 heinous crimes inmates were part of the total 22,049 inmates who have been released since 2013 when the GCTA law was passed.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has started a review of the law's guidelines, with the thrust of excluding heinous crimes from the coverage of the law – a reaction to public outrage sparked by the possible release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez.
What would happen to the 1,914 inmates already freed if the government decides to exclude heinous crimes from the law?
"We have to study and discuss that issue very carefully and thoroughly. Not prudent to answer an important question like that without much thought," Justice Secretary Guevarra said on Thursday, August 29. (READ: BEYOND SANCHEZ How to improve the Good Conduct Time Allowance law)
What's the issue? The retroactive GCTA law could slash in half an inmate's sentence. Inmates like Sanchez, who have been in jail since the 90s and who have already served 25 years out of a maximum 40-year sentence, are automatic candidates for early release.
Important to note though that early release is anchored on good conduct inside prison.
Public backlash followed the news of Sanchez possibly being released soon. This has prompted no other than Malacañang to give a categorical statement that heinous crimes shall be excluded from the law – meaning Sanchez.
It was also the view of Guevarra. Asked whether the ongoing review would likely conclude the same, Guevarra told this reporter "yes" on Tuesday, August 27.
The problem is – 1,914 inmates convicted for heinous crimes have already been released.
Data provided by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) on Thursday revealed that since 2013 when the law was passed, a total of 22,049 inmates have been freed.
Of that number, 1,914 are heinous crimes inmates.
BuCor says that since 2013, there have been 1,914 inmates convicted of heinous crimes released due to GCTA. Conflict: the ongoing DOJ-DILG review is "likely" to conclude that heinous crimes should be excluded from the GCTA law. What will happen to the 1,914? @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/6u7sAWdomV— Lian Buan (@lianbuan) August 29, 2019
BuCor legal chief Frederic Santos said they previously interpreted the law as including heinous crimes. But Santos acknowledged that they would have to abide by whatever the DOJ says. BuCor is an attached agency to the DOJ.
"The secretary has the power to review what we are doing, and if he says it should be excluded then we will follow," Santos said in a mix of English and Filipino.
This puts the DOJ, BuCor and the other member of the review – the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) – in a tight bind.
Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin has already reminded that should inmates – or any other interested party for that matter – is not satisfied with what the DOJ would conclude, they could run to the Supreme Court (SC), the final arbiter of the law.
The main conflict of this issue is: the GCTA law is anchored on the philosophy of restorative justice. Can the public accept that because the law covers all, it also covers the likes of Sanchez.
And if heinous crimes are indeed excluded, can the public accept that thousand others will be excluded too?
Law professor Ted Te insists this should be confined to a factual dispute – did Sanchez exhibit good conduct in prison or not?
August 20 release?
BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon has already denied the Sanchez family claim that a release order for the former mayor has already been signed, which set his freedom supposedly on August 20.
Without confirming or denying the release order, Santos explained that Sanchez was really part of a list that was generated by BuCor last July when the Supreme Court made the law retroactive.
It goes like this: when the SC made the law retroactive last July, it implied that those inmates from the 90s serving a maximum 40-year sentence can already walk free, provided they showed good conduct.
"It just so happened that Mayor Sanchez is included, and others, around 10,200," Santos said.
Faeldon earlier said that based on preliminary assessment, Sanchez may still stay for several years more because of reported misdemeanors like stashing drugs and having television and airconditioning units in his jail cell.
The DOJ-BuCor-DILG joint committee aims to finish the review in 10 days. – Rappler.com