Guevarra: No backdoor for 'undeserving' convicts
BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra assured the public on Friday, August 30, that there will be no backdoor for the early release of “undeserving” convicts.
Guevarra, who addressed the launching of the Bacolod City Justice Zone here, said the Department of Justice was revieving the implementing rules and guidelines of Republic Act No. 10592 or the law on good conduct time allowance (GCTA) to ensure that only deserving convicts get reduced prison time.
“The very real danger posed to the peace of the community by the early release of those [with a] capacity for vengeance and re-inflicting pain upon victimized families has compelled us not only to review and plug possible loopholes in the IRR but to put a temporary halt to the process that magnifies such risk,” he said.
This came following a public outrage over the possible early release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez, who is serving 9 life terms for the murder and rape of student Eileen Sarmenta and her boyfriend Allan Gomez in 1993, and for the murder of a father and son.
Guevarra earlier said Sanchez was a candidate for early release under the GCTA law, after the Supreme Court ruled that it be retroactive in application or applicable to cases prior to the law's enactment in 2013. He later backtracked and said Sanchez was not qualified because he had committed a heinous crime, among other factors.
Guevarra said at the Friday event that the DOJ did not yet have a copy of the list of high profile personalities who were up for release under the GCTA.
“That list may be submitted to the joint committee which we recently formed. We are concentrating on the guidelines. But maybe if there is an opportunity to take a look also at the list so we can see how the processing was done, which respect to those who were already released,” Guevarra said.
Of the thousands who were released since 2014, over 1,900 of whom were convicted of heinous crimes, he added.
Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, for his part, said there should be proper guidelines "if they want to change the rule or execute the law."
"That is their privilege and absolute right but it should be aligned with the law,” Bersamin said.
Aside from Bersamin and Gueverra, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also attended the launch of Bacolod City Justice Zone at the Government Center.
Transparency issues, lofty purposes
Senator Leila de Lima said the foiled release of Sanchez showed “transparency” issues in the process that required public vigilance.
“This case has revealed issues on transparency in the process, especially with regard to the victims of the crimes of the offenders applying for time allowance,” she said in a statement from her detention cell in Camp Crame on Saturday, August 31.
He said that while Sanchez’s consideration for early release “is an abomination and a misapplication of the law” and “a bastardization of the spirit of restorative justice,” this should not take away from the primary intention of RA 10592. ([OPINION | DEEP DIVE] What the GCTA law is and what it needs)
“Still, the case of Sanchez should not prevent us from pursuing the goals of RA No. 10592, a progressive piece of legislation, and should continue to benefit those who have earnestly qualified for time allowance,” she said.
“One does not throw away kitchen knives just because malevolent elements can use it for evil purposes. These knives are used to cook food for one’s family and they do not lose their value regardless of their potential for abuse,” the opposition senator also said.
De Lima, a former justice secretary also cited the "lofty purposes" of the law, among them, rewarding "sincere reformation and rehabilitation," encouraging good behavior in prison.
She said the law also "frees up our jails and prisons and allows us to focus our resources in preventing crimes from being committed inside these facilities and in managing the notorious persons deprived of liberty with high risk of recidivism." – Rappler.com