Zubiri wants Alcatraz-type ‘heinous crime penitentiary’

Aika Rey
Zubiri wants Alcatraz-type ‘heinous crime penitentiary’
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri says his proposed prison in an isolated and uninhabited island will keep heinous crime convicts 'far from their victims and society at large'

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri has filed a measure seeking to build a prison for heinous crime convicts patterned after the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in the US.

Zubiri filed Senate Bill No. 1004 on Monday, September 4, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the botched release of rape and murder convict Antonio Sanchez, in prison for 9 terms of reclusion perpetua for the rape and murder of college student Eileen Sarmenta and the killing of her friend, Allan Gomez, in 1993; and the murder of a father and son.

“Heinous crime convicts and high-risk prisoners belong to maximum security prisons in isolated and uninhabited islands, far from their victims and society at large,” Zubiri said in his explanatory note to SB 1004.

“Alcatraz-like prisons will keep us safe. They suffer the punishment and we are kept safe far away from their clutches,” he added.

The majority leader said jails should punish criminals and not allow them any luxury, contrary to what Sanchez experienced at the New Bilibid Prison where he had lived in an airconditioned jail cell until the appliance was discovered and confiscated by authorities.

“Jails keep our society safe as we punish criminals by restricting their liberty, including totally taking away their political rights. In contrast, Mayor Sanchez was living luxuriously and enjoying privileges as in a gangland where inmates like him intimidate jail guards as proven by actual videos taken in Bilibid,” Zubiri said.

Zubiri proposed that the prison island be called the “Heinous Crime Penitentiary” for inmates convicted of heinous crimes. These convicts would be moved from the New Bilibid Prison and other Bureau of Correction jails to these facilities once established. 

It was not the first time for such a prison to be proposed. In 2016, Senator Vicente Sotto III eyed the establishment of a similar type of island prison in Palawan. 

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum security prison built on Alcatraz Island. It operated starting 1934 and was shut down in 1963 because of high maintenance costs.

Clarification on ‘quo warranto’ reference

Meanwhile, Zubiri clarified that he didn’t mean to suggest a quo warranto procedure to revoke the early releases of 1,914 heinous crimes convicts freed under Republic Act No. 10592 or the GCTA law.

 At the second Senate hearing on the good conduct time allowance law on Tuesday, September 3,  Zubiri clairified that he was only making an analogy when he referred to quo warranto.

“I never recommended a quo warranto. I just said the analogy that it’s similar to a quo warranto case where the requirements for the application was wrong or kulang (lacking)” Zubiri said on Tuesday.

“My analogy is, in this case, for the prisoners who were wrongfully released because the application was not accurate,” Zubiri added.

The majority leader said he hoped that the freed heinous crime convicts would be put back in jail. (READ: Is it legal to send back to jail released heinous crimes convicts?)

“Convicts of heinous crimes are not supposed to avail of this GCTA. I hope you can find your way in being able to come up with a decision…. Leave it to the lawyers to file it with the proper courts, for the possible rearrest because of the wrongful release,” Zubiri said.

A June 2019 Supreme Court ruling made the 2013 GCTA law retroactive, or applicable to qualified convicts imprisoned prior to the enactment of the law, starting from the early 1990s.

Because of this, 11,000 inmates were lined up to benefit from the GCTA law which provided new guidelines on how to compute “good conduct time” to reduce prison terms.

The process of computing GCTA had been temporarily suspended, following the Sanchez controversy which showed gaps in the implementation of the law. (READ: Gaps by both Aquino, Duterte administrations led to GCTA mess)

Lawmakers had filed bills seeking to amend the GCTA law to explicitly exclude heinous crimes convicts from its coverage. – Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.