With GCTA suspended, low-risk convicts stranded in BJMP facilities

Lian Buan

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With GCTA suspended, low-risk convicts stranded in BJMP facilities
This means that low-risk convicts, who are clearly convicted of non-heinous crimes, cannot avail of early freedoms even as the pandemic threatens Philippine jails

MANILA, Philippines – Low-risk convicts are stranded in detention facilities as Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) remains suspended at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

It is the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) which generally houses convicts, or those sentenced to a final judgment, but BJMP Spokesperson Xavier Solda said those sentenced to 3 years or less are incarcerated in BJMP detention facilities.

This means that these low-risk convicts, who are clearly non-heinous crime convicts and are eligible for GCTA, cannot avail of early freedoms even as the pandemic threatens to infect Philippine jails.

Rappler obtained several memoranda that show GCTA grants in BJMP have been suspended since September 3, 2019, or when the scandal broke out over the aborted release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez.

In a memorandum dated January 7, 2020, Jail Senior Superintendent Felixberto Jagorin told jail regional directors that “in view of the foregoing and final outcome of the 2019 Revised Manual on the Credit of Preventive Imprisonment and Grant of Time Allowance, it is more prudent for the Jail Bureau to wait for its approval to avoid misapplication on the credit of preventive imprisonment and grant of time allowance to qualified Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL).”

Solda confirmed that GCTA is indeed still suspended over their facilities.

“GCTA remains suspended,” Solda told Rappler on Friday, August 17.

I think it’s with the DOJ already pinag-aaralan nila ‘yan. Kung anuman ang pagdedesisyunan sabihin sa amin iimplement, that’s what we will do,” said Solda.

(I think it’s with the DOJ already, they’re studying it. Whatever they decide to do or tell us to implement, that’s what we will do.) 

(READ: ‘TAKOT NA TAKOT KAMI’ While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails)

The DOJ had to revise the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the GCTA law so as to exlcude heinous crimes from the beneficiaries – a government response to the public outcry that Sanchez was almost freed because of it.

A petition is pending before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the IRR, invoking violation of equal protection clause. As a result of the IRR, previously-freed convicts were hauled back to jails, where at least 4 had died because of ill-prepared facilities.

What about BuCor?

DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete told reporters Friday that the Uniform Manual is still being finalized. The Uniform Manual provides the more detailed guidelines that would follow the IRR.

Asked whether GCTA in BuCor continued pending the finalization of the manual, Perete said: “There had been releases of prisoners who have returned to BuCor after the GCTA controversy. But as I have said, I have to get the numbers from BuCor.”

We pointed out that his answer referred to returnees, or those convicts previously freed who had to go back to jail on President Rodrigo Duterte’s ultimatum. 

When asked if there had been regular convicts freed on GCTA since September, Perete said: “Let me find this out.”

“But even pending finalization of the manual, and for humanitarian considerations, the release of PDLs in the vulnerable/high risk category not guilty of heinous crimes or of other serious offenses is being expedited,” said Perete, although he could not provide concrete numbers as of yet. 

As of April 17, there are 9 prisoners and 9 personnel positive for coronavirus at the Quezon City Jail, increasing calls for an urgent solution to start temporarily releasing inmates as other countries have done. – Rappler.com


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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.