MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) may suspend the processing of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) of convicts pending a review of guidelines for the early release of inmates.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a statement sent to reporters on Saturday, August 24, that if the DOJ decides on the suspension, the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) will carry out the review.
"We're considering seriously the need to temporarily suspend the processing of the GCTAs until the BuCor guidelines are reviewed and firmed up," Guevarra said.
Prisoners who are deserving to be freed early "really have to wait a little," he also said.
"Please note that GCTAs before and after 2013 are being processed. The retroactive effect given to the law suddenly created a deluge of GCTAs for recomputation," Guevarra added.
Questions over the processing of GCTAs came under public scrutiny after Guevarra said on Tuesday, August 20, that rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez may be freed soon.
Guevarra's initial statement, followed by an initial statement from Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo – that Sanchez's possible early release was "automatic" under the law – stoked public outrage. Both later backtracked and said Sanchez was not eligible for early release. (READ: TIMELINE: DOJ backtracks on possible early release of Antonio Sanchez)
Sanchez and his accomplices were meted 7 terms of reclusion perpetua for the 1993 rape-slay case of University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) student Mary Eileen Sarmenta, and the murder of her companion Allan Gomez, also a UPLB student. Sanchez was mayor of Calauan, Laguna, at the time.
'Victory of a vigilant public'
Senator Risa Hontiveros hailed the disqualification of Sanchez for early release as "the victory of a vigilant public."
"In a time of flip-flop politics, the people's consistent vigilance and media's strong sense of history has kept Sanchez, an unrepentant and habitual criminal, behind bars," Hontiveros said in a statement on Saturday.
"Ito ay tagumpay ng mapagmatyag na mamamayan, hindi ng mga baligtarin at kakampi ng mga abusado (This is the victory of a vigilant public, and not those turncoats and allies of the abusive)," Hontiveros added.
The senator also noted that RA No. 10592 is a good law "consistent with the principles of restorative justice."
"Truly repentant and rehabilitated inmates should be given the chance to reintegrate into society. But only if their actions mirror positive behavorial change, accountability, and genuine remorse," she said.
In an interview on DWIZ, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that if no one questioned the possible early release of Sanchez, it was "certain" that it would have happened.
Drilon, who was justice secretary when Sanchez was brought to trial, said he saw "how evil" Sanchez is. The former mayor's early release, Drilon said, would have "become a mockery of the justice system."
Senator Leila de Lima, meanwhile, said the government's "reckless" announcement on the early release of Sanchez might have been done intentionally to boost the Duterte administration's bid to restore the death penalty in the country.
"Was the premature, reckless announcement of the impending release of former mayor Sanchez, a patently ineligible inmate under the GCTA law, meant to be a propaganda blitz to drumbeat support for the death penalty?" she said in a statement on Saturday.
She said there were those who were "trying to twist the true spirit of the law" by "insisting on the death penalty."
"Mukhang sinasabotahe nila 'yung batas para isulong nila ang death penalty. Ginalit na naman nila ang mga tao para mas katanggap-tanggap ang death penalty. Devious minds!" she said.
(It appears that they're sabotaging the law to push for the death penalty. They enraged the people again so that the death penalty would become more acceptable. Devious minds!)