DOJ suspends inmates' early release based on good conduct

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Monday, August 26, that the processing of early release of inmates under the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law is briefly suspended.

"Very temporary lang, na i-suspend ang pag-process ng GCTAs para mabigyan ng pagkakataon ang DOJ (Department of Justice), BuCor (Bureau of Corrections), ang BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) na ma-review 'yung mga existing guidelines sa pagbibigay ng GCTAs, pati mga internal procedures," Guevarra told DZBB on Monday morning.

(It will be a very temporary suspension of the processing of GCTAs to give a chance to the DOJ, BuCor, and BJMP to review existing guidelines for granting GCTAs, including internal procedures.)

Guevarra reiterated the suspension on Tuesday, August 27, saying he has "given verbal orders to the BuCor to temporarily suspend the processing of GCTAs as a precautionary measure and in the interest of prudence."

The GCTA law can slash up to half an inmate's sentence if there is sustained good behavior. The law was made retroactive by the Supreme Court just recently, which implied that inmates jailed in the 1990s could be walking free by this time based on their good conduct.

The initial consideration of convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez sparked debate on loopholes of the law. One contention is whether heinous crimes should be excluded from GCTA benefits.

The law is not explicit on the exclusion of heinous crimes. Moreover, the only law that defined what heinous crimes are is Republic Act No. 7659, which imposed the death penalty. The death penalty has since been repealed.

"That is part of the work of the task force – to reconcile all these laws," said Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete.

Perete added that they aim to finish the review in 10 days.

"We also don't want the process unduly delayed with respect to those really entitled to the benefits of the law," Perete said.

Malacañang said inmates convicted of heinous crimes should be excluded. Guevarra's own interpretation is the same. This view has the intent of disqualifying Sanchez from early release.

"We shall of course adopt our own reading of the law, unless we are restrained by a proper authority," Guevarra said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary who prosecuted Sanchez and his 6 accomplices, called the suspension a "welcome development."

"I support the DOJ's decision. I could not help but suspect that there are shenanigans happening inside the BuCor in favor of the rich and powerful inmates, including former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez," Drilon said in a statement on Monday.

He also questioned if there were inmates who should not have been freed.

"Are there inmates, who were sentenced guilty of heinous crimes, that have been released before the DOJ ruled that those guilty of heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of the law? If yes, how do we plan to bring them back to prison?" said Drilon.

Once the review is finished and the DOJ makes its final recommendation, inmates who will not be selected for early release can request for a temporary restraining order from the courts.

Guevarra and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año issued Department Order No. 001 on Thursday, August 29, that officially created the task force which will review the guidelines. The order also officially imposed that a report be submitted within 10 days. – Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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