Release of more Filipino convicts via GCTA put on hold

The release of Filipino convicts charged with heinous crimes but convicted of lesser offenses has been put on hold since last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Monday, September 7, even as the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law continued to be applied.

The GCTA system allows for shorter prison sentences for convicts on account of good behavior while in prison.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete told reporters in an exchange Monday: "The processing of GCTA for convicts continues. However, there are cases affected by the new IRR [Implementing Rules and Regulations]. As for them (those charged with heinous crimes but eventually convicted of non-heinous crimes), presumptive GCTA is computed but the award is held in abeyance until the issuance of the manual."

The DOJ had been constantly asked in the past whether the GCTA was suspended for all types of convicts since September 2019 when it revised the IRR to exclude those convicted of heinous crimes. The DOJ always claimed they continued to process GCTAs.

The DOJ revised the GCTA's IRR in 2019 to explicitly exclude heinous crimes from its coverage; this policy change not only stopped the grant of GCTA to heinous crime convicts, it also hauled to jail previously released heinous crime convicts. The revision was made when the Antonio Sanchez scandal broke out.

Perete did not respond when asked how many convicts who fell under that category have been put on hold for their GCTA. Rappler has been asking the DOJ for months, too, for the number of GCTA grants it has made since the revision of the IRR but no such data has been provided to date.

Perete said on Monday: "The processing of GCTA for convicts continues. We are having our coordinating meeting with BuCor to validate the data. We will disclose them once validated."

Pemberton factor

Perete made the disclosure about the release of heinous crime convicts being put on hold, after his attention was called to a detail in the Olongapo court's September 1 ruling granting US marine soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton GCTA credits.

In the ruling, the court quoted the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) as saying that it (the Olongapo court) cannot grant GCTA while the DOJ has not released its uniform manual yet.

"At this point in time, BuCor can only provide and/or issue presumptive entitlement of GCTA, or until after the Unified Manual for the grant of GCTA is signed and approved....hence said issuance of GCTA will remain to be presumptive entitlement in character," BuCor said in its comment to the Olongapo court, as quoted in the September 1 order of Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde granting Pemberton full GCTA credits. (READ: DOJ urged to fast-track GCTA releases amid coronavirus scare)

Replying to this, Perete said releases under GCTA had been suspended for prisoners charged of a heinous crime but convicted of a non-heinous crime. Pemberton falls under this category of convicts since he was charged and tried for the heinous crime of murder, but was convicted of homicide, a non-heinous crime.

Extended legal discussions on Pemberton became moot on Monday after Foreign Secretary Teddyboy Locsin Jr tweeted that President Rodrigo Duterte had granted Pemberton absolute pardon, "cutting matters short over what constitutes time served."

The Bureau of Jail and Management Penology (BJMP) has admitted that GCTA is suspended in their facilities for all kinds of convicts. BJMP houses low-risk convicts to free up space in the congested Bureau of Corrections. BJMP generally has jurisidiction over prisoners on trial. 

Thousands of already-freed convicts returned to jail after revisions in the GCTA's implementing rules and regulations. At least 4 of them have died under dire Bilibid conditions. – 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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