Early release of Antonio Sanchez? Here's what the GCTA law says

MANILA, Philippines – Government officials on Thursday, August 22, changed their tune on the possible early release of convicted murderer-rapist Antonio Sanchez. 

Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Nicanor Faeldon said that he may not be among the thousands of inmates set for release soon, based on reported misdemeanors during his imprisonment. Even Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Friday, August 23, that based on the letter and spirit of the law, Sanchez, former Calauan mayor, would be ineligible and disqualified from availing of the benefits of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law.

Sanchez, who was convicted in 1995 for the deaths of University of the Philippines-Los Baños students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez in 1993, was initially announced as among those who would benefit from the GCTA law. (LISTEN: [PODCAST] Ang batas na puwedeng magpalaya sa rapist-murderer na si Antonio Sanchez

This triggered a major backlash from the public. But what is the law about?

What is the Good Conduct Time Allowance Law all about?

Republic Act No. 10592 or the GCTA law was signed in 2013 under then-president Benigno Aquino III. 

It amended several articles under the Revised Penal Code, including Article 97 which lays out the allowance for good conduct for persons deprived of liberty (PDLs). 

In a nutshell, the GCTA law allows for deduction of sentences of PDLs, depending on how well they abide by rules and regulations inside “any penal institution, rehabilitation, or detention center or any other local jail.” It essentially awards good behavior and recognizes rehabilitation.

The 2013 amendments to the Revised Penal Code, according to a factsheet by the Supreme Court, also expanded the application of the GCTA to the preventive imprisonment period, increased the number of days that may be credited, and allowed additional deductions, among others.  

Who is covered by the GCTA Law? 

The GCTA law initially was planned to prospectively cover convicted inmates. 

The Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the law, penned by then-justice secretary Leila de Lima and interior secretary Mar Roxas in 2014, provide for prospective application.  

Why prospective? According to Section 4 of the IRR, the rules provide “for new procedures and standards of behavior for the grant of good conduct time allowance…and require the creation of a Management, Screening and Evaluation Committee.”

In 2014, however, several National Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmates questioned this provision before the SC. Top human rights lawyers, including Rene Saguisag and others from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), intervened in support of the petition. 

The provision, FLAG said at the time, “discriminates, without any reasonable basis, against those who would have been benefited from the retroactive application of the law.”

On June 2019, voting unanimously, the SC granted the petition, making the GCTA law retroactive. In his concurring opinion, SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said that the prospective provision of the 2014 IRR “implies that all inmates detained or convicted prior to its effectivity can no longer be rehabilitated for a successful reintegration into society, effectively trampling upon their dignity as human beings.”

According to Bureau of Corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon, 1,000 inmates may be set for mass release.

How about those convicted of heinous crimes? 

This has been the point of contention of arguments that arose after news broke about Sanchez’s possible early release. The former mayor committed gruesome and horrific acts that merited his conviction in relation to the deaths of the two UPLB students and a father and son in Laguna. (READ: [OPINION | Deep Dive] What the GCTA law needs

There was a clash between the interpretations of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and former justice undersecretary Reynante Orceo who was part of the joint committee that drafted the law manual. Guevarra said heinous crimes should be excluded, while Orcelo said heinous crimes are still "technically" included. (READ: Can heinous crimes be excluded from good conduct time allowance law?

Senate President Tito Sotto is for amending the law, while Senator Franklin Drilon is against such move. (READ: Amid Sanchez news, senators split on amending reduced prison term law)

How is the GCTA computed? 

Section 3 of RA 10592 provides the guidelines for calculating the GCTA of inmates: 

This means that a PDL who has been in jail for 25 years and who showed good behavior during imprisonment, can have as much as 19 years deducted from his or her jail term. 

What can affect a PDL’s possible early release?

Misdemeanors can make or break a PDL’s chance of an early release based on the GCTA law.

According to the uniform manual on time allowances and service sentence released by the DOJ in  2017, the basis for disqualification from GCTA benefits is violation of any of the following prison rules:

Who are in charge of reviewing time allowance?

The same manual of the DOJ lays out the process, involving key employees.

The person deprived of liberty is screened by a time allowance supervisor at the end of each month. 

The Management, Screening and Evaluation Committee then reviews for appropriate action, including recommendation to prison authorities, of the grant of the time allowance. 

The prison authorities will then act on the recommendation – approve, disapprove, or return it. Decisions will be posted in various places inside the prison facility

Appeals can be made if there are errors or irregularities seen in the evaluation. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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.