As government officials backtracked on cutting short the prison term of Sanchez, the debate has now focused on whether or not those convicted of heinous crimes should benefit from the GCTA.
But how did the law come to be? What are the arguments for amendments?
The Revised Penal Code is signed into law. Chapter 2 lays out the specifics of "partial extinction of criminal liability," including conditional pardon, commutation of sentence, and good conduct allowances.
The House of Representatives passes House Bill 417 which amends Article 29 of the Revised Penal Code.
Then-president Benigno Aquino III signs Republic Act No. 10592 or the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law, which 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).
The GCTA law allows for a reduction 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.”
The law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) document is released. Penned by then-justice secretary Leila de Lima and interior secretary Mar Roxas, the IRR provides for a prospective application of the GCTA law.
Prospective application is seen in Section 4 of the IRR, which provides “for new procedures and standards of behavior for the grant of good conduct time allowance" and requires "the creation of a Management, Screening and Evaluation Committee.”
The IRR takes effect on April 18 of the same year.
At least 13 Bilibid inmates, represented by lawyer Michael Evangelista, file a petition for certiorari and prohibition against Roxas and De Lima, contesting the prospective application of the GCTA Law.
The inmates include Venancio Roxas, Saturnino Paras, Edgardo Manuel, Heminildo Cruz, Allan Tejada, Roberto Marquez, Julito Mondejar, Armando Cabuang, Jonathan Crisanto, Edgar Echenique, Janmark Saracho, Josenel Alvaran, and Crisencio Neri Jr.
Lawyer Rene Saguisag files a petition-in-intervention, saying that RA 10592’s legislative history shows no intent of being prospective in character. The High Court grants the leave to intervene.
Three NBP inmates file another petition-in-intervention against the provision. Inmates William Montinola, Fortunato Visto, and Arsenio Cabanilla are represented by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).
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.”
Ten inmates at the NBP’s Maximum Security Compound file a petition for certiorari and prohibition against the prospective application of the law, saying that the IRR was “issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”
Voting unanimously, the Supreme Court grants the petition and makes the GCTA law retroactive.
In his concurring opinion, SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen says 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.”
Reporters receive unverified information that convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez might soon be walking free. (READ: TIMELINE: DOJ backtracks on possible early release of Antonio Sanchez)
Sanchez was convicted in 1995 for the rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta and murder of Allan Gomez – both University of the Philippines-Los Baños students – and in 1999, for the double murder of Nelson and Rickson Peñalosa. He has been in Bilibid prison for 25 years.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra tells reporters that Sanchez "may actually be released," and, in another instance, "is very likely for release.”
"That benefits lahat ng mga nakakulong na preso ngayon kaya isa sa mga magbe-benefit doon ay si Mayor Sanchez... pati siya mae-entitle duon sa computation ng Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA),” he says in a telephone conference.
(That benefits all the inmates, so one of the beneficiaries will be Mayor Sanchez. Even he will be entitled to the computation of the Good Conduct Time Allowance.)
Senate President Vicente Sotto III files Senate Resolution No. 107 which seeks a review of RA 10592 with a view of amending it. Senator Panfilo Lacson supports the plan to amend the law. (READ: Amid Sanchez news, senators split on amending reduced prison term law)
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the justice secretary at the time Sanchez was convicted, dismisses the need for amendments, saying the law is already “good." He pins the blame on the Supreme Court which decided that a certain provision was unconstitutional.
After a massive public backlash, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Nicanor Faeldon says that while Sanchez is qualified to avail of the GCTA, he might still have to stay in Bilibid for several more years because of misdemeanors he reportedly committed. (LISTEN: [PODCAST] Ang batas na puwedeng magpalaya sa rapist-murderer na si Antonio Sanchez)
Guevarra explains that the wording of Section 1 and Section 3 of the law makes only the inmates eligible for credit of preventive imprisonment (CPI, or the period of imprisonment prior to conviction) also eligible for GCTA (applicable only to post-conviction imprisonment).
To Guevarra, because those charged with heinous crimes are not eligible for CPI, then they are also not supposed to benefit from the GCTA. “It’s been a tough process of interpreting the wordings of a law that has certain ambiguities in its provisions. In the end, however, it is the spirit and the intention of the law that guided us in taking a position,” Guevarra says.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo echoes Guevarra in a press conference, saying that “the inevitable conclusion is that all those convicted of a heinous crime, including Mr Antonio Sanchez, would be ineligible and disqualified from availing the benefits of the GCTA.”
In a Rappler column, human rights lawyer and former SC spokesperson Ted Te says that there is a need for more objective criteria to determine good conduct. (READ: [OPINION | Deep Dive] What the GCTA law is and what it needs)
He writes that “while the GCTA is a good idea, the question of determining whether conduct falls under ‘good conduct’ to merit the GCTA may be arbitrary sans any objective standards to measure, assess, and rate such.
Raymund Narag, an expert on criminal justice, writes in his column that “there are sufficient legal and procedural remedies to make sure that the law will not be abused by the rich and powerful.” (READ: [OPINION] Media sensationalism, bureaucratic ineptitude, the common tao's quest for justice)
Guevarra says the DOJ is “considering seriously” the need to suspend the processing of the GCTA of convicts pending a review of guidelines for the early release of inmates.
Those who are deserving to be freed early, he adds, “really have to wait a little.” (READ: Beyond Sanchez: How to improve the Good Conduct Time Allowance law)
Guevarra says the DOJ hopes the Supreme Court or Congress will be able to clarify whether or not inmates who are convicted of heinous crimes can benefit from the GCTA law.
“The DOJ will be glad to have this issue resolved with clarity and finality either by a congressional amendment of its own act or by an interpretation rendered by the Supreme Court in a proper case brought before it,” he says.
Guevarra reiterates 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, BuCor, ang BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) na ma-review 'yung mga existing guidelines sa pagbibigay ng GCTAs, pati mga internal procedures," Guevarra tells DZBB.
(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.)
Drilon calls the suspension a "welcome development."
AKO Bicol Representative Alfredo Garbin Jr files House Resolution No. 260 which seeks a congressional investigation to help clarify whether or not inmates who are convicted of heinous crimes should benefit from the GCTA law.
In his resolution, Garbin says that the law “is a good law” but that “there is a need to determine whether the criterion used in the implementing rules of the law is consistent with the very law it seeks to implement.”
Then SC chief justice Lucas Bersamin says it is up to Justice Secretary Guevarra to decide what the GCTA covers but anyone can file contention before the High Court.
Faeldon says he just followed the guidelines on the release of prisoners convicted of heinous crimes as this was the "legal way of doing it." He adds that legal experts told him that "if you hold them, there will be a case against you."
"Faeldon has to go because Faeldon disobeyed my order," he says.
The President also orders at least 1,700 heinous crime convicts, who were released due to the GCTA law, to surrender within 15 days.
An official from the Bureau of Corrections says the list of heinous crime convicts released due to the GCTA law was both unchecked and rushed.
Ramoncito Roque, the documentations chief suspended at the time, admits that their list of almost 2,000 convicts was made in a rush for a press conference.
The Department of Justice and Department of the Interior and Local Government launch the revised implementing rules and regulations of the GCTA law.
The revised IRR makes it clear that heinous crime convicts detained after 2013 are not allowed to avail of any type of good conduct time allowance.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says the surrender of convicts, who were freed due to the GCTA law and who heeded Duterte's ultimatum, is a "phenomenal" thing.
He reports that a total of 2,221 individuals have surrendered, or more than the BuCor's initial 1,914 figure of heinous crime convicts.
Inmates from the New Bilibid Prison file the first Supreme Court petition against provisions of the new IRR of the GCTA law.
The petitioners say excluding heinous crimes from the benefits of the GCTA law should be invalidated "for going beyond the law and for being tantamount to executive legislation." They also argue that the new rules violate equal protection.
The SC orders the DOJ to comment on the petition filed by Bilibid inmates against provisions of the GCTA law's new IRR.
DOJ Assistant Secretary Neal Vincent Bainto explains that the documents of the returnees are still being validated to determine whether they were included in the wrongful implementation of the law.
The DOJ maintains that it did not commit unlawful acts when it facilitated the rearrest and detention of previously released convicts.
Justice Secretary Guevarra says it's up to them if they want to sue, if they "believe they might have unnecessarily suffered."
– with reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com
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.