[OPINION | Deep Dive] What the GCTA law is and what it needs

 

Disclosure: The author is a member, and currently the Regional Coordinator for Metro Manila, of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) which acted as counsel for the petitioners-in-intervention William M. Montinola, Fortunato P. Visto, and Arsenio C. Cabanilla in G.R. No. 212719.

The only issue presented in the consolidated cases of Inmates of the New Bilibid Prison v. De Lima, et al. and Reynaldo Edago, et al.,G.R. No. 212719 and G.R. No. 214637 promulgated on June 25, 2019 is the legality of Section 4, Rule 1 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10952 (An Act Amending Articles 29, 94, 97, 98 and 99 of The Revised Penal Code [May 29, 2013]).

The questioned IRR provision directs that the grant of good conduct time allowance provided in the RA 10952 be made prospective, i.e., applying only to cases after the effectivity of the law and the IRR. Citing Article 22 of the Revised Penal Code, the Supreme Court declared Section 4, Rule 1 of the IRR invalid because Article 22 expressly makes any penal law retroactive where it is favorable or advantageous to the accused, who is not a habitual criminal.

When the Decision in Inmates was released, reports circulated that a former local government official convicted of rape and murder and who had been sentenced to serve 7 reclusion perpetua terms in 1995 would be entitled to the benefits under RA 10952 because it would then be retroactively applied.

That is when the proverbial excrement impacted with the ventilation system.

This week’s Deep Dive looks into RA 10952, particularly on the Good Conduct Time Allowances granted to inmates, and the consequences of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Inmates, allowing retroactive application of its provisions.

Forward looking laws

As a general rule, all laws operate prospectively, i.e., to situations and events that arise after their effectivity. The rationale for this is simple – ignorance of the law excuses no one only if everyone is informed that such a law exists.

The prospective application of laws becomes even more important when the law is a penal law, i.e., one that defines a crime and provides a punishment for the crime. For this reason, Article 21 of the Revised Penal Code prohibits the imposition of any punishment for any act that was not punished by law before its commission; this is consistent with the constitutional guarantee of protection against ex post facto laws under Article III, section 22 of the 1987 Constitution.

An ex post facto law is a law that is retroactively prejudicial. For an accused or a convict, an example of an ex post facto penal law would be one that would make a punishment for a crime more severe than when the crime was first committed. Article 22 of the Revised Penal Code provides an exception to prospective application of laws and expressly allows a penal law to be retroactive on only one instance: when it is pro reo (literally, “when in doubt, for the accused”) or when it is beneficial to the accused or convict, except when the accused or convict is a habitual criminal.

Good Conduct Time Allowances

“Good Conduct Time Allowances” under Article 94 of the Revised Penal Code is one way of partially extinguishing criminal liability because the sentence imposed may be shortened. 

Article 97 provides for an arithmetical formula for determining good conduct time allowances corresponding to deduction of specific days for specific months of good behavior counted during the duration of the service of the sentence. For instance, during “the first two years of imprisonment, he shall be allowed a deduction of twenty days for each month of good behavior during detention.”

Republic Act No. 10592 amended Article 97 by increasing the number of days of GCTA and providing for an additional benefit of study, teaching, and mentoring service time. 

 

The Implementing Rules and Regulations to RA 10592 provided for prospective application of the amended periods “(c)onsidering that these Rules provide for new procedures and standards of behavior for the grant of good conduct time allowance xxx and require the creation of a Management, Screening and Evaluation Committee (MSEC)...” Section 4 also provided that the new benefit of time allowance for study, teaching, and mentoring and the special allowance for loyalty would also operated prospectively for the same reasons as the GCTA. 

This was the section that was challenged before the Supreme Court, which was invalidated for being inconsistent with Article 22 of the Revised Penal Code.

Eligibility for GCTA

While the GCTA applies to two situations – those who were preventively imprisoned and to those already convicted and serving sentence – exclusions apply only to the former, covered by Article 29, and not to the latter, covered by Article 97. (See box below)

Thus, the exclusions under Article 29 for “recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes” do not apply to Article 97, which provides no such exclusions. (See box below)

What happens now?

What really is the effect of the SC decision in Inmates on the supposedly over 11,000 inmates currently serving sentence, including the notorious former mayor?

Will there be a mass exodus of inmates? The answer is no.

Any release of eligible inmates would have to be based on two factual determinations and one arithmetical computation.

The first factual determination is that they are eligible to the GCTA, i.e., under Article 29 or Article 97. The second factual determination is that they have actually been on good behavior within the periods specified in Article 97 to merit the GCTA.

Under the IRR, "Good Conduct" means the “conspicuous and satisfactory behavior of a detention or convicted prisoner consisting of active involvement in rehabilitation programs, productive participation in authorized work activities, or accomplishment of exemplary deeds coupled with faithful obedience to all prison/jail rules and regulations.” These determinations are to be made by the Management, Screening, and Evaluation Committee, created under the IRR.

Assuming these two factual determinations are made, the arithmetical computation would come in. Each eligible inmate’s GCTA would have to be applied to the respective sentence each is serving to determine if the remaining sentence will be zero, a few weeks, months, or years. Only if the eligible inmate’s sentence, after applying the GCTA, is zero will there be immediate release.

The same factual determinations and arithmetical formula would apply to the former mayor, of course.

The need for more objective criteria to determine good conduct

With all the hullabaloo that has arisen out of the possibility that the former mayor may be set free on GCTA alone, greater scrutiny has now been trained on the Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

This is as it should be. For 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.

This is one area of reform that Congress may look into rather than to consider whether the death penalty is an option (it is not) or whether to do away with the three-fold rule or to simply legislate exclusions. – Rappler.com