[OPINION] The punitive turn: The bungled discourse of the GCTA law

The discourse on the Good Conduct Time Allowance Law (RA 10592) has turned for the worse. In a span of one week, the law was suspended, calls for the reimposition of death penalty and life without parole had intensified, and rearrest of inmates who had been granted early release to GCTA had surfaced.

Fueled by the continuing emphasis on the Antonio Sanchez case, the discourse has decidedly turned punitive – the raw and basic instinct for blood had taken over the land.

In the midst of public hysteria, there is no context in the discussions – the media and politicians simply hype the boogieman, the inept bureaucrats continue to bungle their statements as a way out, and the idiotic public, both “yellowturds” and “duterturds” continue to play the blame game.

In the end, rational thinking had vanished; everyone has been gripped by fear that “heinous” criminals are out there to torment Philippine society, and the only way to move forward is to be hard on crime.

Can we, the more rational thinking public, stop for a minute and reflect? Can we provide context in all these discussions?

Take for a minute the latest news reports. The media outlets, using “data” from the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Legal Division Chief Fredric Anthony Santos, reported that 1,914 “heinous” criminals had been “released due to this law.”

This report lumped together different kinds of offenses under the master category of “heinous crimes” without looking at the details of each offense. Thus, implicit in the headlines is the notion that these “heinous” criminals are all undeserving. Implicit in the news reports is that BuCor employees, and if Senator Ping Lacson is to be believed, BuCor Director Nicanor Faeldon, had been corrupted to release these individuals.

Additionally, in other angles of the news, the release of 5 “Chinese drug dealers through this law” is a dig, rightly or wrongly, to the iniquity of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, where moneyed Chinese are released and poor hapless Filipinos are killed in the streets.

This report needs clarification and context. First, inmates were not released simply because of GCTA credits – majority of the inmates released between 2014 until June of 2019, when the law was still prospective in application, had served considerable portions of their sentences.

For example, an inmate convicted in 1990, could be credited only 5 days of GCTA until 2013; it was only after 2013 that the GCTA was expanded to 20 days (or 23, 25, 30 days depending on length of sentence served). Meaning to say, many of these inmates had served almost 30 years before they were able to avail of the GCTA.

However, even if they were only credited one month of GCTA, they would also be considered as “released through GCTA.” The way the news reports are slanted, however, suggested that these inmates had a free pass—thanks to the “stupid” GCTA law. This is haphazard misleading journalism.

Second, the word “heinous” is a very emotive term. The Death Penalty law defined heinous as “grievous, odious and hateful offenses, which by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity, are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society”. It aptly applies to the gory crimes committed by Antonio Sanchez.

However, BuCor presented a data that labeled crimes such as “murder,” “rape” and “robbery with homicide” as “heinous” and the media uncritically reported it as such. The BuCor Legal Division chief failed to qualify that there are different aggravating and mitigating circumstances in each specific case and “murder” could happen in different scenarios.

For example, a person who “murdered” 5 children after raping them is different from a person who “murdered” a neighbor over “My Way” when both were drunk. While these are all “murder”, and they deserved to be penalized, they have different levels of monstrosity and perversity. Thus, lumping them together as “heinous” is an amateurish mistake by the BuCor Legal officer and statisticians and unfortunately echoed uncritically by the media.

On top of this, the news reporters failed to notify the public that there are police, prosecutorial and judicial discretions that come into play in the criminal justice processes. For example: A kills B. The criminal justice actors can either file “murder,” “homicide” or “reckless imprudence resulting to homicide.”

Thus, a person who had been convicted of “murder” and now a “heinous” criminal, could have also been convicted of “reckless imprudence resulting homicide” (which is no longer heinous), depending on his/her resources, ability to pay good lawyers, and other social, political and financial considerations. Thus, it is the poor who are likely to end up being labeled as “heinous” criminals. The news reporters however failed to explain this to their readers and listeners.

Thus, if we give the BuCor the benefit of the doubt, that the BuCor personnel had meticulously and professionally done their job – by looking at the different aggravating and mitigating circumstance of the specific cases, remorsefulness of the inmates, etc. – majority of those who were labeled as “heinous criminals” in the report have availed properly and legally the benefits of the law.

The BuCor, however, failed to mention this – they are now too afraid to meet further backlash from the media; and their rightful exercise of professional discretion, granted by the law, can no longer be asserted. They could not even mention that many of the inmates were meritoriously granted GCTA. Due to their ineptitude in the Sanchez case, thrust is broken, and people had jumped to the conclusions they are corrupt.

This continuing brouhaha is relentlessly repeated in the echo chambers of the idiotic public. The “yellowturds” use this law and its misapplication as a proof of the erratic policy of the Duterte Administration. They blame the current BuCor administration of purposefully misapplying the law.

However, little did they realize that the GCTA law had been implemented since 2014, during the time of PNoy. And looking at the data of the BuCor, misleading and erroneous as it was, it showed that inmates with “heinous crimes” had already benefitted during that time.

Former BuCor directors Franklin Bucayu and Rainer Cruz, appointed during the time of Secretary Leila de Lima, and Rolando Asuncion, Benjamin delos Santos, now-senator Ronald dela Rosa, and Nicanor Faeldon, all awarded GCTA to “heinous criminals,” regardless of their party affiliations. This law had been implemented without fanfare. It was only after it became prospective and mis-applied to Sanchez that it was blown out of proportion.

The “dutertards” continue to use this law and its misapplication to justify calls for the reimposition of death penalty. They blame the “yellowturds” for being soft on crime, suggesting that these issues should have been settled had Sanchez been sent to the gallows. They keep blaming the “yellowturds” for supposedly passing the law in 2013, suggesting that is was PNoy who released these criminals. Little did they know that both parties have used similar interpretation of the law and have manifested similar levels of ineptitude.

The GCTA law is designed to entice long serving inmates to participate in rehabilitation programs. The sensationalized and politicized handling of how the law was mis-implemented, not only will lead to the revocation of the law, but it will burst open the dam of more punitive and barbaric policies. – Rappler.com

Raymund E. Narag, PhD is Assistant Professor at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.