House probe seeks to clarify provisions of good conduct law

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Antonio Sanchez, former mayor of Calauan, Laguna province, who is serving nine 40-year terms at the New Bilibid Prison, changed from prison garb to civvies on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. Maybe he was expecting to be freed anytime soon. | Inquirer.net photo by Grig Montegrande

Investigation pushed after rumors of the release of convicted murderer Sanchez

AKO Bicol Representative Alfredo Garbin Jr. on Tuesday, August 27, called for a congressional investigation to clarify whether prisoners convicted of heinous crimes should benefit from the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law.

In House Resolution (HR) No. 260, which Garbin filed on Tuesday, he said: “Make no mistake about it: Republic Act 10592 is a good law. It seeks to promote a rehabilitation criminal justice – one that seeks to help, rather than to punish. Moreover, it seeks to unclog the country’s overly populated jails.”

“However, 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. More importantly, it should be determined whether someone should be made accountable for recommending the release of Sanchez pursuant to said Republic Act 10592,” he added.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the retroactive application of the GCTA law, which allows reduced prison time for inmates based on their good behavior, sparked public outrage after the Department of Justice said convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez might be one of the 11,000 prisoners who would benefit from the law and walk freely out of prison. 

Sanchez, who was then-mayor of Calauan, Laguna, was convicted in 1995 for the rape and murder of University of the Philippines-Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta as well as the murder of her boyfriend, Allan Gomez. He was sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua.

Garbin pointed out that if Sanchez would be released from prison, it “may be a precedent which would allow the early and arbitrary release” of other inmates convicted of heinous crimes.

Palace: Sanchez release no longer an issue

Malacañang, for its part, said that Sanchez’ reported release should no longer be an issue after the former mayor was found to be unqualified to be released from prison.

“I think it is clear that he is not qualified under the law that reduces sentences because of good conduct. So that’s not an issue anymore,” said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on Sunday, August 25, during an interview with radio station dzBB. 

“The issue should be put to rest. It should not be discussed anymore because he is not qualified,” he added in Filipino.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, announced that the processing of early release of prisoners under the GCTA law is briefly suspended.

“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,” he said Monday, August 26.

However, Garbin said Sanchez not being qualified and the law being suspended are not enough.

“While the Department of Justice and several Bureau of Corrections officials made a U-turn by stating that Sanchez may not be qualified after all, the fact that his name was reported to be one of those who would benefit from the implementation of RA 10592 calls into question whether there are sufficient safeguards placed no the law itself and/or in its implementing rules sufficient to guard against abuse,” he said.

DOJ: BuCor may have committed fraud

According to the DOJ, some officials of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) may have committed fraud for including Sanchez’ name in the list of inmates who would benefit from the GCTA law.

A task force has been created by Guevarra to review the implementation of the GCTA policy by the BuCor.

“That possibility [of fraud] may actually come out dito sa review na gagawin namin ng (in our review of) BuCor guidelines and procedures,” he told The Manila Times.

Guevarra pointed out that the Corrections officials should have determined from the beginning that Sanchez was not qualified for early release due to the gravity of his offense and the infractions he committed behind bars.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former Justice secretary, shared his sentiment. 

“I support the DoJ’s decision. I could not help but suspect that there are shenanigans happening inside the BuCor in favor of the rich and powerful inmates, including former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez,” he said in a statement

“The temporary suspension may affect prisoners who are really entitled for an early release, based on good conduct time allowance. But with the people, including myself, worrying about the release of prisoners like Sanchez, the temporary suspension, pending review of the guidelines, is a welcome development,” he added.

Drilon also noted that the BuCor would not have announced that Sanchez has already served 49 years if his violations were properly listed.

“We must look into the records or what we called the prisoners’ karpeta, particularly that of Sanchez, and let’s find out if his violations were properly recorded,” he said.

“How much does it cost for Sanchez’s karpeta, or that of any powerful and rich inmates, to be cleared of violations?” Drilon added.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, said he would file on Tuesday a bill amending RA 10592 “by making it specific that convicts of heinous crimes especially those such as murder, drug trafficking, kidnap for ransom and other highly dangerous criminals cannot avail of the program.”

“Everyone now will be afraid to testify and go against criminals of heinous crimes. These individuals are too dangerous to be released back in the streets and imagine the families and individuals who testified against them will be in extreme danger,” Zubiri said.

“So, let’s clearly define that there will be no commutation of life sentences for certain crimes, no exemptions. That way there should be no more controversies such as this one of mayor Sanchez happening again,” he added.

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