Go files bill seeking to amend Revised Penal Code, resolve GCTA law issues

Robie de Guzman   •   September 4, 2019   •   417

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Tuesday filed a bill seeking to amend the Philippine Revised Penal Code to resolve issues in the controversial good conduct time allowance (GCTA) rule for inmates under the Republic Act 10592.

In filing the Senate Bill No. 1003, Go proposes to amend the Articles 29, 97, 98 and 99 of the Revised Penal Code, the same provisions which were amended and rendered unclear by the GCTA law.

Go said the proposed measure recognizes that the said articles gave the notion that prisoners, including recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees, and persons charged with heinous crimes, are entitled to GCTA benefits.

The senator filed the bill more than a week after news broke out that convicted murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez could be released earlier for good behavior.

Go said his proposal follows the points raised by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra during a Senate inquiry on Monday (Sept. 2) on what seems to be lacking in the GCTA law and the safeguards that can be provided.

“I have filed Senate Bill No. 1003 to clearly state the intent and policy of the law not to extend the benefits of GCTA to prisoners who are convicted of heinous crimes,” he said.

Through SB 1003, Go added a provision that clearly states that convicts of heinous crimes “will not be eligible to be granted time allowances.”

He also added a list of heinous crimes to further avoid confusion and a provision that all prisoners for release on the basis of time allowances shall be subject for review.

The lawmaker also highlighted that Congress will be informed of the releases, “as the Bureau of Corrections will be required to furnish the Legislature with a report twice a year.”

“All of these will form part of our continuing fight against corruption and criminality, and illegal drugs,” Go said.

“The law may be ambiguous, but what is clear to me is that there is either negligence or corruption in the way our correctional system is being handled,” he added. “I say to the Filipino people – mananagot ang dapat managot.”

Senator Sonny Angara earlier filed a bill proposing to amend certain provisions of the GCTA law, including the clear definition of heinous crimes, the exclusion of recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees, and persons convicted of heinous crimes from availing of the GCTA and the deletion of the provision making GCTA irrevocable under the law.  

Proposals to repeal the GCTA law were also filed in the Senate following the controversy.

Bilibid inmates challenge revised GCTA law IRR before SC

Robie de Guzman   •   September 30, 2019

Members of the Police Special Action Force frisk inmates following a peace accord event to stop violence amongst gangs inside the New ‘Bilibid’ Prison’s maximum security compound in Muntinlupa City, south of Manila, Philippines, 27 December 2018.  (PHOTOVILLE)

MANILA, Philippines – A group of inmates at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) have challenged before the Supreme Court (SC) the legality of the revised implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Republic Act 10592, which expanded the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) given to inmates.

In the filed petition for certiorari and prohibition, the group asked the SC to declare as invalid the recently revised implementing rules, particularly the provision disqualifying convicts of heinous crimes from availing of time allowance for good conduct, loyalty, study, teaching and mentoring for “going beyond the law and for being tantamount to executive legislation.”

The petition which was filed last September 24 is the first known legal challenge against the IRR of the controversial GCTA law.

It listed as respondents Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gerald Bantag and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) chief Allan Sullano Iral.

The DOJ and the DILG last Sept. 16 signed the revised IRR of the Republic Act 10592 after a 10-day review following a controversy relating to its application.

The revised IRR now explicitly excludes recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and convicts of heinous crimes from benefitting from the GCTA law. It also enumerated the cases that are defined as heinous crimes under the law, including treason, bribery, parricide, murder, kidnapping, serious illegal detention and rape, among others.

But the petitioners said the revised implementing rules was issued with grave discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction. They also argue that some of its provisions violate the equal protection clause under the Constitution.

The petitioners also urged the high court to order the BuCor and the BJMP to recompute with reasonable dispatch the time allowances due to petitioners and all those who are in similar situations.

This is to pave for their immediate release from imprisonment after fully serving their sentence, “unless they are being confined for some other lawful cause.”

The petitioner-inmates also want the SC to order the BuCor and BJMP to refrain from retroactively applying the exclusions introduced by the revised IRR which they said are disadvantageous to any prisoners.

The review of the law’s IRR was prompted by public outrage on the possible early release of former mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted of rape and murder, after his sentence of seven-term reclusion perpetua was shortened by GCTAs.

The issue led to the revelations of the release of some heinous crime convicts and the anomalies in the BuCor. It also led to the dismissal of Nicanor Faeldon as BuCor chief, and President Duterte to set a deadline for the surrender of nearly 2,000 GCTA-freed convicts or be hunted down by police.

“Regrettably, all these public outrage and media attention have contributed to the actions undertaken by herein respondents. Ultimately, herein petitioners and those who are similarly situated are the ones who are suffering and are continuing to suffer,” the petitioners said.

Guevarra, in response to the petition, said he cannot issue any comment, saying it is the Office of the Solicitor General who will represent the respondents and submit the proper comment on their behalf.

“All I can say is that I’ve eagerly awaited the filing of this petition. Considering that some important provisions of RA 10592 have been interpreted differently by various groups, I have as much interest as anyone in knowing the correct legal interpretation,” Guevarra said in a statement.

“Only the Supreme Court has the final word on the issue and I hope that it will affirm mine,” he added. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Nel Maribojoc)

How the Senate shifted its inquiry from ‘GCTA for sale’ to ‘Agaw Bato scheme’

Marje Pelayo   •   September 28, 2019

Senate President Vicente Tito Sotto III, Sen. Richard Gordon, and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon listen to the latest revelations during the continuation of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law hearing in the Senate. (Courtesy: PRIB / Joseph Vidal)

MANILA, Philippines – Many are wondering how the issue of the so-called ‘Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) for sale’ scheme is connected to the controversy of drug recycling or the so-called ‘Agaw Bato scheme’ inside the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

It all started when the supposed release of former Calauan, Laguna mayor, Antonio Sanchez — a convicted murderer and rapist—made headlines in August this year.

The Senate immediately called for an investigation and no less than then BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon confirmed that Sanchez didn’t qualify for the privilege under GCTA.

Also, the family of Sanchez’ victim, appealed to the Senate not to allow the release of the former mayor.

The next day, Sanchez’ family appeared at the Senate inquiry and revealed that ‘somebody’ informed them through a phone call about Sanchez’ impending release.

From then on, questions about the alleged ‘GCTA for sale’ have perplexed lawmakers and no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself ordered the dismissal of Faeldon as chief of the BuCor.

On September 3, Yolanda Camilon, wife of one of the inmates inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) appeared before the Senate inquiry.

Camilon tagged BuCor employees Veronica Buño, Mabel Bansil and Ramonsito Roque, the chief of the BuCor’s Document Section who Camilon claimed as the one who asked P50,000 in exchange for the release of her husband.

The day after, Camilon’s detained partner Godfrey Gamboa appeared before the Senate to testify that indeed, ‘GCTA for sale’ exists inside the NBP.

On the fifth day of the inquiry, another money-making scheme inside the BuCor was revealed — the ‘hospital pass for sale.’

Detained former Valencia City Mayor Jose Galario Jr. testified that such scheme exists inside the agency.

Meanwhile, former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) official Rafael Ragos and Jovencio Alben Jr. divulged during the inquiry that there were actually seven money-making schemes inside the BuCor which included the alleged drug money which detained Senator Leila de Lima received from drug inmates.

On the sixth day of the inquiry came former PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who revealed the so-called ‘agaw bato’ scheme or the practice of drug recycling inside the national penitentiary.

Magalong confirmed that until today, several high-ranking police officers are still involved in recycling illegal drugs after they confiscate them from drug suspects.

The former official asked the Senate for an executive order to allow him to reveal the names of the police officials involved in the controversy.

The Senate approved the motion filed by Senator Ronald dela Rosa and authorized the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and Justice Committee to reveal what transpired in the September 19 executive session.

The names were immediately sent to President Rodrigo Duterte.

No less than PNP Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde was dragged into the controversy and his dismissal as Pampanga Regional Police Director in 2014 became an issue because it involved cops under his jurisdiction.

Albayalde was asked to appear at the Senate hearing.

From GCTA, the Senate inquiry has now shifted to drug recycling and the so-called “ninja cops”.

Despite the shift, the senators believe these issues are interconnected.

Because of the GCTA mess, the Senate immediately filed a proposed measure that would exempt convicts of heinous crimes from the benefits of GCTA.

Faeldon may have been dismissed, but the Senate said he is not yet off the hook.

“Ang tingin ko sa kanya is more on negligent, incompetent,” said Blue Ribbon Committee chair Senator Richard Gordon.

Senator Vicente Sotti III said it was possible that the illegal drugs confiscated in the “agaw-bato” incident in 2014 were likely sold to the drug lords inside the NBP.

“Baka isipin kasi ng iba ano ang koneksyon nito sa hearing namin, (People may be wondering what is the connection of [agaw-bato] to the hearing)” Sotto said.

“Malaking bulto noong na recycle na nahuli ay ang mga drug lord sa NBP ang nag transact. kaya konektado sa NBP iyon, (The bulk of recycled drugs confiscated [in 2014] were transacted by drug lords in the NBP. So that connects it to the NBP),” Sotto said.

The senators said it is time that these issues were raised in the Senate inquiry so that the lawmakers could think of measures to eliminate such corrupt practices and prevent them from worsening.

“Iyang sinasabi natin na nag-shift dito, inevitable dahil nakadikit ang drugs doon sa loob ng jail, (The shift is inevitable because illegal drugs are linked to those inside the jail),” Gordon explained.

“May puputok at puputok dyan, (Something will definitely come out and) we’re getting additional information from new sources,” he added.

The Senate is expected to issue a comprehensive committee report on the matter which include recommendations as to who should be charged in relation to the GCTA and the Agaw Bato scheme. – MNP (with details Grace Casin)

Gordon says Faeldon not absolved from GCTA fiasco

Robie de Guzman   •   September 20, 2019

Nicanor Faeldon

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Richard Gordon on Thursday said that sacked Bureau of Corrections (BuCor)chief Nicanor Faeldon is not absolved from the controversy on the implementation of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law.

Gordon made the statement to clarify reports he is allegedly making an effort to steer Faeldon away from the GCTA mess.

The senator said the former BuCor chief remains accountable for being incompetent and negligent.

Gordon said Faeldon admitted his lack of knowledge on a Department of Justice (DOJ) order requiring the approval of the BuCor director general for the release of prisoners with expired sentence, as well as the approval of the Secretary of Justice to freed inmates who are sentenced to life imprisonment.

Faeldon was grilled at the start of the inquiry of the Senate Blue Ribbon and Justice and Human Rights Committees weeks ago on the questionable application of the GCTA law and the alleged irregularities in the agency relating to its implementation.

Faeldon’s lack of awareness over the DOJ order no. 953, Gordon said, led him to permit the early release of former Calauan mayor, who was convicted of rape and murder.

“Faeldon was not cleared from the corruption in BuCor as what stated on reports, specifically sa mga anomalya sa New Bilibid Prison.

“Naimbestigahan na siya sa Senado at siya’y umamin na hindi niya alam ang tungkol sa department order ng DOJ. Clearly, that is negligence of duty. Kaya nga siya nasibak sa puwesto,” Gordon said.

Senate Minority Franklin Drilon earlier said he believes Faeldon should be held liable for the GCTA mess which wrongly released more than 1,900 convicts of heinous crimes.

The issue led to President Rodrigo Duterte’s dismissal of Faeldon and the launching of investigation by the Ombudsman on the alleged anomalies involving BuCor officials.

The controversy also prompted the revision of the implementing rules and regulations of the Republic Act 10592 or otherwise known as the GCTA law, which now specifically states who among the convicts are ineligible from availing GCTA grants.

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