Senators likely to support bill on dissolution of marriage than divorce – Sotto

Robie de Guzman   •   August 5, 2019   •   696

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III believes that senators are more likely to express support for a bill if it is called “dissolution of marriage” than “divorce.”

“Mukhang mas madali. Karamihan sa amin, mas madali kung pag-uusapan namin ay dissolution of marriage,” he told reporters in an interview on Monday.

Sotto issued the comment after Senator Risa Hontiveros vowed to work hard for the passage of the bill. She was also reported to have met with groups advocating for the legalization of divorce proceedings in the country.

Hontiveros, who chairs Senate Committee on Women, has been seeking to make “psychological incapacity of either spouse,” “irreconcilable marital differences,” marital rape, or being “separated for at least 5 years” grounds for divorce, among others.

She said the bill aims to free Filipinos “from abusive, loveless and unhappy marriages.”

“Buo rin ang aking simpatiya at suporta sa ating mga kababayan lalo na yung mga kabaro ko na naipit na sa mga abusive, loveless and unhappy marriages,” she said in an interview.

Since the 18th Congress opened last July 22, at least two divorce bills have been filed including that of Hontiveros.

READ: Hontiveros vows to push hard for divorce law in Philippines

But Sotto said many senators are not in favor of the proposal because of the word “divorce.”

He said some of his colleagues are more inclined to support the proposal it is termed as “dissolution of marriage,” which would simply relax and make the existing annulment proceedings more efficient and affordable.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri agreed with Sotto, saying their colleagues would rather accept a bill seeking for efficient annulment process.

“Maya-maya divorce kaagad, tapos kasal uli, tapos panibagong girlfriend, divorce kaagad. Ayaw ko ng medyo dysfunctional na concept ng marriage,” he said, noting how married couples in the United States could easily get divorce.

Senator Joel Villanueva also expressed strong opposition to the bill, saying the Philippines is a Christian nation where marriage is considered sacred.

“Banal na sakramento ang kasal, at naniniwala po tayo na hindi po dapat payagan, in general concept hindi dapat paghiwalayin ng tao,” he said. (with details from Nel Maribojoc)

Sotto expects GCTA law amended before year ends

Robie de Guzman   •   September 4, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III expressed confidence on Wednesday that the proposed amendments to the Republic Act 10592 or the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law will be passed by the Congress before the year ends.

Sotto said the Senate will expedite the discussion on the proposals to amend the law’s certain provisions following complaints from many of the qualified beneficiaries of the GCTA law whose process for early release has been suspended due to the controversy.

“Maraming sumasama ang loob na sila ay qualified, na hindi mapoprocess sila ngayon, sila na yung napapag-iwanan. So, talagang bibilisan namin ito, fast-break ito,” Sotto told reporters.

The Senate president said he will also ask his counterpart in the House of Representatives to do the same.

“I will be coordinating with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, former Senator Alan, nai-fast-break din nila yung kanila, para mabilis yung amendments. I am sure the President will sign it right away,” he said.

“’Yang mga ganyang emergency measures, kailangan ‘yan apurahin kasi kawawa naman yung those languishing in jail na talaga namang qualified lalo na kung hindi heinous crimes,” he added.

Several senators have earlier filed proposals seeking to amend the GCTA law which recently came under scrutiny after news broke out that convicted rapist-murderer Antonio Sanchez could be among the 11,000 persons deprived with liberty who are eligible for early release due to good behavior.

The report sparked public uproar which prompted the Senate to hold an inquiry into the application of the law.

During the hearing, the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed amendments including a clear definition of heinous crimes as well as clear classification of whether the law should be reformative, rehabilitative or punitive or retributive.

The Senate adjourned the probe Wednesday to hold a caucus and discuss the proposed amendments to the law.

Sotto, along with Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon earlier moved to repeal the law but the Senate president said they realized it would be better to just amend it.

READ: 3 Senators want GCTA law repealed

“There are good amendments that are being proposed, kaya pwedeng amyendahan na namin kaagad yung batas ng mabilisan at linawin,” Sotto said.

One of the amendments they are planning to introduce is that the implementing rules and regulations should be approved by Congress to prevent the law from being abused or misinterpreted.

“Siguruhin doon sa after the repealing clause and all that, ilagay namin na ang IRR ay kailangan with the approval of Congress para hindi nababago yung intention ng batas,” he said.

Sotto added that they might also include this provision in future measures that Senate will approve.

“Itong batas na ito na aamyendahan namin, ilalagay namin yun. Ngayon, pagaralan namin kung paano lalahatin lahat ng mga IRR. Well, of course, this will be prospective,” he said.

The RA 10592 was passed and signed in 2013 during the time of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino. Last June 2019, the SC ruled that the law could be applied retroactively.

“Allow me to reiterate, the law, principally authored and sponsored by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago I think, is very important and very valid at that time that we passed it because the reason for the law according to Miriam was, it would benefit those who are aging, the ailing convicts in the National Bilibid Prison, and it will decongest the NBP,” he said.

“Naka-enumerate naman doon kung alin ang hindi qualified, di ba? Ang heinous crime, nakalagay na hindi qualified. Ang masama at nagpasama nito, nagbigay ng pagkakataon na abusuhin ito, ng ibang tao, ay yung IRR. Yung IRR na ginawa nung dating DOJ at DILG na grupo, or na heads. Yun ang diperensiya,” he added.

3 Senators want GCTA law repealed

Robie de Guzman   •   September 3, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III (center) together with Senators Panfilo Lacson (right) and Richard Gordon (left) want GCTA law to be repealed.

MANILA, Philippines – Three senators have jointly filed a bill seeking to repeal the controversial Republic Act (RA) 10592, the law that increased the good conduct and time allowance (GCTA) for inmates.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III together with Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon on Monday filed Senate Bill No. 993 which proposes to scrap the GCTA law that was enacted in May 2013.

The measure particularly seeks to repeal the amendments in Articles 29, 94, 97, 98 and 99 of the Revised Penal Code as contained under RA 10592.

Amendments contained in the GCTA law provides for partial extinction of criminal liability, including conditional pardon, commutation of sentence by allowing good conduct to be credited in the reduction of stay in detention.

The bill was filed amid a Senate inquiry into the questionable application of the law following the aborted release of convicted murderer-rapist, former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez who was sentenced to 7 terms of reclusion perpetua for raping and killing Eileen Sarmenta and murdering her friend, Allan Gomez.

The senators said the early release of some convicts involved in heinous crime, including Sanchez, has sparked public outrage and prompted the upper chamber to look into the propriety of the law’s application in general.

Sotto, Lacson and Gordon cited Senate Bill 3064 filed in 15th Congress that became the basis of the GCTA, saying the intention of the framers “was primarily to grant good conduct allowance to persons deprived of liberty (PDL) while their case is still pending.”

The senators said the purpose of the measure is laudable in decongesting the overpopulated prison cells in the country.

“However, when it was enacted into law, it caused an absurd interpretation and its very provisions needed harmonization,” they said in a statement, adding that it has been subject to abuse by the persons allowed by law to grant time allowances.

In their explanatory note for the bill, Sotto, Lacson and Gordon said there’s logical reason to abandon the grant of GCTA if the magnitudes of its aftermath “are prejudicial for many of the victims and their relatives who are seeking justice.”

“The provision on GCTA has been in effect since the 1930s and it has not raised this kind of concern from the people and the government. Thus, it is an opportune time to go back to the old law where no question of proper implementation has been put forth to the government and prisoners are enjoying its benefits without a question of the propriety of its applicability on them,” they said.

“The law is always changing. It is usually reactive to what the society dictates and it constantly reflects changes that occur in our society because a law is simply never perfect,” the senators added.

The Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights joined the Committees on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, Finance and Blue Ribbon have conducted an inquiry into the alleged early release of Sanchez and the implementation of the law.

Drilon, Sotto question basis for possible release of ex-Mayor Sanchez

Robie de Guzman   •   August 22, 2019

Senate President Vicente Sotto III (L) and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon (R)

MANILA, Philippines – The possible early release from jail of former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted for rape and murder of two students in the 1990s, has sparked outrage among the public including several senators.

Sanchez was sentenced in 1995 to seven terms of reclusion perpetua (or 40 years of imprisonment) over the rape and murder of Eileen Sarmenta, and the murder of her companion Allan Gomez.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier said Sanchez might soon walk free due to a 2013 law that increased good conduct time allowance (GCTA) and a Supreme court ruling last June applying this law retroactively.

The application of good conduct time allowance, which reduces the years and days spent in jail has been stated in the Philippine Revised Penal Code.

But under the Republic Act 10592 signed by then President Benigno S. Aquino III in May 2013, the periods that may be credited for good conduct to inmates was expanded.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who was the country’s justice secretary during Sanchez’s conviction, said he was shocked and saddened by the news and questioned the applicability of the new GCTA rule to Sanchez.

READ: Drilon seeks Senate probe on reduced sentence of convicted rapist ex-Mayor Sanchez

Drilon cited the allegations of possession of illegal drugs against Sanchez in 2006 when a prison guard found a packet of shabu and marijuana in his jail cell. In 2010, he was again caught with P1.5 million worth of shabu.

Five years after, authorities seized an air conditioning unit and a television set from his cell.

“Ang balita ay involved siya sa drug trade sa Muntinlupa. Paano naman siya nagkaroon ng allowance for conduct of good behavior? Ang balita pa natin ay mayroon siyang aircon sa kaniyang kulungan. Paano naman naging good conduct ito?” Drilon said.

“Is Mayor Sanchez really qualified under RA 10592? This is a question of fact, so it is best for the Department of Justice to put on hold its decision until these issues are resolved,” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III echoed Drilon’s sentiments.

“Possession of illegal drugs is good behavior?” he asked.

Both senators warned the Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Pardon and Parole to carefully compute sentence reduction of Sanchez and the thousands of other inmates who may be eligible for early release under the new rule.

“Kapag sila ay hindi nag-comply sa law o nagkaroon ng maling computation they can be subject to one year imprisonment, P100,000 fine and perpetual disqualification from office pati sa mga nagko-compute ng mali aba ay mananagot pa sila,” Sotto said.

“Kung talagang ipipilit nila, I would assist the Sarmenta family to bring the case before the regular courts. Iku-question natin ang exercise of the discretion to release Antonio Sanchez,” Drilon said.

The two senators have filed separate resolutions calling on their colleagues to probe into the sentence reduction of Sanchez, and amend the provision of the Republic Act 10592 to exclude from the granting of pardon and parole those who were found guilty of committing heinous crimes.

“Basta’t classified na heinous crimes hindi dapat mag-qualify, dapat reclusion perpetua ka tutal ayaw nyo ng death penalty sige reclusion perpetua ka. You die in your cell,” Sotto said. (RRD with details from Grace Casin)

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