Sotto expects GCTA law amended before year ends

Robie de Guzman   •   September 4, 2019   •   370

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READ: 3 Senators want GCTA law repealed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.

Senate OKs bill seeking stiffer penalties for perjury

Robie de Guzman   •   May 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, May 18 approved on third and final reading a bill that seeks to impose longer prison sentences and larger fines for individuals, especially public officials, who will commit perjury.

Voting 20-0, senators passed the Senate Bill No. 1354, which proposes to amend Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code and increase the current penalty on perjury from a range of the minimum period to medium period, or from six years and one day to 10 years of imprisonment.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights and sponsor of the bill, said the proposed higher penalties were meant to deter people from committing perjury as they testify under oath in proceedings, such as legislative hearings, and to create a culture of truth-telling in government.

“In other words, you lie, you pay… Do not trifle with the truth,” he said in a statement.

Perjury, he explained, is committed by a person when he “knowingly makes untruthful statements and not being included in the provisions of the crimes of false testimony under judicial proceedings, shall testify under oath, or make an affidavit, upon any material matter before a competent person authorized to administer an oath in cases in which the law so requires.”

Under the existing law, persons guilty of perjury are only sentenced from four months and one day to two years and four months of imprisonment.

For public offcials or employees who would commit perjury, the penalty of imprisonment will be imposed in its maximum period, along with a fine of P1 million, as well as perpetual disqualification from holding any appointive or elective position in government, Gordon said.

Gordon believes that the bill would help address the issue of low conviction rates for people charged with perjury.

“As we uncovered during our committee hearing, a factor for the low cases is the low penalty imposed on the crime of perjury. The current penalty for perjury is subject to probation and the bail imposed is also low, roughly Php6,000 only. Given the high costs involved in prosecuting a crime, there is no motivation to prosecute the crime of perjury,” he said.

The bill was co-authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Leila de Lima.

Its counterpart bill at the House of Representatives remains pending at the committee level.

Senate to honor ex-Senator Tessie Aquino Oreta

Robie de Guzman   •   May 15, 2020

The Philippine flag flies at half-mast in front of the Philippine Senate building Friday to mourn the passing of former Senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta. (Philippine Senate)

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Friday said it will give honors to the late Senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta, who passed away on May 14.

Aquino-Oreta was a member of the Senate during the 11th and 12th Congress.

Senate Majority Juan Miguel Zubiri said a resolution will be passed on Monday, May 18 paying tribute to the former senator.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier expressed his sadness over the passing of Aquino-Oreta, whom he worked with at the Senate and considers as his friend.

“My family and I are so saddened by her demise.  She was very close to me and Sec Greg,” Sotto said, referring to former senator and now Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio Honasan.

Sotto also said that his wife, Helen, was also “devastated” by Aquino-Oreta’s demise.

“Helen, being a relative of theirs is devastated by her passing away. She has not stopped crying since we were told the news last night,” he said.

Other senators have also expressed condolences to the family of the former lawmaker.

Malacañang also expressed sympathy over the demise of Aquino-Oreta.

“Our sincerest condolences to the family, relatives, friends and colleagues of former Senator Maria Teresa “Tessie” Aquino-Oreta who passed away yesterday, May 14 at the age of 75,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

“Senator Oreta had a distinguished career in public service. She served the country as a senator during the 11th and 12th Congress and as Representative of 8th, 9th, and 10th Congress,” he added.

Aquino-Oreta was the youngest sister of slain Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and the aunt of former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Her son, Malabon City Mayor Antolin “Lenlen” Oreta, announced her passing on Friday but did not disclose the cause. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Sotto backs shift of NCR to modified ECQ, says rushing back to ‘old normal’ will be reckless

Robie de Guzman   •   May 12, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday welcomed the decision of the government to place high-risk areas under modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

In a statement, Sotto expressed his belief that the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to shift some areas into modified ECQ was based on recommendations made by experts who have been on top of the public health crisis.

“I am confident that the recommendations given to him were the result of intelligent discussions that were based on solid data provided by authorities on the ground,” he said.

While he acknowledged that many people, especially in the National Capital Region (NCR), are yearning to return to their jobs and start earning income again, Sotto said it would best “if we all proceed on the side of caution and not throw away the gains of our sacrifices for almost two months.”

“I understand their concerns about losing their work and being unable to provide for the basic needs of their families,” he said.

“Rushing back to the ‘old’ normal, or even just a semblance of it, will be reckless. It will expose majority of our people to the continuing threat of the infectious novel coronavirus and open the gates for a second wave, which could be more vicious and difficult to handle,” he added.

Earlier in the day, the government announced that areas with high-risk for COVID-19 will be placed under modified ECQ starting May 16 until May 31.

These areas include Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City.

The entire island of Luzon had been placed under ECQ from March 17 to April 30. Some areas, including Metro Manila, were then placed under an extended community quarantine until May 15.

Under a modified ECQ, 50% of the workforce and operations of selected manufacturing and processing plants will be allowed to resume. Transportation will remain limited for essential goods and services.

Sotto said the downgrade of many areas to a general community quarantine will be a challenge for everyone to be more responsible individuals, and to care for the welfare of the public.

“Ngayon natin makikita ang disiplina at responsibilidad ng bawat isa sa atin,” he said.

“Walang sinuman sa atin ang gustong bumalik ulit sa ECQ. Nakasalalay sa ating lahat ang success o failure ng ating laban kontra COVID-19,” he added.

As of May 11, the Philippines has recorded 11,086 confirmed cases with 1,999 recovered patients and 726 deaths.

Most of these cases were reported in Metro Manila.

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