‘Court, not Duterte, can order arrest of GCTA-freed convicts’

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    AN administration congressman who is also one of the authors of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law yesterday opposed President Duterte’s order for inmates — who have been released by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) for good conduct — to surrender.

    Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro) said the released convicts cannot be arrested without a court order.

    Some 2,000 convicts of heinous crimes – among at least 11,000 possible GCTA beneficiaries — have been released for good behavior under republic the GCTA law which was passed in 2013.

    Amid controversy on the implementation of the GCTA law, President Duterte on September 4 fired Nicanor Faeldon as BuCor and ordered the freed heinous crimes convicts to surrender with 15 days or face arrest.

    Rodriguez said there is no basis to arrest the convicts or to demand their surrender because the court continues to have jurisdiction over convicts up to the time that they are released.

    The veteran lawyer-lawmaker said the court needs to rule on whether the releases made were legal and to find out if the GCTA law was correctly implemented because there is a question on the computation of their good conduct credits.

    “Therefore, the court can have the jurisdiction to review,” Rodriguez told radio dzBB.

    “Immediately now, they (government) should go to the court and file a motion for the issuance of a warrant of arrest on the ground of wrongful interpretation and erroneous computation of the GCTA.”

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra last week said the convicts who were released can be arrested without warrant after 15 days as they are committing a “continuing offense” as long as they remain at large and have not turned themselves in, which he said is what “provides an avenue for warrantless arrest.”

    He earlier cited two Supreme Court rulings, one in 1967 and one from 2001, which he said provide the legal basis for Duterte’s order to re-arrest those who would not voluntarily surrender.

    The two rulings are People vs Tan and City Warden vs Estrella wherein the High Court ordered the re-arrest of inmates who were released due to good behavior.

    Rodriguez said procedure have to be followed because “we cannot just re-arrest these people, they are not escapists.”

    “They went through the front door. They brought their things, they have release papers so they went out – erroneous either through corruption or negligence of the BuCor (Bureau of Corrections),” he said.

    Rodriguez said the same case that Guevarra cited, People v. Tan, shows the need to file a motion for the issuance of a warrant of arrest against the released convicts.

    Regardless if corruption was committed, he said, it was still the government that erred when it released the convicts.

    “That has to be determined by the court. Only the court can issue a warrant of arrest for any person in this country. That is in the bill of rights,” he said.

    Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas said Congress should consider passing new legislation that would give trial courts the leeway to mete out “life sentences without parole” to extremely ruthless criminals.

    “In America, they have more than 50,000 convicts currently serving life without parole.

    They are never getting out of prison. We should have a similar penalty here reserved for the most hardened felons,” he said.

    “The severe punishment is as good as locking up a convict and throwing away the key,” Gullas said.

    Gullas made the statement amid the public outcry over the early release from prison of heinous crime convicts due to “ambiguities” in the GCTA law and its implementing rules and regulations.

    Loopholes in the 2013 law have allegedly enabled corrupt prison officials to “sell” allowances to convicts.

    “Clearly, there are violent and dangerous criminals who should be incarcerated for the rest of their natural lives to satisfy the demands of justice and to protect the general public.

    Thus, the option of life sentence without parole,” Gullas said.

    At present, “reclusion perpetua” is the maximum penalty specified in the Revised Penal Code. The punishment is equal to 30 to 40 years in prison, with the convict becoming eligible for possible conditional early release after 15 to 20 years.