JUSTICE Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday said the “misapplication” of the Good Conduct Time Allowance law started under the leadership of former Justice secretary and now Sen. Leila de Lima.
“There was a misapplication of the law and the rules. Back then, there was no distinction between those inmates who have been convicted of heinous crimes or not,” Gueverra told a budget hearing of the committee on appropriations on the P21.7 billion proposed national budget of the Department of Justice.
Section 1 of Republic Act No. 10592, which contains the original provisions on the GCTA, states that “persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage.” RA 10592 increased the GCTA being given to convicts.
President Duterte on Wednesday night fired Nicanor Faeldon as head of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) for disobeying his order to stop the release of convicts under the GCTA, including former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez.
Guevarra, who was a deputy executive secretary for legal affairs under De Lima, said the situation was exacerbated by the Supreme Court decision that made the release of inmates retroactive.
BuCor records show the release of convicts began in 2014, the same year the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) was implemented.
Gueverra said the interpretation of the GCTA law became “open-ended” which led to the inclusion of “recidivists and heinous crimes offenders.”
He also confirmed President Duterte’s statement that convicts who were already released can be arrested again without warrant after 15 days.
“They may be classified as evading sentence if they’re declared fugitive after the 15-day period,” he told reporters in an interview.
Guevarra said the convicts 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.”
PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles said the BuCor must publish the names of the erroneously released convicts.
“Now, more than ever, the Bureau of Corrections must publish the names of the erroneously released convicts and provide the DOJ and the DILG if copies of the same so all LGUs are aware of who may be subject to warrantless arrests,” he said.
If a convict who is erroneously granted good conduct time allowance will not voluntarily surrender to the nearest police station to serve the remainder of his sentence, then he can be considered an “escapee” and therefore liable for another crime which is evasion of service of sentence under Article 157 of the Revised Penal Code, said Nograles.
“All those who evade their sentence can be arrested without warrant under the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, specifically Rule 113 Section 5.c.,” said the lawmaker, a son of the late former speaker Prospero Nograles and brother of Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano lauded the President’s decision to let go of Faeldon, saying it is proof of the Chief Executive is serious in his anti-corruption drive.
“I support President Duterte,” Cayetano told reporters. “I sincerely believe that the President is 100 percent against corruption, he sets zero tolerance against corruption. Unfortunately, some people allow it, or some people allow those under them to do it.”
ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Eric Go Yap said Faeldon had it coming because, “clearly, someone has to be made accountable.”
Yap said the President’s decision should serve as a “warning for each and every one of us, that regardless of one’s social position, no one is above the law.”
“We should not allow the loopholes of the law to benefit those who do not deserve them. Significantly, as policymakers, it is our directive to find these loopholes and amend the law accordingly,” Yap said.
Rep. Niña Taduran, also of ACT-CIS, said the President showed “decisive leadership for taking sole responsibility for his decision to implement warrantless arrests against these convicts if they do not surrender, even without a final resolution on the legality of the implementation of the GTCA law in the early release of these prisoners.”
“The President’s decision shows that he is on the side of justice, and that he is sympathetic to the pleas of the families of victims of heinous crimes,” she said.
The Senate Blue Ribbon and justice committees halted their inquiry into the issue of good conduct time allowances (GCTAs) yesterday, and it had not resumed as of 8:30.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson told reporters, “We’re expecting somebody who can attest to corruption that’s happening.”
This was in connection with a supposed “GCTA for sale” scheme in which reductions of sentences were computed favorably in cases of high-profile or moneyed inmates.
Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs both committees, cited a “highly urgent” matter for the interruption of the inquiry. He did not say what it was.
“There are certain incidents that we’re reviewing and are of a highly urgent nature and I’d like to say that we’d have to apologize to all of you. Pending the resolution of those issues, we’re going to suspend the hearing now,” Gordon said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday told reporters that he received “A1 information” from “prison insiders” regarding the supposed scheme.
“We have intelligence reports that I already shared with Senator Lacson,” Sotto said the other day.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday, when the hearings began, said there is a “GCTA for sale” scheme based on information from unnamed “insiders.”
Hontiveros said former Calauan, Laguna, Mayor Antonio Sanchez and other notorious convicts were given “special treatment” and were “not random beneficiaries” of the law on incentives for good behavior. – with Vince Nonato