DOJ wants Congress, SC to clarify good conduct time allowance law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 25) — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra wants Congress and the Supreme Court to clarify the provisions in the law that can shorten the time to be served by a prisoner. This amid reports that convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez may be qualified for early release.

“The DOJ (Department of Justice) will be glad to have this issue resolved with clarity and finality either by a congressional amendment of its own act or by an interpretation rendered by the Supreme Court (SC) in a proper case brought before it,” Guevarra said Sunday.

He noted that some lawyers contend that all convicted prisoners can benefit from the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law, regardless of the crimes they committed. This is contrary to the government’s position that those convicted of heinous crimes are not eligible.

Republic Act No. 10592 provides that “any convicted prisoner in any penal institution, rehabilitation or detention center or any other local jail” is entitled to certain deductions from the period of his sentence if they exhibit good behavior.

But the same law also says “recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded” from its coverage. However, this provision appears under a section of the law on preventive imprisonment.

The DOJ said it may suspend the processing of GCTAs pending review of its guidelines by a task force.

Guevarra said they will set a deadline for the review of the guidelines, in consultation with the Bureau of Corrections, the Board of Pardons and Parole, and other relevant agencies “to avoid any undue prejudice to the rights of [persons deprived of liberty] who have validly earned GCTAs.”

“We expect the processing to pick up greater speed once the guidelines have been reviewed and firmed up,” he said.

He added that they will inform the SC of their plan to suspend the processing of GCTAs.

RA 10592 at least doubled the previous GCTAs and expanded the time allowances to those who are under preventive imprisonment.

Under the law, enacted in 2013, GCTAs are computed based on the following guidelines:

- During the first two years of imprisonment: 20 days of deduction for each month of good behavior

- During the third to the fifth year: a reduction of 23 days for each month of good behavior

- During the sixth until the 10th year: 25 days of deduction for each month of good behavior

- During the 11th and successive years: 30 days of deduction for each month of good behavior

- Another deduction of 15 days for each month of study, teaching or mentoring

READ: Computing ‘good conduct’: How time served in prison is shortened based on behavior

Then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas released the implementing rules and regulations of the law in March 2014, which provides for its application only to those who were convicted after the enactment of the law.

But in June, the SC ruled in favor of a petition by inmates of New Bilibid Prison calling for the retroactive application of the measure. This allowed those who were convicted from way back 1990, like former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Sanchez, to benefit from the GCTA.

But following public backlash, officials changed their tune on Sanchez possibly benefiting from the expanded CGTA law.

READ: Justice chief: ‘No truth’ to reports on ex-mayor Sanchez’ release

Sanchez, along with six other individuals, was convicted in 1995 for the rape and murder of University of the Philippines Los Baños students Mary Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez. They were sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years of imprisonment. This would total to 280 years, but the law only allows a maximum prison time of 40 years.

READ: The heinous crimes of ex-Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who may soon be freed

Sanchez and his henchmen were also convicted of the murder of father and son Nelson and Rickson Peñalosa. Nelson was an ally of Sanchez's political rival, Dr. Virvilio Velecina.

It has also been reported that Sanchez was nabbed with drugs inside his cell, once even stashing it inside a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Lawmakers have sought congressional probes on the application of the expanded CGTA law.

CNN Philippines’ Anjo Alimario, Robert Vergara and Lara Tan contributed to this report.