Commentary

Review yes, total abolition no

At least one member of Congress had reacted to the brouhaha over former Calauan Mayor Antonio L. Sanchez’ release from detention by calling for the total abolition of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law.

The old Penal Code imposed by the Spaniards already had a version of the good conduct time allowance law, which became Article 97 of the Revised Penal Code. The intent was to allow an earlier release for qualified convicts. As government policy to law enforcement shifted from punitive to reformative justice, and the view that the criminal is one partly because of society became more and more acceptable, more and more reformative justice legislation came into being, from the indeterminate sentence law which allowed the court to impose a minimum punishment based on one degree lower than what is mandated in the penal law, to the juvenile justice law as to minors which absolved totally as to criminal liability those below 15 years old, to decriminalization of certain acts which should not have been criminalized in the first place (such as not paying for your meal at a restaurant – now only a civil liability will arise), to the increase of the GCTA periods in Article 97 to what they are right now.

Upon the effectivity of RA 10592 under the previous administration, implementing rules were issued, clarifying that it was to be applied prospectively. The B. Aquino stance was successfully overturned through the Supreme Court under the current administration, which is how a good number of convicts, including those convicted prior to the passage of the law, became qualified.

The new GCTA Law, if applied correctly, and with the intent of the law fully considered, is a positive contribution to our penal system, in almost all aspects.

For a convict who has reformed his ways and eager to return to the fold of the law, the new GCTA Law allows him to serve out his sentence earlier than the actual minimum term imposed upon him in the judgment. I have a client who was charged with one count of murder, and four counts of frustrated murder in 2002. Ultimately he was convicted of one count of homicide, one count of frustrated homicide, and one count of serious physical injuries. He was released from the Cebu Provincial Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) two and a half months after the judgment was promulgated, since he has served out his sentence, considering the GCTA Law, and considering further that his incarceration prior to the effectivity of the GCTA Law was considered in his favor, as per Supreme Court decision.

For those in charge of our detention facilities, such as the CPRDC, the GCTA Law will allow them to decongest their facilities with very little cost to the government. CPRDC is hopelessly congested. Its 199 cells were built for 1,500 inmates only, but as of July 2019, they have 2,525 detainees – a staggering 68% above the facility’s capacity. In July 2019, two of my clients were released from the CPDRC on account of the GCTA Law. How many more were qualified?

The text of the law, however, seems to indicate that the intent was to exclude those convicted of heinous crimes. This was confirmed by the later pronouncements of our justice department.

Why and how those convicted of heinous crimes, especially those who committed their crimes from 1993 to 2006 when the death penalty law was in effect, could qualify under the law is a mystery to me. For those 1993 to 2006 criminals especially who were supposed to be legally murdered through lethal injection but whose sentences were reduced to reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, the 2006 death penalty suspension law specifically provided that they cannot qualify for parole. So if they could not qualify for parole, how could they qualify for GCTA?

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