By SENATOR SONNY ANGARA
At times, well-crafted laws with good intentions may be implemented or interpreted contrary to their spirit. An example of that is the recent controversy regarding the possible release of former Calauan, Laguna, Mayor Antonio Sanchez, through Republic Act 10592, the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Act.
RA 10592 increased the time allowances — or the commensurate reduction in the sentences of jailed individuals, also known as persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) — provided under the Revised Penal Code.
As part of the implementing guidelines of this law, a Uniform Manual on Time Allowances and Service of Sentence was published by a joint committee of the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and Local Government explaining how time allowances should be granted to inmates.
Mr. Sanchez’s release became a hot issue because he was convicted of heinous crimes, and then committed violations while incarcerated. In 2006, a complaint was filed and alleged that he possessed shabu and marijuana. In 2010, a kilo of shabu worth P1.5 million was found inside a Blessed Virgin Mary statue in his cell. Finally, in 2015, items such as an air-conditioner, a refrigerator, and a flat-screen TV were found in and removed from his cell. Bureau of Corrections reports have also noted that he has tested positive for drug use. The burning question remains—how did Mr. Sanchez qualify for GCTA?
There have been reports that loopholes in the law have been exploited by criminals convicted of heinous crimes to avail of time allowances, even if they were charged with other crimes while already in jail. It appears the immense discretion given to implementing agencies concerning the operationalization of time allowances, and the determination of what good conduct is, are open to abuse.
To plug these loopholes, I recently filed a bill amending the GCTA Law. The amendments will include a definition of heinous crimes, the definite exclusion of recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees, and persons convicted of heinous crimes from availing of the GCTA. Victims and their families will also be notified if a prisoner qualifies for GCTA. Inmates who violate prison rules or commit offenses while “inside” will have partial or full forfeiture of granted GCTAs. On the side of government officials, stiff penalties will be enforced for the issuance of false certificates of good conduct by prison authorities.
While we should encourage rehabilitation and reform for convicted and imprisoned criminals, we should amend the GCTA to make it less open to abuse. We cannot allow the GCTA to be an escape hatch for unrepentant convicted criminals, particularly those who committed heinous crimes.
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Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years — nine years as representative of the lone district of Aurora, and six as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate.