The Expanded GCTA Law and More

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GCTA

Republic Act No. 10592 or more colloquially known as the Expanded Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law is in the crossfire of the current controversy which erupted following the leak of an information pertaining to the would-have-been release from the New Bilibid Prison of former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez who, along with his six henchmen, was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to seven terms of reclusion perpetua for the rape and murder of Eileen Sarmienta and the murder of Allan Gomez – both students of UP Los Baños — and in 1999 for two terms of reclusion perpetua, for the double murder of Nelson and Rickson Peñalosa.

Looking back

A walk down memory lane would show that RA 10592 was signed into law on 29 May 2013 by then President Benigno Aquino III. It amended Articles 29, 94, 97, 98, and 99 of the Revised Penal Code (Act No. 3815 or RPC). The important amendments under RA 10592, among others, are as follows:

1. It expanded the application of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) for Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL) even during preventive imprisonment.

2. It increased the number of days that may be credited for good conduct time allowance in favor of a PDL – for each month of good behavior, 20 days during the first two years of detention, 23 days during the third to the fifth year, 25 days during the sixth up to the tenth year and 30 days during the eleventh and successive years.

3. It allowed additional deduction of 15 days of time allowance for study, teaching and mentoring (TASTM).

4. It expanded the special time allowance for loyalty (STAL) and made it applicable even during preventive imprisonment.

5. These time allowances may now be granted not only by the Director of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) but also by the Chief of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and/or the Warden of a Provincial, District, Municipal or City Jail.

The law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) was released on 26 March 2016. Pursuant to a specific provision of RA 10592, the said IRR was penned by then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas. It provided for a mechanism or procedure in granting these time allowances which required the intervention of a Management, Screening and Evaluation Committee (MSEC) which shall manage, screen and evaluate the eligibility, behavior and conduct of the PDLs and thereafter recommend to the concerned authorities the grant of time allowances to qualified PDLs. It likewise provided for a prospective application of the law.

Nevertheless, on 25 June 2019, the Supreme Court, voting unanimously on the petitions filed before it, made the GCTA law retroactive.

The Supreme Court through Justice Peralta, in granting the petitions and declaring the IRR invalid in so far as it provides for the prospective application of the grant of GCTA, TASTM and STAL, held:

“While R.A. No. 10592 does not define a crime/offense or provide/prescribe a penalty as it addresses the rehabilitation component of our correctional system, its provisions have the purpose and effect of diminishing the punishment attached to the crime. The further reduction of the length of the penalty of imprisonment is, in the ultimate analysis, beneficial to the detention and convicted prisoners alike; hence, calls for the application of Article 22 of the RPC.

“The prospective application of the beneficial provisions of R.A. No. 10592 actually works to the disadvantage of petitioners and those who are similarly situated. It precludes the decrease in the penalty attached to their respective crimes and lengthens their prison stay; thus, making more onerous the punishment for the crimes committed. Depriving them of time off to which they are justly entitled as a practical matter results in extending their sentence and increasing their punishment. Evidently, this transgresses the clear mandate of Article 22 of the RPC.”

This development greatly benefited all PDLs including, most notably, those convicted of heinous crimes since the said IRR does not specifically disqualify them from credit of time allowances and preventive imprisonment. What the IRR provided instead is that those recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes cannot be released from the custody of the law even if they have undergone preventive imprisonment for a period equal to the possible maximum imprisonment of the offense charged to which they may be sentenced and their case is not yet terminated.

Thus, the credit of their preventive imprisonment and time allowances earned during the pendency of the case may be deducted from the sentences imposed upon them once these recidivists, habitual delinquents and escapees are convicted and also upon the sentences of those convicted of heinous crimes. It would appear that this provision of the IRR is pursuant to the penal philosophy of rehabilitation and reformation — a view which is now being revisited by the concerned government agencies (Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and Local Government) crafting the revised IRR for RA 10592 insofar as those convicted of heinous crimes.

Violation of prison or jail rules by a PDL

One bone of contention relative the issue surrounding the would-have-been release of Sanchez is that, since his record while in prison is not spotless, how could he be eligible to a credit of good conduct time allowance. His record of violation of prison rules allegedly included possession of shabu and marijuana inside his prison cell in 2006, the discovery of P1.5 million worth of shabu in one of his Blessed Virgin Mary statutes inside his prison cell during a random inspection, and others.

It is interesting to note that under the Uniform Manual on Time Allowances and Service of Sentence promulgated in 2017 by the Joint DOJ-DILG Committee, a violation by a PDL of a prison or jail rule will affect his eligibility to time allowances only for that particular month during which the violation was committed. In other words, such violation of prison or jail rules committed in a particular month shall not affect his eligibility for credit of time allowances in other months during which no violation of prison or jail rules were committed. Again, this appears to be in keeping with the penal philosophy of rehabilitation and reformation.

The Uniform Manual on Time Allowances and Service of Sentence have to be crafted by the DOJ and the DILG jointly in order to have a uniform procedure in granting time allowances to qualified PDLs in all prison and jail facilities nationwide considering that our country has a fragmented correctional system. PDLs undergoing trial and those sentenced to not more than three years are either in the custody of the Provincial Jails which are under the supervision and control of the concerned Provincial Government or in the custody of the City, District or Municipal Jails which are under the supervision and control of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP). The Provincial Governments and the BJMP are both under the DILG. Meanwhile, PDLs convicted and serving sentence of more than three years of imprisonment or more commonly known as insular or national prisoners are in the custody of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) which is under the DOJ.

The three-fold rule in the service of multiple penalties

Another bone of contention that came up is that, assuming for the sake of argument, that Sanchez (or any other PDL similarly situated) is entitled to the credit of his preventive imprisonment and time allowances, why would he be eligible for release after having been in prison for only around 25 years when he is sentenced to nine terms of reclusion perpetua or 360 years — considering that the maximum period of reclusion perpetua is 40 years. It is contended that even with the credit of his preventive imprisonment and time allowances, he could not have been able to serve even just half of such prison term.

Article 70 of the RPC is enlightening on this matter. In laying down the rule on successive service of sentences where the culprit has to serve more than three penalties, it provides that “the maximum duration of the convict’s sentence shall not be more than threefold the length of time corresponding to the most severe of the penalties imposed upon him. No other penalty to which he may be liable shall be inflicted after the sum total of those imposed equals the same maximum period. Such maximum period shall in no case exceed 40 years. In applying the provisions of this rule the duration of perpetual penalties (pene perpetua) shall be computed at 30 years.

Meanwhile, in People vs. Reyes 212 SCRA 402 [1992], the Supreme Court through Justice Florenz D. Regalado said “… the imputed duration of thirty (30) years for reclusion perpetua, therefore, is only to serve as the basis for determining the convict’s eligibility for pardon or for the application of the three-fold rule in the service of multiple penalties.

Ergo, no convict shall serve more than 40 years of imprisonment regardless of the number of terms of reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment for that matter, that may have been imposed upon him by the court/s. Hence, the eligibility of Sanchez (or any other PDL similarly situated) for early release under the present IRR of RA 10592, no matter how absurd it may seem, is legally not farfetched.

Revised IRR for RA 10592

On 16 September 2019, a revised IRR for RA 10592 was presented to the media by the Sec. Menardo Guevarra of the DOJ and Sec. Eduardo Año of the DILG. The Revised IRR adopted the definition of heinous crimes under RA 7659. Under the said law heinous crimes are: murder, rape under Article 335 of the RPC, big-time drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, treason, piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, infanticide, plunder, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons, qualified vehicle theft and destructive arson.

The Revised IRR now explicitly excluded from credit of preventive imprisonment (CPI), GCTA and TASTM recidivists, habitual delinquents, those convicted previously twice or more times of any crime, escapees, those charged with heinous crimes, those convicted of heinous crimes and an accused who, upon being summoned for the execution of his sentence, has failed to surrender voluntarily before a court of law.

Consequently, heinous crimes convicts who were convicted before the law became effective in 2013 shall be entitled to GCTA but those convicted after the law became effective shall not be entitled to any type of good conduct time allowance.

Also, as part of transparency, the revised IRR included the publication of the names of PDLs that may be due for release because of GCTA on the website of concerned government agencies and required the MSEC to invite representatives from accredited civil society organizations to appear as observers during deliberations.

Consequently, a new uniform policy and guidelines regarding computation of credit of preventive imprisonment and time allowances shall also be promulgated by the concerned joint DOJ-DILG committee which will eventually result to the modification or abandonment of the 2017 Uniform Manual on Time Allowances and Service of Sentence.

There are conflicting views, once again, in this revised IRR which is mostly on whether or not it is really within the bounds of the intent and the spirit of the law. More likely, the Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter on this matter, will be again called to pass upon it.

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