DOJ urged to fast-track GCTA releases amid coronavirus scare
MANILA, Philippines – As the coronavirus pandemic threatens to spread in the Philippines, a local judge in Naga is moving to ask the Department of Justice (DOJ) to fast-track its processes and implementation of Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) so qualified inmates may be freed soon.
"The Naga City Justice Zone should bring this delayed matter to the attention/assistance of the Justice Sector Coordinating Council for the Joint DOJ-DILG Review Committee to conclude its review so that the suspension of the GCTA may be soonest lifted," said Naga Regional Trial Court Branch 61 Judge Soliman Santos in a memorandum sent to his fellow judges on Monday, March 16.
The Justice Zone is a mechanism where local justice clusters, like courts, jails and police, are more interconnected and have a direct line to either the DOJ or the Supreme Court.
Because of the aborted release of murderer and rapist Antonio Sanchez in August 2019, and the exposé that the GCTA was being sold inside prisons, the DOJ revised the internal rules so that heinous crimes convicts are not able to avail of the large-scope GCTA under Republic Act 10592. (They are able to only avail of a much lesser GCTA in the Revised Penal Code.)
Delay in Naga
Although the DOJ earlier said it would continue to process GCTA grants for non-heinous crime convicts, Santos said there is a delay at least in Naga.
"This appears to us to be already undue delay, to the prejudice of so many Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) in the thousands who would ordinarily be qualified for release by virtue of GCTA – and more urgently so from their congested and likely poorly ventilated, if not also unhygienic, jails in this time of coronavirus, whereby they are extremely vulnerable," Santos said in the memorandum.
"However we have been informed informally but reliably that, although the Naga City District Jail has continued to compute the GCTA of resident PDLs, their corresponding computations with resultants Certificates of Time Allowance Earned are not yet being released due to a higher office suspension of the implementation and grant of GCTA since late August 2019," said the judge.
There is no confirmed case of novel coronavirus in Naga as of writing. Groups have urged the government to release low-offenders, elderly and sick prisoners amid the pandemic.
Defining heinous crimes
Soliman was prompted to act after a convict he sentenced to 3 years for rape by sexual assault is not able to receive his GCTA grant.
Convicted in August 2019, but detained since April 2018, the student-convict would have been free by now or at least within the next 3 months because of the GCTA.
But because of DOJ's revision of the IRR, Santos said there is a delay at least in Naga, made worse by the complication of determining what a heinous crime is.
For the convict sentenced over rape by sexual assault, Santos ruled last March 11 that rape by sexual assault is not a heinous crime, granting the student GCTA and may free him soon.
"Implementation of the GCTA has been suspended by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) for one, pending review of the Implementing Rules and Regulations and Uniform Policy and Guidelines on the Computation provided under R.A. No. 10952 since late August 2019, or nearly 7 months already," said Santos.
DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete told Rappler "we’ll try to find out what’s causing the delay in this case.:
"I’ll forward this to Bureau of Corrections through Undersecretary Deo Marco as Bureau of Corrections has been computing GCTA since December last year," said Perete. – Rappler.com
READ RAPPLER'S SPECIAL SERIES ON THE GCTA SCANDAL: