BuCor beat judiciary on convicts â lawmaker
“We have been very lenient in releasing convicts. We have been very liberal. In fact, BuCor even beat (members of) the judiciary who have been very judicious in upholding their sentence. Our laws have become too weak, especially now that we no longer have the death penalty,” Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso lamented.
BuCor beat judiciary on convicts – lawmaker
Delon Porcalla, Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 9, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — While the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow due to the judiciary’s careful nature, the country’s state penitentiaries have outdone the justice system by releasing inmates by the hundreds and thousands, lawmakers have observed. 

“We have been very lenient in releasing convicts. We have been very liberal. In fact, BuCor even beat (members of) the judiciary who have been very judicious in upholding their sentence. Our laws have become too weak, especially now that we no longer have the death penalty,” Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso lamented. 

Veloso, who heads the committee on justice of the House of Representatives, disclosed that he is now in the process of crafting “amendatory legislation” to the controversial expanded good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law, Republic Act 10592. 

The law, signed by former president Benigno Aquino III in 2013, was crafted by former justice secretary and now opposition Sen. Leila de Lima under whose term in the Department of Justice the release of convicts started a year later, increasing every year until it reached almost 2,000 this year.

Implemented retroactively, the law allows the reduction of sentences by as much as 19 years based on a formula that tallies a convict’s “good behavior.”

RA 10592 specifically excludes recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged of heinous crimes from availing themselves of its benefits.

Veloso – a former justice of the Court of Appeals – also declared he will be filing a bill that will amend the three-fold rule where a convict does not have to serve full sentence but only a portion of the 40-year maximum term, regardless if this involved multiple life terms. 

Rep. Ruwel Peter Gonzaga of Compostela Valley exposed the puzzling troubles brought about by the expanded GCTA law, most especially because of its highly questionable formula where inmates are given too much credits. 

“It was an exercise of good faith your honor because that has been the regular practice,” Capt. Eusebio del Rosario from BuCor’s public information office told Gonzaga, and even admitted being “remiss” in their duties. 

Del Rosario’s admission of guilt, both administratively and criminally, is anchored on the Department Order former justice secretary and now SC Justice Benjamin Caguioa issued in November 2015, that no life termer should be released without the DOJ chief’s “prior approval.” 

For Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas, the Senate and House should consider passing new legislation that would give trial courts leeway to mete out “life sentences without parole” to ruthless criminals. 

“The severe punishment is as good as locking up a convict and throwing away the key,” Gullas said, following reports that loopholes in the 2013 law have allegedly enabled corrupt prison officials to “sell” allowances to convicts.

At present, “reclusion perpetua” is the maximum penalty specified in the Revised Penal Code. The punishment is equal to 30 to 40 years in prison, with the convict becoming eligible for possible conditional early release after 15 to 20 years.

Hearing on ‘illegal’ release resumes

The Senate Blue Ribbon committee will continue its probe today into what is now deemed as illegal release of convicts by the BuCor even as it has begun to unearth details of the alleged racket of prison officials, who demand money in exchange for an inmate’s freedom.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, is expected to hear testimonies from new witnesses—inmates as well as prison officials—into what is called the “GCTA for sale” racket at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) and other penal institutions run by BuCor.

“I’m sure something will come out and we’ll be able to pin down some people. We’re thinking whether to include the entire country because we’re now just concentrated on the NBP. We have to find out more in this inquiry,” Gordon told dzBB yesterday.

“I think the ombudsman can start its investigation now that there’s information, all under oath,” he said.

The panel started its investigation last month into BuCor’s now invalidated implementation of GCTA law where some 1,914 inmates convicted of heinous crimes were freed since 2014, including several Chinese drug traffickers, and convicts in the 1997 Chiong sisters rape-murder case.

Sacked BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon earlier told senators that he and his predecessors—including Sen. Ronald dela Rosa—interpreted the law as covering those already convicted for heinous crimes, especially that a separate law allows the agency to free inmates based on good conduct.

But when the controversy over the aborted release of rape and murder convict Antonio Sanchez broke out, the Department of Justice ruled that those convicted of heinous crimes are also not supposed to avail themselves of GCTA, an interpretation upheld by President Duterte last week in firing Faeldon.

Senators also suspect that money may have changed hands in the case of Sanchez as they noted the convict’s family appeared to have been too demanding to Faeldon in seeking his release under the GCTA.

As lawmakers continue to search for evidence to show Faeldon may have received something in exchange for signing Sanchez’s release papers, Senate President Vicente Sotto III bared last week a racket where prison officials allegedly promise freedom to inmates in exchange for money.

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