President’s power to reduce prison sentences usurped
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - September 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Every year towards Christmas the President pardons or commutes the sentences of selected convicts. With each case thoroughly vetted by penologists and psychologists, the roster is published in newspapers for transparency. Beneficiaries are septuagenarians or older, and verified reformed offenders.

The presidential power is specified in the Constitution: Article VII, Executive Department, Section 19. The reason is obvious. Not just any Tom, Dick, or Harry may grant reprieves, as it can be abused. Whereas, the highest official of the land is sworn to “render justice to every man.” Justice principally is for the aggrieved. But it extends to the accused, presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and the convicted, as a chance for rehab. As well, to witnesses and to society.

The power was usurped under the Good Conduct Time Allowance law of 2013. Gang-rapists and multiple murderers ex-mayor Antonio Sanchez and six henchmen nearly got out of prison. The GCTA law disqualifies heinous criminals. Nothing can be more cold-blooded in recent history than the 1993 gun slaying of two schoolmates in Laguna after the female was repeatedly sexually assaulted while the male was being mauled. Still, Corrections bureau director general Nicanor Faeldon recommended their release. Supposedly it was because the Supreme Court last June 2019 retroactively included for GCTA even convicts before the law’s passage in 2013. The required tedious review and paperwork took less than two months. Based on Faeldon’s mere memo, release was set for last Aug. 20. Sanchez was bathed, fingerprinted, and prepared for pickup by his family. Only timely media exposé and public outrage prompted President Rody Duterte to countermand the process.

By then other heinous offenders had been freed, however. Days ahead the rapists-murderers of the Chong sisters in Cebu in 1997 had walked out. A low Corrections employee, Maria Fe Marquez, had released them based on a similar recommendatory memo from Faeldon. Eight Chinese narco-traffickers too had been let loose in Manila, Palawan, and Davao, Sen. Panfilo Lacson revealed. The Immigration bureau admitted that it was about to deport four of them had not news broke of anomalies at the Corrections.

It was worse. In all 22,000 convicts had been freed since GCTA was enacted in 2013. Although unqualified under the law, 1,914 of them were heinous criminals: murderers, rapists, pederasts, arsonists, kidnappers for ransom, terrorists, and most notably, narco-traffickers that the Duterte administration aims to annihilate. Nearly half of them were let loose in the two months alone since the retroactive coverage of prison old-timers. More than 11,000 more inmates are being processed for release. Not one of them had, as required by the GCTA law, applied first for activities to show good behavior: pastoral or social work, skills training, and allowable gainful employment.

Corrections officials withheld the identities of the released, supposedly to protect their privacy. No one can check if they properly had been monitored and evaluated as rehabbed. The Corrections men simply interpreted by themselves the GCTA law and implementing rules laid down in 2014. They changed the review manual thrice.

There already is a decades-long process for such sensitive task, under the Board of Pardons and Parole. Reps of the Corrections bureau, the supervising Justice department, and other agencies sit in the collegial body. Corrections men could have copied the tried-and-tested stringent rules instead of concocting their own. Like, no convict may be recommended to the president for reprieve or pardon without first seeking the consent of the victim and the prosecutor, and informing the sentencing judge. Too, the convict must have paid the court-ordered indemnity, as sign of remorse. It was for lack of those elements that the ballyhooed release of murderer Rolito Go was scrapped a decade ago. The millionaire had refused to recompense the family of Eldon Maguan, the student he had shot in cold blood. Sanchez too, claiming innocence, has not recompensed the families of his victims.

Lacson suspected that drug money talked, as always, in the release of the narco-traders. Citing convicts-turned-pastors and -social workers, Sen. Risa Hontiveros decried an apparent “GCTA for a fee”. Heading the Senate inquiry, Richard Gordon said Faeldon was negligent at the very least, so the GCTA process became prone to corruption. Lifestyle checks are in order.

It’s a puzzle why Corrections officials believed they had acquired the powers of the Chief Executive. The last time presidential authority was usurped, in Jan. 2015, 44 police commandos perished in the hands of Islamist separatists in a small cornfield. With the release of 22,000 potentially unreformed convicts by similar usurpation, all Filipinos nationwide are in grave danger.

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A meme reflects popular sentiment, even political commentary and social self-criticism, via humorous internet image or video. The closer one is to people’s hearts, the faster and farther it spreads. Like these latest ones:

• “Pinasok ng Chinese warships ang ating territorial waters, wala lang. Pinasok ng isang bakla ang ladies CR sa mall, Senate inquiry agad.”

• On news that 100 Chinese workers outstripping job-seeking locals in Bataan were downed by H-fever: “Mabuti pa ang mga lamok, lumalaban at may natatanging tapang.”

• On the House bill to forbid the name “Lapu-Lapu” for the grouper fish out of respect for the hero: “Why? Did the crocodiles complain when their name was used to describe congressmen?”

• On the ever so prolonged Filipino Yuletide celebration starting with the onset of the “-ber” months: “It’s September. I’m so fed up with these Jose Mari Chan songs ushering in Christmas. Are we more excited about his compositions than the birth of the Lord? Please stop playing them. What’s important is that this season may we never forget the love we have for Jesus. Let Him be the one to guide us, as another New Year starts. And may the spirit of Christmas be always in our hearts. That’s all. Thank you. Bow.”

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

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