September 21, 2019
NO single entity or personage bears the onus (or credit?) for the passage of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law.
Many cooks, and all three branches of government, contributed to its enactment into law. Still more were involved in writing the rules and regulations for its implementation.
From conception to implementation, the GCTA Law was flawed. And destined for abuse.
If it were a landmark contribution to our legal system and statutes and correctional administration, the cooks would be grabbing the credit for fathering it.
But now that it is a hideous or heinous disaster, they are pointing fingers at each other.
Interestingly, the GCTA could be historically the only effort at collaboration by the late Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona and the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd. This happened just before Aquino launched his lunatic campaign to impeach Corona, by using the Congress as his battering ram.
On Nov. 16, 2010, the Aquino 3rd government convened a two-day national summit on “Collaborative Partnership Towards Enhancing the Dignity of Persons Deprived of Liberty.”
The theme of the hour was replacing punitive justice with restorative justice.
The keynote speaker was CJ Corona, whose message was read by Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez. The CJ expressed the high court’s pledge to join the rest of the five pillars of the criminal justice system — law enforcement, bar (prosecutors, public defenders), bench (courts), correction system, community — in each step in the restoration of justice for all.
Then-Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, for her part, said the thrust for restorative justice, which she defined as “a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior,” was a goal and a big challenge down the road.
One of the main obstacles to this goal, she said, was the tendency for each of the five pillars of the criminal justice system to work on its own.
“It’s like step by step,” she said in her presentation. “Pagkatapos ng prosecutor, ipapasa sa korte. Pagkatapos ng korte, ipapasa sa correctional. All of the institutions and actions in the criminal justice system are and should be interdependent. Our roles are interdependent, interconnecting and overlapping.”
Budgetary constraints in the key agencies involved in the criminal justice system, and a lack of awareness at present on what restorative justice is, contribute to the difficulties, de Lima said.
Retired Supreme Court associate justice and Philippine Judicial Academy chancellor Adolfo Azcuna in turn said the goal must not only be for the restoration of the offender, but the victim and society as well.
“The idea is to restore not just the offender, but the victim and society. To restore. To heal. It’s a healing process involving all sectors. All sectors must cooperate in order for this healing process to be successful,” Azcuna said
Amending the Revised Penal Code
De Lima also expressed the need to revisit and come up with a new Revised Penal Code (RPC) in order to facilitate a speedier dispensation of justice.
The code, instituted in 1930, still contains provisions that are no longer applicable to the present and even crimes that can no longer be legally appreciated, de Lima said.
During her time at the Justice department, the amendment of the RPC was a key priority of de Lima’s legislative agenda.
Marquez agreed with the Justice chief regarding the need to revisit the RPC.
But since this is a legislative act, Marquez said the court could revisit the Rules of Court and issue circulars relevant to the speedy resolution of cases.
Azcuna pointed out that 70 percent of cases pending before the 3,000 trial courts nationwide were criminal in nature, and 30 percent were civil.
Of the 70 percent criminal cases, more than half were drug-related, Azcuna said, quoting a report from the Supreme Court.
And since drug-related cases are non-bailable, this contributes to congestion in jail facilities, he said.
Congress takes charge
The project to amend the revised penal code thereafter moved to the Congress.
Both House and Senate legislators filed bills to amend the RPC. The House filed House Bill 417, which was principally authored by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez. And the Senate filed Senate Bill (SB) 3064, which was evidently authored principally by Sen. Francis Escudero, the chairman of the Judiciary and Human Rights committee.
The two bills were consolidated and became the Good Conduct Time Allowance Act.
This measure was finally passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives on Nov. 5, 2012 and Jan. 28, 2013, respectively.
The House version of the legislation was essentially reformative, according to Rodriguez.
The Senate vision talked loftily of restorative justice.
It’s not known who came up with the tag “good conduct time allowance.”
I believe former senator Escudero should get credit for the title of this now notorious law, because he originally used the name in the bill he filed in the Senate, namely SB 2363, titled “An act providing for good conduct time allowances to detention prisoners and those serving sentence by virtue of final judgment, appropriating funds thereof the purpose.”
He also filed SB 2374, titled “An act giving offenders the fullest benefit of preventive imprisonment, amending for the purpose Article 29 of Act No. 3815, as amended, otherwise known as the Revised Penal Code.”
No one can claim to having fought harder for the convicts than Escudero.
When the House and Senate bills were consolidated into one, the legislation became known as Republic Act 10592, “An act amending Articles 29, 94, 97, 98 and 99 of Act No. 3815, as amended, otherwise known as the Revised Penal Code.”
When fully enacted into law upon signing by President Aquino 3rd, the legislation became popularly known as the Good Conduct Time Allowance Law.
And so it was known until it achieved infamy in 2019 for the premature release of 1,1914 convicts, and the near-release of former mayor and heinous crime convict Antonio Sanchez.
Former senator and now Sorsogon Governor Escudero has declared that the purpose of the GCTA Law is to serve rehabilitative and restorative justice.
This is misleading and deceptive.
In the provisions of the law, and in the text of the implementing rules and regulations, which have been written twice, you will not find anywhere the term “restorative” or “restorative justice.”
If he means by this that the GCTA belongs in the annals of restorative justice, I submit that you will not encounter anywhere in the vast literature on restorative justice any discussion of the concept of “good conduct time allowance.”
Restorative justice is something else altogether.
Kathleen Daly, who wrote the article, “The limits of restorastive justice,” in the volume, Handbook of Restorative Justice (Oxon, UK, 2006), lists the following as the core elements of restorative justice:
1. It deals is with the penalty (or post-penalty), not fact-finding phase of the criminal process.
2. It normally involves a face-to-face meeting with an admitted offender and victim and their supporters.
3. It envisions a more active role for victim participation in justice decisions.
4. It aims to hold offenders accountable for their behavior, while at the same time not stigmatizing them.
5. It aims to assist victims in recovering from crime.
These considerations never entered into the writing and debates on the GCTA Law.
GCTA faltered because at bottom the primary concern of our people remains retributive justice, the punishment of crime, and not the restoration of convicts in society.
Santa Claus legislation
The concern from first to last was principally about the offenders and the convicts. The primary goal was to make possible the release or sentence commutation of the offenders.
This was Santa Claus legislation, if there ever was one.
As for Leila de Lima’s keen interest in the revision of the penal code, it is now averred by the Senate blue ribbon committee that her main interest in the GCTA was to use it to raise funds for her Senate campaign in the 2013 election.
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