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RA 10592 does not exclude convicted heinous criminals

September 12, 2019

ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

THERE is a prevailing sentiment that Republic Act (RA) 10592, or the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law, which amended the Revised Penal Code (RPC), had the intention of excluding persons convicted for heinous crimes from its beneficiaries. This is precisely why many people blame the framers of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for their alleged failure to reflect such important element of the law.

As discussed in this column last Tuesday, it appears that such sentiment may in fact be standing on shaky ground. A genealogical analysis of RA 10592 revealed that Congress apparently failed to fully reconcile House Bill (HB) 417 with Senate Bill (SB) 3064. This gross negligence led to a conundrum where people charged with heinous crimes are excluded from benefiting from the provision where the period of their preventive imprisonment will now be deducted from their sentence once they are convicted, but would appear to be included in the expansion of the time allowances credited due to good conduct.

It is easy to argue, using commonsensical logic, that by extension we can also assume that persons convicted for heinous crimes must also be excluded and disqualified from benefiting from the law. After all, if persons are excluded when they are merely charged of a heinous crime, it is indeed logical to assume that they must also be excluded when they are already convicted. There are important issues, however, that need to be considered before one can accept this assumption.

One can always assert that we should go back to the deliberations in Congress to know the real intent of the law. But on this one, congressional records might only reveal the failure of the 15th Congress to exercise due diligence. HB 417, which contained an exception excluding those charged with heinous crimes, in addition to recidivists, habitual delinquents and escapees, only focused on the eligibility of detainees to count the period of their preventive imprisonment toward their sentences should they be found guilty of the crimes they are being charged with. But SB 3064, which expanded the time allowances for good conduct, or GCTA, did not contain such exception, in the same way that the RPC did not discriminate among crimes in the awarding of GCTA. Sen. Franklin Drilon has admitted to the failure of the Senate to exclude those convicted of heinous crimes. And it is apparent that the version crafted by the bicameral conference committee, and ratified by the Senate and the House plenaries, was merely a joined version that did not show evidence of any reconciliation. Congress did not even attempt to edit the text, as revealed by the fact that Section 1 of the law retained the original wording of HB 417.

One can also divine the meaning of the law in the context of the prevailing policy climate. And here, the interpretation would also favor the interests of those convicted of heinous crimes.

RA 6975 created the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), which is tasked to “enhance public safety by providing humane safekeeping and development of inmates in all district, city and municipal jails.” Included in its powers is to “ensure the provision of quality services for the custody, safekeeping, rehabilitation and development of district, city and municipal inmates, any fugitive from justice, or person detained.”

On the other hand, the IRR of RA 10575 mandates the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), which has jurisdiction over national penitentiaries housing convicts whose sentences exceed three years, to “promote the general welfare and safeguard the basic rights of every prisoner incarcerated in our national penitentiary by promoting and ensuring their reformation and social reintegration, creating an environment conducive to rehabilitation and compliant with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (UNSMRTP).”

Thus, it is clear that the policy landscape that we have in relation to convicted criminals focuses on rehabilitation, development, reformation and social reintegration. The IRR of RA 10575, in particular, as the law that governs the penal institutions that administer persons convicted of more serious offenses, including those convicted of heinous crimes, devotes several provisions detailing the mechanisms focusing on rehabilitation and reformation. There is no attempt to discriminate among types of criminals. In fact, it even specifically mandates a more politically correct labeling of persons convicted by referring to them as persons deprived of liberty, or PDLs. This penal philosophy was installed around the time that RA 10592 was passed by the 15th Congress, which therefore leads us to conclude that the ethos prevailing at the time was rehabilitative and restorative justice, and not retributive or punitive.

It is in this context that one could extrapolate and implicate this penal philosophy on RA 10592, leading one to conclude that having a system of awarding time allowance for good conduct to all PDLs, regardless of the crime they committed, heinous crimes included, is logical, coherent and consistent with the prevailing policy climate towards convicted criminals at the time. After all, it was also the time when we abolished the death penalty for heinous crimes. This legal predisposition to favor the rights of convicts is also deeply rooted in our judicial system, with the constitutional prohibition on ex post facto application of laws, and with the Supreme Court reiterating recently the retroactive application of laws that would benefit convicts, and by implication, a prospective application when it would be to their detriment.

In sum, it seems that on the question of whether persons convicted for a heinous crime should benefit from GCTA, the answer is that they would. The law is vaguely constructed, if not silent on the issue. The framers of the law failed to address the issue, and there is no articulated intent to support a particular position. The prevailing penal philosophy favors rehabilitation and reformation. Jurisprudence favors the rights of convicts. Hence, only a misapplication or corruption of the GCTA can be assailed, but not the law that created it.

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