CEBU

Tell it to SunStar: Abolish the GCTA

NOW that a witness has surfaced at a Senate Inquiry (on GCTA For Sale) to tell how she was enticed by some Bureau of Correction (Bucor) personnel to cough up P30,000.00 in exchange for the early release of her husband who was convicted for murder, it’s time to call on Congress to consider repealing Republic Act 10592-–the law that gave birth to the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA).

The witness’ testimony only confirms earlier suspicions about irregularities in the New Bilibid Prison--the premier correctional facility of the country. If what she revealed is true, one can just imagine how much money is demanded for the release of a drug offender and others who were convicted on charges involving money. But even at that range of P30,000 to P1 million per convict and granting that only 1,914 had been released so far, as reported in the papers, anybody could easily count some hundred million pesos of dirty money finding space in the pockets of the personnel involved. Taking into view the monetary consideration, I would say that President Rodrigo Duterte was right on point when he issued an ultimatum on Sept. 4, 2019 to the 1,914 freed convicts to turn themselves back, else he’ll put up a P1million bounty for their re-arrest “dead or alive.” The ultimatum carried a dire warning that “If you do not (surrender), then beginning at this hour you are a fugitive from justice and you will be treated as a criminal who is evading the law.” He added cryptically, saying: “You know things can go wrong.”

Going back to the suggestion to abolish the GCTA, this small voice may have its reasons to try to. Just consider these: Firstly, if what the witness says that P30,000 to a whopping P1 million is the price to pay for a GCTA per convict is true, then it is safe to claim that the GCTA has degenerated into becoming a willing source of corruption.

Secondly, the grant of GCTA can be said to be encroaching on the independence of the judiciary to try and hear cases, to determine innocence or guilt based on the evidence presented and thereupon impose penalty appropriate to the findings or extent of guilt. And herein lies the crux of the matter, because the GCTA as it is being applied now, operates to subordinate the determination of the court as to penalty imposition to the say so of BUCOR officials-–some of whom are political appointees that perhaps may not have the needed educational background and training to pass upon the eligibility of a convict applying for the privilege.

Thirdly, the rehabilitative function considered, the GCTA should not have been designed as to leave its implementation completely to authorities other than the courts of law or some independent body. As noted early on, the GCTA has the effect of supplanting the determination of the court as to the appropriateness of the penalty imposed. It actually set aside or amend to reduce the penalty imposed by the court after hearing the sides of the opposite parties. Following both constitutional and judicial requirements, there can never be a conviction with its corresponding penalty, unless there have been trials conducted and consequent weighing of the pros and cons presented thereat. Meaning that whatever penalty the court has imposed, the same commands respect and obedience for its appropriateness and wisdom, and should never be disturbed save for the discovery of new evidence pointing otherwise.

In the case of prisoners convicted of capital or heinous offenses, like those serving terms at the New Bilibid Prison, there can be no doubt that their cases had undergone the so-called automatic review by the Supreme Court (SC), which carries with it the power to acquit or to reduce or amplify the penalties based on the evidences available. Their continued confinement, therefore, means that the highest court of the land saw no error in the decision of the lower court or where it does not touches on the penalty, the SC deemed the matter justifiable and appropriate, so why change it? Bear in mind that the officials designated to apply the GCTA were not privy to the hearing on the merits of case, were not present during the trial as to be able to observe up close the behavior and demeanor of the accused, and didn’t had the chance to feel for themselves the sorrow and the ignominy suffered by the victims’ relatives for losing a loved one, for example, to murder, rape, and addiction.

Lastly, for the rehabilitative aspect the same is better left to nongovernment organizations, humanitarian foundations or the religious sector, They’re more efficient than the government on that.


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