Convicts question exclusion from good conduct law
MANILA, Philippines — Eight prisoners who have been incarcerated in New Bilibid Prison for more than 20 years for heinous crimes have brought a class suit challenging the decision of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to exclude hardened criminals from benefiting from a law that rewards good behavior in detention with early freedom.
A petition filed by their lawyers in the Supreme Court on Monday said the DOJ in effect bypassed Congress’ legislative function because it went beyond what is stated in Republic Act No. 10592, or the expanded good conduct time allowance law enacted in May 2013.
The prisoners challenged the DOJ’s revised implementation rules for the law issued on Sept. 16 that disqualified pri-soners convicted of heinous crimes as well as recidivists, habitual delinquents and escapees from earning deductions from their sentences.
Nullify revised rules
The class suit asked the Supreme Court to nullify the revised rules “for going beyond the law and for being tantamount to executive legislation,” as well as for violating the Revised Penal Code and for violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
It asked the tribunal to stop the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) from applying the revised rules because they are “disadvantageous” to prisoners.
The Supreme Court was asked to order instead the BuCor and the BJMP to “recompute with reasonable dispatch the time allowances” of prisoners and to immediately release the prisoners if they are found to have fully served their sentences.
When asked for comment, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he had “eagerly awaited” the filing of such a petition so the law could be clarified.
“Considering that some important provisions of RA 10592 have been interpreted differently by various groups, I have as much interest as anyone in knowing the correct legal interpretation. Only the Supreme Court has the final word on the issue and I hope that it will affirm mine,” he said.
The eight inmates have been convicted in the 1990s of rape, murder, homicide and drug offenses—crimes that the DOJ considers heinous.
Last month, the DOJ excluded heinous crime convicts from being released early for good behavior, after Antonio Sanchez, a former mayor of Calauan, Laguna province, was almost released from Bilibid on supposed good conduct.
Sanchez, along with his six bodyguards, were sentenced to seven 40-year terms in 1995 for the rape and murder of University of the Philippines student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend Allan Gomez in 1993.
Public outcry stopped Sanchez’s release and President Duterte fired then BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon.
The DOJ has halted the application of the increased time allowances while Mr. Duterte has ordered the more than 1,900 prisoners who have been released since 2014 through the law to surrender or face rearrest.
More than 2,000 ex-convicts have surrendered, including those who have been pardoned or granted parole.
Fifty-two surrenderers were released during the weekend, and the DOJ said 114 would be released soon with certifications that they were properly released and should not be rearrested.
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