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Brainstorm: The Next Generation | Of good conduct

“And so we come to hear another tale of woe, of an infamous public figure and his minions indicted for having raped and killed a young lady and a budding lad, of these victims who had led short obscure lives that earned an equally ignominious end, and of a criminal enterprise so despicable only the unthinking beasts can orchestrate. It was, indeed, a plot seemingly hatched in hell. And let it not be said that the full protection of the law has been deprived appellants. Even a beast cannot deny this” (People v. Sanchez, G.R. Nos. 121039-45, January 25, 1999)

With the Supreme Court saying this to describe the brutal rape-slay of Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez, then why did former Mayor Antonio Sanchez’s name even come up for consideration to be released due to good conduct allowances?

Before shooting from the hip and just blabbering about it, I decided to review the applicable laws to look at it from an objective and studied point of view and I decided to write this article as it may be of help to those who are interested.

What is this “allowance for good conduct” anyway? Under article 97 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), these are deductions from the sentence of a convict or detention prisoner, subject to certain conditions, for every month that he does not violate the jail rules and regulations. This is NOT NEW, it has been there since the RPC took effect in 1931. Originally, the deductions in the RPC were from 5 to 15 days per month of good conduct, depending on the length of time served.

It bears emphasizing that the “good conduct” deductions are given on a month to month basis. In other words, the allowances will not be granted only for the months when the prisoner breaks prison rules and regulations. So, if he behaves for 11 months in a year but breaks the rules on the 12th month, he still gets credit for the time that he was good.

In 2013, Congress passed R.A. 10592, increasing the deductions to 20 to 30 days per month of detention, again depending on the length of time already served. This, per se, is NOT a BAD LAW because it increases the incentives for inmates to behave and it was probably one of the measures that Congress came up with to try and decongest our very overcrowded jails.

“This is the fault of the Supreme Court” NO, IT IS NOT. All that the Supreme Court did, last June 25, 2019, in the case of “Inmates of the New Bilibid Prison v. De Lima” (G.R. Nos. 212719 & 214637) was to declare that the benefits of R.A. 10592 MUST be given retroactive effect and benefit prisoners who were already in jail prior to the effectivity of the new law. This was based on the basic legal principle in criminal law that penal laws that are beneficial to the accused must be given retroactive effect.

“Mayor Sanchez was sentenced to SEVEN (7) penalties of reclusion perpetua, so how could he possibly be released even if deductions are made?” Well, he was actually sentenced to NINE (9) penalties of reclusion perpetua, 7 for the rape-slay of Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez, and 2 for the murder of Nelson Peñalosa and Rickson Peñalosa (People v. Sanchez, G.R. No. 131116, August 27, 1999)

Even if under Article 70 of the RPC, this is a total of 270 years (30 years for each count), it DOES NOT MATTER because under the same provision, the maximum imprisonment of prisoners with multiple penalties is three (3) times the highest penalty, a.k.a. the “Three-Fold Rule”, NOT TO EXCEED 40 YEARS. So, under the law, the maximum imprisonment of any person, regardless of how many penalties he has been sentenced to suffer is still limited to FORTY (40) YEARS.

In other words, in the case of Mr. Sanchez, the good conduct allowances will be deducted from his maximum imprisonment of 40 years.

“R.A. 10592 provides that “recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes are excluded from the coverage of this Act, so it should not apply to Mr. Sanchez”. Here is where things get a little iffy because, there is a bit of a grey area as far as this is concerned.

The mentioned exclusion is found in Section 1 of R.A. 10592 which amends Article 29 of the RPC which, in turn, specifically covers the deduction of the period of preventive imprisonment, i.e., the period of detention prior to final conviction, from the convict’s sentence when he is finally convicted or declared guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The exclusion does not appear anywhere else in R.A. 10592, particularly in the portions thereof referring to allowances for good conduct.

In view of this, it can be reasonably argued that only the deduction of the “preventive imprisonment” from the convict’s sentence is not applicable to those convicted of heinous crimes. Moreover, considering that this exclusion is not found in Article 29 of the RPC as it was originally written, it is also arguable that it should not affect those were convicted prior to the effectivity of the law because that portion of R.A. 10592 is NOT beneficial, and is even prejudicial, to the prisoner.

This vagueness in how R.A. 10592 was written will benefit Mr. Sanchez because of the legal principle that penal laws are construed liberally in favor of the accused (Gilbuena y Esgana v. People, G.R. No. 213034, August 12, 2015.)

So, after all this, should Mr. Sanchez be granted good conduct allowances? Applying the law, he would be entitled to deductions for the periods of detention that he followed the prison rules and regulations. However, it has been made public that he was found to have been enjoying prohibited luxuries during his imprisonment and he was even found in possession of “shabu”, apparently hidden inside a statue of the Virgin Mary, in jail.

Considering this, he should not be entitled to any good conduct allowances for the ENTIRE PERIOD that he was enjoying luxuries particularly because among the violations enumerated in the “Uniform Manual on Time Allowances” of the Department of Justice and Bureau of Corrections is “Keeping unauthorized amount of money, jewelry, cellular phones or other communications devices, luxurious properties and other items classified as contraband under the rules”.

Also, the officials of the BuCor, particularly the Director of Prisons, have great leeway in granting or denying good conduct allowances. The fact that Mr. Sanchez has been found to have been violating, not the just prison rules, but even the Dangerous Drugs Act while being detained, shows that, contrary to the voiced opinions of some politicians, he has NOT truly reformed. I even read in a news article, which I hope was not fake news, that he is still maintaining that he is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. So, if indeed he has changed, it was apparently a change for the worse.

In ending, I certainly hope that while we have cause to raise issues about the application of good conduct allowances to benefit Mr. Sanchez, considering the specifics of his case, we should not lose sight of the fact that he is ONLY ONE of the thousands of prisoners who can benefit from R.A. 10592, many of whom may be truly deserving of a second chance to be contributing members of society.

So, I hope that this one very rotten apple will not give cause to throw away the bushel of a thousand souls.

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