Restorative justice miscarried

The recent ruckus over the aborted release from prison of former mayor Antonio Sanchez of Calauan, Laguna, flushed out a lot of hitherto buried issues.
The public outrage over the order to release Sanchez, a rape and murder convict, brought forth the issue of nontransparency and secrecy in implementing Republic Act No. 10592 or the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law enacted in 2013.
As I often say, “What’s meant to happen will.”
The Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO) and the Citizens Action Against Crime (CAAC), both founded in 1993, have long been pushing for reforms in the criminal justice system. There have been reforms in the prosecution, courts and community pillars. But the reforms in the correction pillar, or prison reforms, lag far behind.
Convicts often find prison a good vantage point to continue nefarious activities. Big-time drug lords continue large-scale illegal drug transactions behind bars. Repeated raids at the penitentiary have revealed stashes of drugs. Kidnappers for hire operate under the direction of bosses – the masterminds and chief negotiators – who are behind bars. The bosses have the perfect alibi.
With Sanchez’s thwarted release, members of the MRPO, made up largely of former kidnap victims, are in a panic, wondering if their kidnappers serving time were among those already released.
MRPO victims fear most the ex-policemen on active duty when convicted and others like Dennis Roldan who are well-connected.
If criminals can continue to conduct their criminal activities behind bars, how much easier would it then be if they are outside prison?

Why the secrecy?
There was no transparency in drawing up the implementing rules and regulations of RA 10592 and neither were the victims of crimes consulted before the law was drawn up. What was the basis for determining that there was remorse, good behavior and intention to reform? Was there a psychiatric evaluation to prove that the criminal could be released to society again?
Why the secrecy in releasing these convicts, without informing the public? Convicts who apply for parole or pardon have their names published in newspapers first. The prosecution and the victims or their family members are asked to comment on the application.
One former kidnap victim was held hostage for 19 days, chained from neck to foot, lost 60 pounds during his ordeal and suffered nerve damage in one eye because of the brutal treatment he received at the hands of his kidnappers. Imagine how such a victim would feel when suddenly his kidnappers are released and round up their cohorts to return to their crimes again.
The 2003 kidnap-murder of Betti Chua Sy was sensational news. Among her kidnappers-murderers were five of the most notorious in the list of wanted criminals, with a P1 million bounty on their heads before they were arrested. What would the family feel if suddenly these notorious criminals are back on the streets?
A few days before Christmas of 2014, the criminals in the kidnap-slaying of 5-year-old Eunice Chuang were convicted after 14 long years of trial. It was a most welcome gift for the family and members of MRPO who painstakingly followed through the many, many postponements, the four times judges were changed or the court sala was vacant. How would they feel if Eunice’s killers are released?

Anomalous, irregular, wrong
In Cebu, three of seven men sentenced to two life terms for the 1997 rape-murders of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong have walked free due to good conduct. The mother Thelma Chiong is understandably fuming.
“I am really shocked. This is unfair. This is injustice,” she was quoted in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She said she was not informed about the plans to release the convicts: Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Cano.
To make matters worse, she said the convicts could only be released through presidential pardon, not through the good conduct law. Furthermore, their releases were signed by a certain “Marquez,” Sen. Ping Lacson told media, even though only Bureau of Corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon had the authority to sign their release orders.
President Duterte on Sept. 4 fired Faeldon “for not following” his order.
Lawmakers and Malacañang are calling for the return of serious offenders to prison. The 1,914 convicts who had committed heinous crimes and had their sentences truncated based on supposed good behavior should be put back in jail because the GCTA was illegally applied.
The GCTA especially says those “charged with heinous crimes are excluded” from its coverage.

Horror stories of injustice
The incident involving Sanchez only highlights the defects in our justice system. The family was waiting for him outside Bilibid prison, a release order from the BuCor was on hand and a welcome party was supposedly waiting in Calauan.
Very special treatments of privileged criminals are the norm. They are provided with air-conditioners and television sets inside their cells and catered food.
Rolito Go, convicted for killing Eldon Maguan in a road rage incident, conducted business in an office separate and within walking distance of the National Penitentiary when he was supposed to be in jail for life. The same with Antonio Leviste and many other VIPs (very important prisoners), including convicted drug lords.
Sanchez had his television set and air-conditioner, and once caught with P10-million worth of shabu, which was confiscated from his cell. How could this qualify as good behavior?
But indigent inmates suffer horrible prison conditions – congested and unsanitary cells and inadequate food.
It is also the poor who suffer from wrongful imprisonment, declared innocent after years of serving sentences for crimes they did not commit.
One time, the MRPO was at a court hearing for a kidnap-for-ransom case. An elderly female inmate approached and asked to talk to me. She was a 42-year-old housekeeper accused of stealing a TV set.
“We live in a subdivision,” she said tearfully. “I could not possibly have been able to carry a TV set outside our gate. It was the driver who took it, but my employer refused to believe that I had nothing to do with the theft. She couldn’t locate the driver so they filed a case against me instead.”
To make matters worse, we discovered that she had been in prison for six months already. Neither her employer nor the policemen appeared at the trial; hence, the case kept on being postponed.
I called the attention of our private lawyer who told the woman she had already served more time than the two-month sentence if found guilty. She replied that she could not admit to something she did not do.
So, our lawyer stood up when the case was called and told the judge that she is appearing on behalf of the woman just for that hearing. Having heard her position, the judge decided to set the woman free after completion of paper requirements.
This is not an isolated case.
A tricycle driver was convicted of murder on charges of gunning down a Tsinoy businessman. The truth is, he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and was identified by the fishball vendor who told the police “Kamukha po niya.”
But police told him, “Umamin naman na, sayang yun P600,000 na reward (He already confessed, let’s not waste the reward)!”
Being poor, he could not appeal his case until a Jesuit priest approached me to talk to the family of the murder victim. After the businessman was gunned down, his wife was nearly killed in an ambush. The priest said this obviously means that the mastermind is still out there and after the family.

Restorative justice
There should have been consultations with anti-crime nongovernment organizations before the GCTA law and the implementing rules and regulations were crafted.
The intention of the law is good and it benefits society, but not if corruption creeps in and criminals can pay for their release by having a certification issued that they were on good behavior while incarcerated.
The Sanchez case and the many other heinous crime convicts should not detract from the intent of the law to give a second chance to those who really deserve to be released for good behavior.

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