Rights groups call for immediate release of reformed and qualified PDL unjustly affected by the GCTA mess
Weeks before the National Correctional Consciousness Week (NACOCOW), human rights groups gather together and liken to the game-show “Laban o Bawi?,” President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to recall the release of Persons Deprived of their Liberties (PDL) because of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) mess.
In a forum entitled “Laya o Bawi?” on October 11, 2019, held at the Commission on Human Rights, the groups call on the government speedy action to release those who were qualified but unjustly affected by the GCTA (Republic Act 10592) controversy. Among the qualified beneficiaries of GCTA who voluntarily surrendered are held temporarily in National Bilibid Prison (NBP) for re-evaluation and process according to the Department of Justice.
It has been almost a month now when the blanket directives of President Duterte that freed PDL through GCTA law are called to surrender until September 19, or they will be considered fugitives. A P1-million bounty was put up for their capture and a shoot to kill was ordered. The president was quoted as saying, “dead or alive but maybe dead would be a better option.”
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) received information that there are cases of PDL who were released. They were asked and forced to surrender by the authorities although they were not convicted with heinous crimes. They are being held for almost a month now in NBP, affecting their families, and have lost their present jobs.
“The blanket order was unjust. It has affected even those who were released and processed under the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP), even those who were not convicted with heinous crimes and were qualified under the GCTA guidelines have suffered because of the GCTA confusion,” Rita Melecio, Program Coordinator of TFDP said.
According to Balay Rehabilitation Center Executive Director Josephine Lascano, the GCTA law is meant to encourage PDL for reform and have a second chance.
Lascano emphasized that it also helps in unclogging congested jail facilities that lead to health and sanitation problems. She laments that despite the good intentions of the law, the weak implementation and confusing system and guidelines from calculating GCTA of PDLs are being abused by the authorities.
“GCTA should be earned. PDLs must demonstrate good behavior and participate in various activities that promote restorative justice. Authorities who are involved in the GCTA mess should be held accountable. Corruption takes away the chance for those who truly deserve GTCA – mostly the poor”, Lascano added.
Edeliza Hernandez, Executive Director of the Medical Action Group (MAG) stated that, “all persons deprived of liberty have a right to early release for good conduct, as part of the state obligation to treat all prisoners with respect for their inherent dignity and value as human beings including their right to health under the Mandela Rules.”
Mandela Rules is the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which was adopted in 2015.
“But any law is only as good as its implementation. If GCTA is just being applied to rich and influential inmates who can ‘buy their freedom,’ it is more of the failure of the state than the law itself,” said Hernandez.
“We recognize the need to address the alleged corruption and abuse committed in the implementation of the GCTA. However, the blanket order and the continuous detention of the deserving and reformed PDL will not solve this problem. It causes more harm and injustice not only to the unjustly affected PDL but more so to their families,” Melecio lamented.
Coinciding with the annual observance of Presidential Proclamation 551 that declared the last week of October as NACOCOW, the group reiterates and highlights the relevance of restorative justice.
Restorative justice is a system of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. According to the group, the GCTA is a step forward to restorative justice.
The GCTA fiasco must be solved, and the government should clean up its mess but not at the expense of reformed PDL’s and their chance to redeem themselves and go back to society.
“Government must institute true and humane reforms in the correctional and justice system,” the groups concluded. ###