Republic Act 10592 or the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law, allows for a reduction of sentences of persons deprived of liberty, depending on how well they abide by rules and regulations inside “any penal institution, rehabilitation, or detention center or any other local jail.” This law, in relation to Republic Act 7659 (death penalty law), reportedly does not cover PDL who have been convicted of heinous crimes as enumerated in RA 7659. These crimes were considered punishable by death “for being grievous, odious, and hateful offenses and, which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity are repugnant, and outrageous to the common standards, and norms of decency and morality.”
The application of the GCTA law resulted to the supposed erroneous release of at least 1,914 inmates, a large majority of which already surrendered or returned to government custody at the behest of President Duterte. One returnee is Antonio “Tony” Simolata, who has spent close to 30 years in detention, (a few months in jail while the murder case was pending, a few months in the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm and more than 25 years in the maximum security prison in the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa). Tony was released by virtue of the application of the GCTA law, but voluntarily returned two months ago.
I met Tony a few days ago when I visited inmates in the Minimum Security Compound. For two years now, I have been privileged to be part of the prison ministry of Pastor Gary Galvez who served time in prison himself for about three years for a crime he did not commit. Once released and reformed, Gary made sure that he would visit his former mates in prison as often as he can and bless them with whatever resources he can gather from his friends. In the Bible, Hebrews 13:3 tells us, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you, yourselves, were suffering.” This holiday season, whenever your schedule permits, try visiting the poor, the sick, the needy or those in prison. It is truly heartwarming to see the simple joys in their hearts. Little did I know that my daughter, 26-year-old Regina Victoria has been wanting to join an outreach group that will visit jails and prisons. Together with Pastor Gary (Gz Galvez FB account), Regina will make her first trip to the National Bilibid Prison within the year after taking part in her first ever prison ministry at the Correctional Institute For Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong City a few months ago.
Having handled a handful of criminal cases in my 20-year legal career, I profess no expertise in this field. What I know is that Pastor Tony and more than a thousand returnees like him appear to be victims of the erroneous application of the GCTA law inasmuch as Justice Secretary Guevarra has recently declared that the processing of early release of inmates under the GCTA law is briefly suspended. I was told that the authority to rerelease these returnees like Tony are now devolved to the Bureau of Correction under Director General Gerald Bantag. Under existing regulations, “Good conduct” means the “conspicuous and satisfactory behavior of a detained or convicted prisoner consisting of active involvement in rehabilitation programs, productive participation in authorized work activities, or accomplishment of exemplary deeds coupled with faithful obedience to all prison/jail rules and regulations.”
I do not have the records on Pastor Tony. I only got to hear his story by way of his testimony from the heart and a brief, but intimate, interview in my quest to truly know why he chose to return to prison. In brief, Tony used to be a farmer before he was convicted of homicide, arson and murder. He was committed to prison at the same time I graduated from the military academy—1987. He was in death row, his sentence was commuted to life in 1998, got married in 2001, became a father and turned to God while in detention. He was a beneficiary of the GCTA law and enjoyed his liberty very briefly. He returned to detention as he and his wife looked at the “unfortunate” situation as a blessing and an opportunity to serve others. In his own words, Tony says, “to be in prison is not hell, but for me it’s a blessing because I did get to know God inside the prison.” Perhaps Tony needs to know God more or allow others to know God through him. One thing certain is Tony’s full trust in His plans. I am quite certain there are others like Tony who have found, are trying to find or will inevitably find God in their most trying times. His full testimony can be found in www.trojanhorseinternational.com/resources/TrojanWarriorsTestimonies/content.htm
With stories like the one of Tony, GCTA must mean God’s Call To Action (or Attention). With indulgence, I call on my former law professor and current Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, as well as my PMA upperclassman, Bantag, and all those under them to give preferential attention to those returnees who deserve to be legitimately released. A good number of returnees, those who were released on parole (not under GCTA) for instance, are likely to spend the holidays away from their respective families, unless those in the government are touched by God and act with dispatch to serve the least of their brothers in prison.
For questions and comments, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sir, PDL Returnee din po ang father namin…at tulad po ng kaibigan nyo ay legitimate po ang paglaya nya.Malaking pagbabago po ang nagawa ng pangungulungan sa buhay ng aming ama sa loob ng 27 years.Magsi-65 years old na po sya sa January at 3 dekada po na hindi namin sya nakasama.June 2019 po nang sya ay makalaya at hindi po namin inaasahan na kami po ay muling tatapak sa bilibid.Para pong bangungot ang pangyayaring iyon.Hindi na po sana namin isusuko ang aming ama ngunit minabuti po naming sumunod na lang sa utos ng Presidente sa takot na ipa-manhunt syat gawan ng masama.Nagtataka po kami kung bakit kailangang madamay sila sa kabulukan ng iba…ano po ang dapat naming gawin.sana po ay matulungan ninyo ang mga Returnees na tulad ng aming ama.Francisco dela Cruz Victoria po ang pangalan nya,kidnap for ransom po ang case pero buhay po ung victim at sa paglipas po ng panahon ay napatawad na po sya.Lahat po ng kasama ng aming ama sa kaso ay matagal ng nakalaya,sya na lang po ang natira at minalas po na pinabalik pa.kami po ang 5 magkakapatid na puro babae,lahat po kami ay nakapagtapos ng pag-aaral sa pagsususmikap po ng aming ina.sa loob po ng 3 dekada ay naging faithful po ang aming ina sa kabila ng sila ay magkalayo ng aming ama.Sa paglaya po ng aming ama noong June ay nagdulot po ng nag-uumapaw na ligaya sa aming ina.Nito lang po sila nabigyan ng pagkakataon na maging sweet at maging malapit sa isat-isa.Masakit po sa amin ang mga pangyayari, dahil ang muling pagbabalik ng aming ama sa bilibid ay nagdulot ng matinding lungkot sa aming ina.Sana po sa pamamagitan ninyo ay maipaglaban ninyo ang karapatan ng mga PDL Returnees.Kami po ay umaasa na sila ay inyong susuportahan at ilalaban hanggang sa sila ay tuluyan ng makabalik sa kanilang pamilya…Lubos po ba gumagalang at umaasa,MARY GRACE VICTORIA-MATIC,Pangalawang anak ni Francisco at Maura.San Rafael,Bulacan, Contact No.09256012905