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Good conduct time allowance

The Manila Times logo The Manila Times 9/8/2019 FR. RANHILIO CALLANGAN AQUINO
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(Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.)

Prison was never meant to be an underworld — some realm of the damned. Sure, it is punishment, but it should also provide the space for renewal. Offenders are not refuse, and prison is the recognition that it never behooves us to dispose of offenders as we would harmful animals or detritus. “Correctional facility” is the term often used and unless we have decided to engage ourselves in unpardonable hypocrisy, then our prisons, superintended by the Bureau of Corrections, should do exactly that — correct, not destroy, not waste!

My point is that the rants against what appear to many to be improvident concessions of good conduct credit to the supposedly undeserving should not be misdirected at a system that reduces prison terms in consideration of exemplary conduct and productive prison life. The aim of our correctional facilities is never to keep inmates in for as long as possible ,but to restore them as repentant, productive, helpful members of society and fulfilled human persons.

The Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law is not the first enactment of its kind. Many judges have floundered on the test of applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law. It is the piece of legislation that qualifies the application of penalties prescribed in the Revised Penal Code, requiring the imposition of an “indeterminate sentence” so that the possibility of an earlier release is offered the inmate who conducts himself properly and shows himself capable of a restored place in society. Then there was the administrative order of the Supreme Court that detainees who had been kept in detention for a period equaling that of the sentences they could receive if found guilty (or even longer!) should be released.

And these were all laudable, as the GCTA is. Life gives us all repeated chances, and it would be ironic if we were to deny that to others. And no, that the GCTA and other salutary measures like it may have been misused and abused is certainly no valid reason to insist on the death penalty. For as long as the system of criminal justice is fallible — as it always will be — the mere possibility that an innocent man is put to death should, by all norms of ethics, stay the hand that would end another’s life. Non potest agere in dubio.

To want to consign an offender to prison for the rest of his life (and some would even have several life sentences served successively!) is nothing more than the primitive drive for revenge — and the law was instituted precisely to curb revenge and all its deleteriousness and unbridled excess. Criminal procedure and court proceedings effect a juridical distance between the criminal act and all the animosity it fans and the penalty. It will not do to vindicate the right of the victim to life and to liberty by negating the life and the liberty of the offender. You do not uphold value by protecting it in one case and canceling it in another. After all, the criminal justice system does not exist to satisfy the victims or their relatives, but to satisfy the demands of justice and to vindicate the legal order.

That there has been a corrupt traffic in good conduct time allowance is definitely quite another matter. Deplorable and execrable as this form of corruption may be (of which we know legion in this blighted land), the corruption of the system is not argument against the system. Also, there can be no wholesale rescission of grants of good conduct time allowance, for some, if not many, who have been beneficiaries of the concession may have been deserving. In fact, a sound legal argument may be made that the order that all those released under GCTA should voluntarily make their way back to their cells or face dire consequences, probably even enforced disappearances, violates the principle of “vested rights.”

While it is true that no prisoner has a “right” to a reduced sentence per se, there is a law that grants reduction of the term of incarceration for good conduct. Once the conditions are met, therefore, a legally conferred right vests. It may not be a natural or a human right. But it is a claim that the law allows a qualified prisoner to make, and under Hohfeld’s analysis, that counts for a right. When a right has vested, you cannot deprive its titulary of the right without further ado. I have made my position clear: You either assail the constitutionality of the whole law — and I personally see no infirmity in the law— or you assail in the proper judicial or administrative proceedings the grant of good conduct time allowance in each individual case that the facts do not warrant the grant of the benefit.

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