DOJ 'confident' that Supreme Court will affirm revised GCTA IRR

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Monday, September 30, that it is "confident" the Supreme Court (SC) will affirm the legality of the revised implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law.

"We actually expected (the) petition. So I think the revised IRR that we prepared will withstand legal scrutiny, so we are pretty confident that the petition will be heard by the court of course, but we do believe that the revised IRR that we prepared is in consonance with the law," Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said on Monday.

A group of Bilibid inmates filed with the SC the first challenge against the DOJ's new IRR, seeking to invalidate provisions of the IRR that excluded heinous crimes from the coverage of Republic Act No. 10592 or the GCTA law.

The petition argued that the IRR amounted to executive legislation.

"We've called a number of laws in order to come up with the interpretation that is most suited based on the provisions of RA 10592 and we've also relied on existing jurisprudence and that's where our confidence is based against this particular challenge," Perete said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he has "eagerly awaited the filing of the petition."

"I have as much interest as anyone in knowing the correct legal interpretation. Only the Supreme Court has the final word on the issue. And I hope that it will affirm mine," Guevarra said.

Equal protection

In the new IRR, heinous crime convicts before 2013 could still avail of the much lesser GCTA benefits under the Revised Penal Code, while heinous crime convicts after 2013 cannot avail of any type of GCTA.

This is because before the GCTA law was passed in 2013, heinous crime convicts were unequivocally included in the much lesser GCTA benefits under Article 97 of the Revised Penal Code.

The petition wants to declare that clause invalid "for being in violation of the equal protection clause under the Constitution."

"We've repeatedly said that heinous crime convicts are in fact segregated by the Constitution itself...so we do not think that the equal protection clause is a valid basis," Perete said.

While the Constitution guarantees equal protection, it will not apply if 4 conditions are met, one of them being if it rests on a substantial distinction. 

As Perete said, the laws have clearly made the distinction between heinous crimes and ordinary crimes, but what is the substantial distinction between heinous crime convicts before 2013 and heinous crime convicts after 2013?

The petition said, "There exists no valid and substantial distinction between the two groups, other than the time when they were detained or convicted in relation to the effectivity of the law."

"Maybe a query by example may be helpful. Is it possible to legally argue that the families of those who committed heinous crimes before 1987 and suffered the penalty of death may now be heard to claim violation of equal protection of the laws because the law suspended that penalty too late in the day?" Perete said, but clarified that it was his personal view and not the DOJ's.

The new IRR takes effect on Friday, October 4. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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