By Paolo Romero, September 3 2019; Philippine Star

Image Credit to Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is ready to fire Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Nicanor Faeldon if he is found to have committed serious lapses in ordering the release of rape and murder convict Antonio Sanchez, drug traffickers and other high-profile prisoners, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go said yesterday.

Go said Duterte has ordered an investigation to find out who was responsible for the near-release of Sanchez as well as the discharge of several Chinese drug traffickers for good behavior under Republic Act 10592 or the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law.

“What the President wants is for those liable to be held accountable. From top to bottom, whoever allowed them to slip out should be made to answer,” Go told reporters in Filipino after attending the Senate Blue Ribbon committee’s inquiry into the controversial release of some 1,914 convicts.

He said it was immediately clear to Duterte, who is a lawyer, that Sanchez and other inmates convicted for heinous crimes should not have been qualified for shortened prison sentences under the GCTA law.

“Even if we’re friends before, we’ve a fight against corruption in government, on criminality or the fight against illegal drugs, so if there’s a question of how the Chinese drug lords were able to get out, we have a problem,” Go said.

He said he found the testimony of Faeldon and other BuCor officials during the hearing “very inconsistent,” especially on who signed the documents for Sanchez’s release.

He said when Duterte found out in the news about Sanchez’s impending release last Aug. 21, he immediately issued an order for Faeldon to stop it.

The law, enacted in 2013 and implemented retroactively, allows the reduction of sentences by as many as 19 years based on a formula that tallies a convict’s “good behavior.”

When asked whether he thinks Duterte will “recycle” Faeldon, Go said: “I can’t answer that. I’m not the appointing authority.”

He said if he had his way, he would prefer the freed inmates convicted for heinous crimes to be rearrested, and “if they refuse to surrender, shoot to kill.”

At the hearing, Faeldon testified that what he signed was a “memorandum” for release, and not an actual release order.

He said the “memorandum” simply started the processing of documents for Sanchez’s walking out of prison.

He claimed he had repeatedly pressed his subordinates in July to find a way not to have Sanchez freed but he was warned that he was exposing himself to lawsuits.

However, Sen. Francis Pangilinan pointed out that a memorandum is practically a release order that no prison superintendent has ever defied.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto pointed out during the inquiry that nothing in the GCTA law grants authority to the BuCor chief to order the release of a convict.

“The BuCor chief is just one who gives (time allowance) or counts, not to release (inmates) under the GCTA law,” Recto said.

DOJ not involved

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who has supervision over the BuCor, said the release of inmates did not pass through his office.

He, however, said Republic Act 10575 or the 2013 law that strengthened the BuCor gave the chief of the agency the authority to release inmates on good conduct.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson also questioned the authority of BuCor regional chief for Davao Melencio Faustino to release convicted Taiwanese drug lord Chen Tiz Zang. “You usurped the authority of the BuCor,” Lacson told Faustino.

The BuCor official, however, cited an authority from the Department of Justice allowing him to release the Taiwanese. Guevarra denied having signed any memo to that effect.

Guevarra told the panel he ordered the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to stop the deportation of Chen and four Chinese drug convicts immediately after the controversy erupted.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the committee, scolded Faeldon for not exerting enough effort to screen candidates for release, noting that the Board of Pardons and Parole had earlier denied Sanchez’s application for clemency.

“You should know your job,” Gordon said as he stressed those convicted for heinous crimes should not benefit from the law.

Sen. Imee Marcos had Faeldon and other BuCor officials agree to a lifestyle check because of reports that privileges under the GCTA law are being granted in exchange for money.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked Faeldon point-blank when he is going to resign, to which he replied that the matter was up to “the appointing authority.”

“Do you believe you did a good job, Undersecretary (Faeldon)?” Hontiveros asked.

“I believe so,” Faeldon replied.

The senator, however, said developments “point to the opposite direction.”

Earlier, Faeldon’s lawyer and spokesman Jose Diño Jr. said in a statement that Faeldon’s predecessors had also signed release orders under GCTA for prisoners, including those convicted for heinous crimes.

“Did Faeldon sign GCTA approvals of heinous crime convicts? Yes, but so did all of his predecessors who, like him, relied on the expert review, validation and processing by an MSEC (management, screening and evaluation committee), which recommended the GCTA approvals,” Diño said.

The MSEC “shall be responsible for the screening and evaluation of entitlement for GCTA,” and would “evaluate records… to determine the degree of participation of PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) in development and work activities,” according to the “Uniform Manual on Time Allowances and Service of Sentence” issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in 2017.

He also revealed that 2,159 convicts of heinous crimes had been released through GCTA from January 2014, when the law was fully implemented, to Aug. 20 this year.

Of the 2,159 released prisoners, 939 were sentenced for rape, 874 for murder, 261 for drug-related cases, 42 for kidnapping, 32 for parricide and six for arson, three for bribery; and two for crimes not specified.

Releases under Aquino

BuCor legal office chief Frederic Anthony Santos previously said that 1,914 convicts had been freed through GCTA.

Of the 2,159 convicts, 445 of them were freed through GCTA under Aquino’s term when the law was passed, Diño also said.

Between January 2014 and June 30, 2016 at the end of Aquino’s presidency, the BuCor had released 194 rape convicts; 126 murder convicts, 105 imprisoned for dangerous drugs; 10 sentenced for kidnapping, nine parricide convicts; and one convicted of bribery.

The following became heads of the BuCor between 2014 to 2016: Gen. Franklin Jesus Bucayu, director from 2013 to 2015; Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz III (2015 to 2016); Police Chief Supt. Rolando Asuncion, officer-in-charge in 2016; and Benjamin delos Santos, director from 2016 until his resignation in 2017, when President Duterte was already serving his term.

Diño also reiterated that his client Faeldon did not sign the release order for Sanchez, as reported earlier.

“The Prisons Superintendent is the one who issues a release order… Faeldon immediately aborted Sanchez’s release by ordering a more thorough review of his GCTA approval,” he said.

He also denied allegations that Faeldon had been bribed to allow the release of convicts through GCTA. He challenged Faeldon’s accusers to file complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) said it will conduct its own probe on the release of more than 1,900 inmates.

PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica said the commission would also quiz Faeldon and other officials on GCTA implementation.

“We want to see the documents and hear his (Faeldon) side and explanation on what transpired with the GCTA and the freeing of these 2,000 criminals or prisoners,” Belgica told ABS-CBN News Channel yesterday.

The commission may also ask former BuCor chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa to answer clarificatory questions.

“We can ask Senator Dela Rosa to give clarification, to give clarity to the issues that may come up,” Belgica said, adding that being subjected to an investigation does not make one guilty of corruption. – With Alexis Romero, Ghio Ong