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DOJ stops manhunt vs released life termers as number of surrenderers exceeds BuCor’s list

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DOJ stops manhunt vs released life termers as number of surrenders exceeds BuCor’s list
Image Credit: Department of Justice

Justice Undersecretary and spokesman Mark Perete announced over radio stations on Friday (September 20) that the manhunt against all heinous crime convicts who were granted early release has been put on hold pending a review of the list of freed prisoners submitted by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

Perete, in separate interviews with DZMM and DZBB, alerted the police and other government authorities that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided to suspend operations to re-arrest the released life termers who failed to answer the call of President Duterte for them to surrender on or before September 19.

The reason for this is the apparent mistakes made on the list of heinous crime convicts that were released by the BuCor due to the liberal application of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) provisions of Republic Act (RA) 10592.

Perete said records they have gathered from concerned state agencies showed that the number of PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) who surrendered to authorities as of Thursday midnight already reached 1,950. This is already above the 1,914 life termers who were listed by the BuCor.

“Tinanong namin sa Bureau of Corrections at that point na paano nangyari na mas marami yung actual surrenderers than those included in the list,” he said in the DZBB interview. “So ngayon because of that we requested our PNP (Philippine National Police) to hold yung kanilang rearrest kasi kailangan na naming linisin ngayon yung original na list ng Bureau of Corrections.”

Authorities have shown eagerness to implement the order of Duterte to re-arrest the freed life termers who would fail to meet his September 19 deadline to surrender. The President also offered a P1-million bounty.

The National Capital Region Police Office, for instance, announced that it would be deploying its tracker teams for the manhunt operation.

Aside from suspending the manhunt, Perete said the DOJ also wants the authorities to release all those who surrendered but were not on the BuCor list.

He told DZMM there are already at least 40 surrendered PDLs that should be released immediately. These are those who were already granted pardon or parole.

Surrenderers near 700 as De Lima refuses to answer Ombudsman query on GCTA IRR

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Surrenderers near 700 as De Lima refuses to answer Ombudsman query on GCTA IRR

As of 8 a.m. on Tuesday (September 17), at least 692 convicts that were granted early release purportedly for good behavior have surrendered to authorities, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

These convicts, according to Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, are among the 1,914 life termers that were freed due to the “erroneous” application of the good conduct time allowance of Republic Act (RA) 10592.

They heeded the call of President Duterte to surrender on or before September 19 or risk becoming the subjects of manhunt operations with accompanying bounty.

Perete said these convicts will have to serve out the remainder of their sentence, especially under the revised implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 10592 that was signed by the Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano on Monday.

The new IRR clearly stated that escapees, habitual delinquents, recidivists and heinous crime convicts are excluded from the application of the GCTA benefits.

Around 22,000 prisoners have been granted early release since 2014 when RA 10592 was implemented.

However, based on the Senate inquiry into the GCTA application, some of these convicts did not deserve to be freed, as some benefited from what is now called “GCTA for sale”. This illegal scheme was uncovered in one of the Senate hearings, after a witness said Bureau of Correction (BuCor) officials demanded P50,000 from her in exchange for the early release of her husband.

Around 30 BuCor officials were already ordered suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman due to alleged involvement in this scheme.

Analysts say the ambiguity of the law and its IRR allowed the liberal application of the GCTA. This prompted the revision of the IRR so rules can be clarified while Congress is working on a revised version of the law.

Senator Leila De Lima, the DOJ secretary when RA 10592’s original IRR was crafted, has been asked by the Ombudsman to comment why they did not clearly exclude heinous crime convicts in the GCTA application.

She answered:  “[I] would like to clarify that I am no longer the Secretary of Justice. I am now a Senator of the Republic. I cannot in my official capacity as a Senator reply to a query that exclusively pertains to official business of the Department of Justice whose present Secretary is Menardo Guevarra.” 

De Lima, added in her three-page letter to the Office of the Ombudsman: “Whatever query you may have regarding the IRR, therefore, may be properly and officially answered by the DOJ and the DILG, being the institutions and agencies responsible for the implementation of said IRR.”

“It is not clear in your letter whether you are requiring me to do so in my personal capacity or in my capacity as Senator. Either way, I find no relevance in either capacities or as former Secretary of Justice to be able to officially annotate on the language of the IRR beyond what it provides in its provisions.”

Drilon defends GCTA law, calls for suspension of BuCor officials in early release of life termers

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Drilon defends GCTA law, calls for suspension of BuCor officials in early release of life termers
Image Credit: frankdrilon / FB

Senator Franklin Drilon said all officials of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) that were accused of having a hand in the early release of heinous crime convicts should be immediately relieved to prevent them from tampering with the evidence.

“At the very list, they should be suspended immediately. That is the purpose of preventive suspension,” Drilon said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel on Friday (September 6). 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, in an interview with radio station DZMM also on Friday, said his next action after appointing the officer in charge (OIC) of the BuCor is the suspension of these prison officials and personnel who demanded money in exchange for the early release of life termers.

“The first thing I will discuss with the new OIC is the immediate suspension of those allegedly involved in the GCTA for sale and temporarily lock up the GCTA processing,” he said.

Drilon said the revelations on the third day of the Senate hearing on the implementation of the good conduct time allowance provisions of Republic Act (RA) 10592 proved that indeed prison officials were making money out of the early release of convicts, even those facing life imprisonment for heinous crimes.

A witness said BuCor personnel demanded P50,000 from her if she wanted her husband released through the GCTA provisions.

“We have always speculated that the application of GCTA was tainted with corruption…it (testimony of witness) confirms all suspicions that money changed hands,” Drilon added.

Still, Drilon said the lawmakers do not need to repeal or amend RA 10592 “because the law itself is clear. If properly implemented, the law would have excluded those guilty of heinous crimes.”

He noted that Section 3 of the law did not include those charged with heinous crimes. “If those who are charged are excluded from the law, how much more those who are already convicted. It is so absurd to say life termers are included in the law simply because it is not clear.”

He stressed that it is the procedure and the implementation which were maliciously screwed up.

This, he said, should have not been the case since Department Order 953 issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2015 even made it clear that life termers should only be released upon prior approval by the DOJ secretary. 

In the release of close to 2,000 heinous crime convicts since 2014, Drilon said there was no authority from the DOJ secretary.

Moral integrity is top consideration in choosing Faeldon’s replacement

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Moral integrity is top consideration in choosing Faeldon’s replacement
Image Credit: Twitter

Amid the controversies surrounding the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor)—from the perennial problem of illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison to the early release of heinous crime convicts that has been on the national spotlight since last month—Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra is now putting more emphasis on moral integrity in determining who will replace Nicanor Faeldon as the new head of the agency.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said Guevarra will be looking at moral integrity and sound judgment in his evaluation of the candidates for the BuCor chief. “The most important factor for the Secretary (Guevarra) is integrity issues. That is his yardstick; integrity is very important,” Perete said in an interview with radio station DZMM on Wednesday (September 5).

He said under Republic Act (RA) 10575 (An Act strengthening the Bureau of Corrections), the DOJ secretary is tasked to recommend to the President the candidate for the head of BuCor, which is under the supervision of the DOJ.

Perete said: “We know how very important the position is, especially now, so we are fast-tracking the process.”

In the meantime, Guevarra will designate an officer-in-charge from the current deputy chiefs of the bureau. Perete said the DOJ secretary will make the announcement today.

Faeldon was fired by President Duterte on Tuesday over the early release of heinous crime convicts due to erroneous implementation of the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) provisions of RA 10592, including three of the seven persons convicted in the rape-slay of the Chiong sisters. 

The Senate convened today the Blue Ribbon and Justice committees for the third of its probe of the GCTA mess. The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission is also conducting its parallel investigation, with end view of filing criminal charges against current and former BuCor officials who had a hand in the early release of close to 2,000 convicts of heinous crimes since 2014.

Duterte said he wants the DOJ and the police to re-arrest these freed convicts if they would not voluntarily surrender to authorities.

Faeldon said he accepts the decision of the President “without any hard feelings”.

“My commander-in-chief/appointing authority has spoken. I am a marine and a marine does as he is told,” Faeldon said in a statement released by his legal team. “I most humbly bow to commander-in-chief’s order without any hard feelings.”

Duterte had nothing to do with early release of heinous crime convicts — Panelo

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Duterte had nothing to do with early release of heinous crime convicts -- Panelo
Image Credit: pcoo.gov.ph

As the Senate continues its probe on the early release of convicts for good behavior under Republic Act (RA) 10592, Malacanang on Tuesday (September 3) made it clear that President Duterte did not have any hand in the orders of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to free prisoners serving life imprisonment for heinous crimes.

Duterte’s spokesman and chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said it is very clear that the “ambiguous” RA 10592 and its “flawed” implementing rules and regulations (IRR) were crafted and enacted during the previous administration. 

Aside from this, Panelo stressed that the review of prisoners’ good conduct time allowance (GCTA) and release are functions of the BuCor and do not reach the halls of Malacanang under the law.

“The actual computation of GCTA does not pass through the Department of Justice (DOJ) and therefore will not even reach the Office of the President before its benefits can be granted to qualified inmates. We stress that the granting of GCTA is not a form of executive clemency, the awarding of which belongs to the Office of the President. The buck, in this case, stops with the Bureau of Corrections,” he said.

Still, Panelo said the President has directed the DOJ to review the law’s implementation to make sure the early release of heinous crime convicts will no longer continue.

“The President will not tolerate any form of injustice being committed under his watch and it is for this reason that he will ensure that the practice initiated by the past administration on the granting of GCTA will no longer continue,” he said.

Duterte also directed the DOJ to determine if the freed convicts can still be brought back to prison. He also wants the Congress to start the process of amending the law.

The Senate is now on the second day of its probe of the GCTA law. On Monday, BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon admitted that he did sign the release order of convicted killer-rapist Antonio L. Sanchez. He also said Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Caño, three of the seven rapists and killers of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, had been freed due to the GCTA law.

Meanwhile, Cayagan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, one of the authors of RA 10592, said Faeldon should be charged for the early release of heinous crime convicts.

“He did not harmonize the law. He did not see that this exclusion is to the entire act so therefore there should have been no release and absolutely no release of those involved in heinous crimes,” Rodriguez said in an interview with ANC’s Headstart, referring to the provisions of RA 10592 that disqualify heinous crime convicts from the GCTA benefits.

Faeldon, according to Rodriguez, is liable under Section 6 of Republic Act No. 10592, which states that any public officer or employee who violates the provisions of the act could face one year imprisonment, a fine of P100,000 and perpetual disqualification to hold office.

Faeldon blames implementing rules of GCTA law in early release of heinous crime convicts

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Faeldon blames implementing rules of GCTA law in early release of heinous crime convicts
Image Credit: Phil News Agency

With senators quizzing him on the early release of heinous crime convicts, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Nicanor Faeldon on Monday (September 2) passed the blame on the implementing rules of Republic Act (RA) 10592 that he said they only followed in reviewing the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) of prisoners at the New Bilibid Prison.

Faeldon stressed before members of the Senate Blue Ribbon and Justice committees that the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) RA 10592 issued in 2014 did not disqualify those convicted of heinous crimes.

Image Credit: Philippine News Agency

Faeldon was forced to attend the Senate hearing after he was subpoenaed by the lawmakers to answer queries regarding the implementation of the GCTA provisions, which already led to the early release of more than 20,000 prisoners, with close to 2,000 of them convicted of heinous crimes.

The controversial law and the BuCor have been on the spotlight for two weeks now after Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced last August 20 that around 11,000 inmates and prisoners are due for release in the next two months due to the retroactive implementation of the GCTA, including convicted killer-rapist Antonio L. Sanchez.

This immediately drew the ire of the public, until President Duterte himself said Sanchez is not qualified to avail of the GCTA benefits because RA 10592 does not cover those convicted of heinous crimes.

The decision of Duterte, who served as a prosecutor before he became mayor of Davao City, was later affirmed by the Department of Justice. 

Reports, however, surfaced that Sanchez, who was sentenced to seven life imprisonment in 1995 for the rape-slay of University of the Philippines – Los Banos student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend Allan Gomez in 1993, was indeed about to be freed, with his release order purportedly signed by Faeldon. 

The BuCor chief told the senators that the IRR of RA 10592 mandated them to apply the GCTA provisions to all prisoners.

“All convicted of any crime when they behave well in jail, they were granted GCTA. You will notice that not a single PDL (persons deprived of liberty) has not been denied in whole of GCTA,” Faeldon noted.

Image Credit: Philippine News Agency

The only time a prisoner cannot avail himself of the GCTA benefits, Faeldon added, is on the month he violated prison rules. In the succeeding months, however, when the prisoner behaves, “the granting of GCTA resumes regardless of the gravity of these offenses.”

He added: “Even grave offenses like drugs confiscated inside their cells, they are only penalized for one month. This has been their application [of the law] since 2014 up to this day.”

Guevarra echoed Faeldon’s view, noting that the wordings of the GCTA provisions probably created a confusion in the implementation.

But he said the DOJ is now of the opinion that those convicted of heinous crimes are indeed disqualified from the GCTA benefits.

Lacson questions release of 4 Chinese drug lords from New Bilibid Prison

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Lacson questions release of 4 Chinese drug lords from New Bilibid Prison
Image Credit: FB / PingLacsonOfficial

Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday (August 29) questioned the release last June of four Chinese nationals who were convicted of violating the illegal drugs law, a crime that is punishable by up to life imprisonment. 

Lacson did not reveal to reporters the identities of these convicted Chinese nationals, but said he obtained their records from the New Bilibid Prison.

“Right now, I have a copy of some releases… At least four of those released already, as of August 16, are Chinese drug lords,” Lacson said.

He added: “Actually, they were released to the custody of the Bureau of Immigration for possible deportation but these are convicted Chinese drug lords that have already been released… all these Chinese drug lords have been convicted for violation of the illegal drugs law.”

The four were imprisoned in Building 14 of the Maximum Security Compound, which meant they were sentenced to life imprisonment. Republic Act (RA) 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, carries maximum penalties of life imprisonment to death penalty for those most serious crimes, including trafficking and possession of large amounts of prohibited substances.

However, In 2006, then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed RA 9346 that abolished the death penalty.

Lacson said he was still questioning why the four Chinese drug lords were  transferred to the custody of the Bureau of Immigration.

He wanted to know if their release also had something to do with the implementation of the now-controversial Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) provisions of RA 10592.

The Bureau of Immigration, in a statement, confirmed that the four Chinese drug lords, who were identified as Chan Chit Yue, Kin San Ho, Ching Che, and Wu Hing Sum, were transferred to its Warden’s Facility from the New Bilibid Prisons’ Maximum Security Compound.

Lacson made the discovery after he asked from the New Bilibid Prisons a copy of the list of prisoners that will probably be released due to the GCTA, which supposedly included the name of convicted killer-rapist Antonio Sanchez, as earlier announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

The announcement, however, triggered a public outcry, that prompted the DOJ to say the former Calauan, Laguna mayor is not eligible for the GCTA benefits.

“We are trying to look for a copy of the August 20 release order in favor of Mayor Sanchez but apparently nawawala ang kopya,” Lacson said.

Duterte sealed Sanchez’ fate as early as Aug. 21

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Duterte sealed Sanchez’ fate as early as Aug. 21
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers his speech during the inauguration of the Tumingad Solar Power Project in Odiongan, Romblon on August 21, 2019. KARL NORMAN ALONZO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Duterte sealed the fate of former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez as early as August 21, when the Chief Executive gave his order to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) not to release the convicted killer-rapist after personally reviewing the case.

This means that Duterte decided on the matter just a day after Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra made the announcement on August 20 that thousands of prisoners and detainees, including Sanchez, could be freed within two months due to the retroactive implementation of Republic Act (RA) 10592’s provisions on good conduct time allowance (GCTA).

This was disclosed by Senator Bong Go, who served as Duterte’s special assistant, in an interview with GMA7 on Monday morning (August 26).

He said: ”Nung nalaman ni Pangulong Duterte yang balitang yan, ipinarating niya po kay BuCor chief Nick Faeldon at kay Secretary Guevarra na huwag i-release [si Sanchez] upon the order of the higher authority.”

Go continued: ”Sino pa ba ang higher authority? Not higher authorities, higher authority. Ibig sabihin ang Pangulo.”

That order from the “higher authority” was relayed to Guevarra and Go on the night of August 21.

It was just a day after Guevarra made the announcement on the possible release of Sanchez that immediately stirred a public outcry.

Sanchez was sentenced to seven life imprisonment in 1995 by a Pasig City court for the rape and murder of University of the Philippines (UP) – Los Banos student Eileen Sarmenta, as well as the killing of her friend Allan Gomez, in 1993. The Supreme Court sustained the ruling in 1999.

 Go said the news on the possible release of Sanchez so angered Duterte that the President—who worked as a prosecutor before he became mayor of Davao City— reviewed the case personally.

“Abugado po ang Pangulo. Pinag-aaralan niya ang batas. Excluded po siya (Sanchez) dun sa Republic Act No. 10592. Sa Section 1, excluded ang lahat ng heinous crimes,” Go said in the GMA7 interview.

Earlier, Justice Undersecretary Mark Perete said it’s been decided that Sanchez will not get a reduced sentence based on DOJ’s determination.

“So, in this case, since may determination na excluded ‘yung kaso ni ex-mayor Sanchez, then hindi na dapat siya i-evaluate,” Perete said.

Under RA 10592, which amended sections of the Revised Penal Code, the BuCor will review who can benefit from the GCTA provisions of the law from among its prisoners. BuCor is under the supervision of the DOJ. 

Asked further if it was already safe to conclude that Sanchez has no hope of benefiting from the GCTA provisions and will be serving the remainder of his sentence, Perete answered: “That is correct. Because he is excluded from the benefits of the GCTA law.”

Final word from DOJ: Sanchez to stay in prison for rest of sentence

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Final word from DOJ: Sanchez to stay in prison for rest of sentence
image credit: reddit

It’s final—convicted killer-rapist Antonio Sanchez will stay in jail to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

This was stressed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which finally stated in clear terms and with finality that the former mayor of Calauan, Laguna is not qualified to avail himself of the Good Time Conduct Allowance (GCTA) benefits under Republic Act (RA) 10592.

Justice Undersecretary Mark Perete said in an interview over radio station DZBB said Sanchez will not get a reduced sentence based on DOJ’s determination.

“So, in this case, since may determination na excluded ‘yung kaso ni ex-mayor Sanchez, then hindi na dapat siya i-evaluate,” Perete said.

Under RA 10592, which amended sections of the Revised Penal Code, the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) will review who can benefit from the GCTA provisions of the law from among its prisoners. BuCor is under the supervision of the DOJ. 

Asked further if it was already safe to conclude that Sanchez has no hope of benefiting from the GCTA provisions and will be serving the remainder of his sentence, Perete answered: “That is correct. Because he is excluded from the benefits of the GCTA law.”

This should put to rest the fears over the early release of Sanchez, who was sentenced to seven life imprisonment in 1995 for the rape and murder of University of the Philippines (UP) – Los Banos student Eileen Sarmenta, as well as the killing of her friend Allan Gomez. The Supreme Court sustained the ruling in 1999.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra triggered an uproar after he announced that thousands of prisoners and inmates, including Sanchez, could be released within two months based on the provisions of RA 10592, which was enacted into law in 2013.

This was after the SC ruled that the BuCor, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and other concerned agencies should apply the law retroactively.

This means that in the computation of the GCTA of prisoners and inmates, the review should cover periods before 2013.

Malacanang then clarified that the law is clear that those convicted of heinous crimes are not qualified to avail themselves of GCTA benefits. Rape is considered a heinous crime under Philippine laws.

“Let’s look at it this way: When the BuCor said na merong 11,000 that could possibly benefit from the law, included lahat. Pero bawat isa kasi noon dapat nilang i-evaluate if they are excluded based on the provisions of the law, and then if they would benefit once they are believed to be included,” Perete said.

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