‘Not all freed convicts may be returned to prison’

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday admitted difficulty in accounting for nearly 2,000 convicts freed under the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law.

While authorities are doing everything to get the 1,914 convicts to surrender in compliance with President Duterte’s directive, PNP chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde said it was unlikely that all will be brought back to the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

“I’m pretty sure we cannot all account the 1,914 freed convicts one by one,” Albayalde said.

A total of 188 convicts who were granted freedom under the GCTA law have surrendered as of yesterday, officials said. Of the number, 29 were already turned over to the BuCor.

Sixty-four of them were convicted of murder, 62 for rape, 21 for robbery with homicide, nine for homicide, seven for rape with homicide and five for rape.

The others were convicted for illegal drugs, parricide, kidnap-for-ransom and murder.

Asked what are some of the challenges they are facing, Albayalde said the list provided by BuCor does not include the last known addresses of the convicts.

“It doesn’t say anything where we could possibly locate them,” he said.

What the police can do is search the places where the convicts committed their crimes, according to Albayalde.

The absence of the convicts’ latest photographs posed another difficulty in searching for them.

The PNP has formed tracker teams to conduct manhunt operations against the convicts who will not surrender before Duterte’s 15-day deadline which ends on Sept. 19.

Duterte last week ordered the released prisoners to surrender and register with BuCor within 15 days or they would be considered fugitives.

Duterte voided the release orders following reports of irregularities and corruption in the computation of prison sentences under the GCTA law.

Albayalde urged the convicts to grab the opportunity to surrender.

“I hope those in the list will voluntarily surrender,” he said, adding those found qualified under GCTA will be released immediately.

The PNP has yet to receive confirmation from the Bureau of Immigration if several of the convicts have already left the country.

In the event there are really convicts who have fled abroad, Albayalde said they will seek the help of the Interpol for the issuance of red notice alerts.

BI deputy spokesman Melvin Mabulac admitted the possibility that some of the freed convicts are no longer in the country.

Mabulac however could not yet confirm the convicts’ whereabouts as the agency just started encoding the names on the system after receiving the list from BuCor on Thursday last week. 

“We could not yet verify, there is that possibility that some of them are already out of the country but we are still checking the records with our port operations division,” Mabulac said.

Mabulac stressed the difficulty of identifying the prisoners.

“There may be people with similar names as the prisoners but with different details and a different person. It’s very complicated for us,” he said.  

Mabulac said the lookout bulletin order against the convicts is still in effect, which means that they have advised immigration officers in all airports to alert the Department of Justice (DOJ) on possible fugitive attempts to leave the country. 

The DOJ and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) last Aug. 29 issued a joint department order to temporarily suspend the implementation of GCTA until a new set of implementing rules and regulations (IRR) has been completed.

Lawmakers noted the confusion in the implementation of Republic Act 10592, or the expanded GCTA law that led to the erroneous computation of the prison sentence and inclusion of inmates convicted of heinous crimes.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the DOJ would welcome any party to challenge the interpretation of RA 10592 before the courts.

Guevarra believes that if an aggrieved party would file a case in court to raise questions on the controversial expanded GCTA, it would help bring clarity to the implementation of the law. 

“The government will welcome any challenge by an interested party in a court of law, so that a definitive and final interpretation of RA 10592 could be promulgated for everyone’s guidance,” he said.

So far, since it was reported last Aug. 20 that notorious rapist-murderer Antonio Sanchez might be released by virtue of the GCTA, there has been no reported complaint filed in court questioning the expanded GCTA and order of the Supreme Court (SC) for the law to be applied retroactively.

As to reports that President Duterte would want the government to ask the Supreme Court to clarify the vague provisions of RA 10592, Guevarra said they have already taken steps to address this problem. 

“The government has taken its legal position on the issue. This position will be reflected in the new implementing rules and regulation of RA 10592,” Guevarra added.

Meanwhile, detained Sen. Leila de Lima branded as “suspicious” the transfer of several convicts who were witnesses against her in the drug trafficking case.

De Lima labeled as “baloney” and “hilarious” the government’s explanation that the convicts were transferred to Marines headquarters for “very special security reasons.”

The transfer of high-profile convict-witnesses was discovered after several media outlets reported that former BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon signed an order transferring them to the Marines barracks.

Duterte admitted he gave the directive to transfer the convict-witnesses on fears that they might be killed by De Lima’s allies while in prison.

De Lima pointed out, however, that she believes the transfer was made to give her oppressors a chance to further “operate” on these convict-witnesses to ensure they would stick to their claims against her. – With Evelyn Macairan, Robertzon Ramirez, Eva Visperas, Ric Sapnu, Non Alquitran, Cecille Suerte Felipe