Dela Rosa defends seeking power to free convicts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 10) — Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa defended his bid to have the authority to free convicts sentenced to life imprisonment and reclusion perpetua when he was Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief.

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ Politics as Usual, Dela Rosa explained that he sought that power so that he could immediately free convicts who have already served their sentences, and avoid being sued by them for arbitrary detention.

This despite DOJ Department Order No. 953 that says the release of prisoners sentenced to reclusion perpetua shall only be implemented upon the prior approval of the Justice Secretary.

Dela Rosa, then at the helm of the BuCor, wrote to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in 2018 to ask the secretary to grant him the authority to release the said convicts on his own. Guevarra, however, did not act on the letter and claimed to have only seen this request recently.

Dela Rosa admitted that he still went ahead and released inmates even without Guevarra’s nod.

He said he decided to go with the “lesser evil” of possibly facing administrative charges, instead of facing criminal charges.

Ano ngayon, ma-violate mo ‘yung general department order na ‘yan, which is administrative, or doon ka sa criminal na kakasuhan ka ng arbitrary detention?” Dela Rosa said.

[Translation: So what if you violate that general department order, which is administrative, or do you want to get slapped with a criminal charge of arbitrary detention?]

Dahil kapag hindi namin nire-release, kami naman 'yung kakasuhan ng mga PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) na ‘yun kung they will be held any longer after the termination, the expiration of their sentence. ‘Di naman ang DOJ, ang BuCor naman,” Dela Rosa said.

[Translation: If we do not release them, PDLs would sue us if they would be held any longer after the termination, the expiration of their sentence. It’s not the DOJ who would be sued, it’s BuCor.]

Dela Rosa previously admitted during a Senate probe that he signed 120 release orders for heinous crime convicts.

Malacañang earlier said that he should also face a probe to determine whether he should also be held accountable for the release of heinous crime convicts.

But the former top cop-turned BuCor chief-turned senator insisted that his conscience is clear.

Kung ako ay nangungurakot doon, you can do anything you want kung talagang totoo akusasyon nyo. Sampal mababaw lang ‘yun — barilin niyo ko kung ako talaga may ginawang corruption doon,” Dela Rosa told reporters in a chance interview earlier in the day.

[Translation: If I am involved in corruption there, you can do anything you want if your accusations are true. Slapping me is just a small thing — shoot me if I was really corrupt.]

The BuCor is in hot water after reports surfaced the convicted rapist and murderer former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez would be freed through the expanded Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) policy. Sanchez has been reportedly caught with drugs and a television set in his cell.

This has snowballed into numerous corruption allegations against BuCor officials, including being accused of offering GCTA credits to the kin of prisoners for a fee, as well as selling hospital passes.

Dela Rosa said the alleged hospital passes for sale racket stopped when he was BuCor chief.

However, he said he was unable to find any evidence that would prove the alleged GCTA for sale scheme.

Puro allegation lang coming doon sa mga frustrated na asawa, pamilya, kabit ng mga preso na nandoon. But we cannot pinpoint kung sino nagbebenta, sino nakabili, magkano ang bili, magkano ang benta,” Dela Rosa said.

[Translation: These are only allegations coming from frustrated spouses, families and mistresses of inmates there. But we cannot pinpoint who was selling, who bought, how much they bought it for and how much was it sold.]

The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the suspension of 30 BuCor officials over the GCTA mess after it found evidence against them to be strong.