Ombudsman also probing Bato, Faeldon over early release of heinous crime convicts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 11) — The Office of the Ombudsman is also probing former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chiefs, including Nicanor Faeldon and Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, over the controversy surrounding the early release of heinous crime convicts.

The graft buster confirmed this Wednesday through Zamboanga del Norte 1st District Rep. Romeo Jalosjos Jr., who was sponsoring the office's proposed 2020 budget during the House plenary deliberations on the General Appropriations Bill.

“All present and past [BuCor chiefs] are now under investigation,” Jalosjos said on a query by Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate about the coverage of the investigation.

The Ombudsman ordered last week a probe on the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) fiasco and has since suspended 30 BuCor officials after finding strong evidence linking them to the alleged corruption in the implementation of the policy, which can shave off time from the sentences of convicts if they adhere to prison rules.

READ: In Bilibid, corruption thrives and some inmates live 'like kings'

The expanded GCTA policy took effect in 2014 and has been implemented under seven BuCor chiefs — Franklin Bucayu, Ricardo Cruz III, Rolando Asuncion, Benjamin delos Santos, Valerie Tabian, Dela Rosa and Faeldon.

Malacañang has said it is backing a probe on all previous BuCor chiefs, including Dela Rosa, who saw the early release of heinous crime convicts through the expanded GCTA policy.

Dela Rosa earlier admitted during a Senate probe that he signed 120 release orders for heinous crime convicts. He said most of them were "murderers and rapists.”

As BuCor chief, Dela Rosa also wrote to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to ask for power to release convicts sentenced to life imprisonment despite a department order stating that these inmates can only be released by the Justice secretary.

Dela Rosa’s request was not acted upon, but despite this, he admitted that he went ahead and released inmates.

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ Politics as Usual, 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?” he said Tuesday night.

[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?]

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked Faeldon from his post. The President said Tuesday that he is unlikely to appoint Faeldon again, as he had before when the latter resigned as Bureau of Customs chief amid the multi-billion peso shabu shipment to the country.

Data released by the BuCor bared that a total of 22,049 prisoners were given freedom since 2014 through the controversial policy. Of them 1,914 were convicted of heinous crimes.

Duterte has given them a 15-day window to surrender or they will be treated “like fugitives.”

As of Wednesday, 6:30 a.m., 230 prisoners freed through the GCTA policy have surrendered. These include at least four who were convicted of crimes that are not considered heinous under Republic Act 7659.

Authorities have said that once they surrender, their GCTA credits would be reevaluated and recomputed. If they do qualify for it and have justly earned credits, they will be freed again.

Article 99 of the Revised Penal Code states: “Whenever lawfully justified, the Director of Prisons shall grant allowances for good conduct. Such allowances, once granted, shall not be revoked."

But the government has been insisting that the grant of GCTAs to heinous crime convicts is invalid from the start as they supposedly do not qualify for the policy.

Under Republic Act 10592 — which more than doubled the GCTA for convicts — repeat offenders, habitual delinquents, escapees and those charged with heinous crimes cannot have the time of their preventive detention deducted from their prison terms.

However, “any convicted prisoner” is entitled to GCTA.

The policy has been under scrutiny following reports on the possible release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez and other convicts of heinous crimes.

Two witnesses have come forward to the Senate, claiming that some BuCor officials offer GCTA credits for sale.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.