BUREAU of Corrections Director General Nicanor Faeldon yesterday said he would not resign and invoked presumption of regularity in processing the early release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez on good behavior.
Faeldon appeared at the Senate inquiry into the questionable application of Republic Act No. 10592, or the law on good conduct time allowances, conducted by the justice and human rights committee which subpoenaed him.
Reports that Sanchez, former mayor of Calauan in Laguna, was among those who will be released for good conduct generated public outrage. Sanchez is deemed not qualified for the incentive because he has violated prison rules for, among others, keeping illegal drugs in his detention cell at the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
Sanchez is serving seven life terms for the rape and murder of UP-Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta, and the murder of her school mate, Allan Gomez, in 1993. He has been in detention since 1995. His family claimed he was supposed to walk free on August 20, based on a “release order.”
Faeldon denied issuing a “release order” in favor of Sanchez, and called the August 20 document he signed a “memorandum of release” that only started the processing.
“That is not the release order, because after my office, it goes to different offices, and finally by the superintendent, to finalize the release of the person deprived of liberty,” he said.
“But in the process, I stopped it because I need to review again the good conduct time allowance granted to him,” he added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, however, said the signed document required a compliance report to be submitted within “five days from the actual date of release.”
He pointed out that in the case of the three convicts in the rape and murder of the Chiong sisters in Cebu in 1997, Faeldon signed a similar document, dated August 16, that already paved the way for their release.
“Eh ‘di pareho rin. ‘Yun lang naunang release kay Sanchez, na-preempt lang because of the public uproar, but in this case, this one got away (It’s just the same. It just happened that Sanchez’ release was preempted because of the public uproar, but in this case this one got away),” Lacson said.
Faeldon admitted having set Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Caño free, but said: “I cannot remember ordering the release… because I do not really distinguish what cases these PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) [were convicted for].”
GCTA FOR SALE
During the hearing, Sen. Risa Hontiveros cited information from unnamed “insiders” that Sanchez and other notorious convicts were given “special treatment” and were “not random beneficiaries” of the law on good conduct time allowance (GTCA).
“I’m talking about this system called GCTA for sale, na ayon sa ating mga prison insiders ay talamak ngayon (I’m talking about this system called GCTA for sale which, according to our prison insiders, is becoming widespread now),” she said.
Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who was Faeldon’s predecessor in the BuCor, asked if Hontiveros’ allegation was true. Faeldon denied this, and argued that the reduction of sentences is “automatic,” even if Sanchez’ case turned out to be questionable.
“Automatic ang GCTA. Hindi naman siya kailangan hingin (The GCTA is automatic. It does not have to be requested) because it’s based on the number of years,” Faeldon said.
He also said he does not see why inmates would have to pay to be released under the GCTA policy which will grant them their freedom.
Faeldon also said he does not have any discretion not to apply the GCTA law in the case of Sanchez even as senators noted the former mayor was twice found to be in possession of illegal drugs inside the New Bilibid Prisons in 2006 and 2010.
He cited the interpretation of BuCor legal officers who said he would have to approve the early release of all inmates who exhibited good behavior.
He said he was told that “if you release these PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) with heinous crimes, through GCTA, there can never be a crime filed against you because it’s legal.”
Faeldon said he is following the BuCor Uniform Manual on Time Allowances. If the GCTA were applied in an inmate’s case, it was because “they have not violated any of the 49 infractions” which would be a ground for “non-entitlement” to the incentive.
“The BuCor manual removes discretion on which convicts I can disqualify from the grant of GCTA,” Faeldon said. “I would appreciate [it] if I have the discretion to not follow the rules.”
It may be noted that the acts of keeping prohibited drugs and luxurious properties were among the listed grounds.
`PRESUMPTION OF REGULARITY’
Faeldon said he approved the early release of hundreds of inmates on the basis of recommendations by a special committee.
Hontiveros asked if there was indeed no documented case of violence committed by the inmates while serving their sentences.
To this, Faeldon replied: “There is a presumption of regularity on the part of the committee.”
He added that BuCor had wanted to process the early release of at least 200 inmates a day, because roughly 11,000 would benefit from the Supreme Court’s June 25 decision to retroactively apply RA 10592 to those convicted before its enactment in 2013.
Faeldon insisted that Sanchez just so happened to be included among the first batch of inmates.
Hontiveros rebutted that Sanchez’ case was the “immediate opposite example of regularity” because of his documented violations of prison rules.
She said other unnamed prisoners who have shown better behavior — some of whom became pastors, counselors, or even alternative learning system instructors — should have been processed before Sanchez.
Faeldon told Hontiveros he would look into the processing of inmates.
“I am one with you… in trying to find out if there’s really an anomaly in the selection of the 200 out of the 11,000 up for initial release,” he said.
At one point, Faeldon admitted to meeting Sanchez’ family in July, a month before he was supposed to be released on good behavior.
He said he was resting on the evening of July 29, when his staff told him about the family’s request to speak to him. He said he had them return during office hours the next day.
“The following day… maaga sila sa opisina (they were in my office early) and they cried there,” he recounted.
Faeldon, however, denied he assured the Sanchez family of his release.
“I told them that ‘If your father is going to be qualified for GCTA, just like the rest of the PDL, that’s going to be the case is he will be released, but that is really depending on whether or not he will be qualified for GCTA,” he said.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon’s line of questioning revealed that the BuCor’s early release orders were never submitted to the secretary of Justice for review.
This was contrary to Department Order No. 953, issued in 2015 by former Secretary and now Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the “DOJ did not receive a request for approval from BuCor on the release of Antonio Sanchez.”
Even as senators quizzed him over the apparent irregularities in implementing the law, Faeldon maintained he would not resign.
Saying he believed he was doing a good job, he told Hontiveros he “would defer that question to the appointing authority,” President Duterte.
Guevarra said the public outrage at least served as a “blessing in disguise” for prompting a legislative review of the RA 10592.
He said this encouraged the Department of Justice to interpret the law in a way that would bar the application of the incentives to those convicted of heinous crimes, even in the absence of express language.
“Now we have an opportunity to review the provisions of this law enacted in 2013 because of the public outcry and we thank that this incident happened, because it proved to be a blessing in disguise,” he said.
Although Faeldon’s implementation of the law was the focus of the inquiry, Guevarra said Congress should also amend RA 10592 to exclude undeserving inmates.
He said the law should clarify if its purpose was meant to be reformative and rehabilitative or punitive and retributive. He added that the definition of the term “heinous crimes” should be clarified.
There were conflicting interpretations of the law, which implies that two classes of inmates can avail of the incentive:
* Those who are qualified for credit for preventive imprisonment (reduction of the period of detention during the trial and prior to conviction) under Sec. 1 of the law. Those charged with heinous crimes were excluded.
* “Or,” any convicted prisoner in any penal institution, rehabilitation or detention center or any other local jail.
Guevarra said that with the current wording of the law, it would require “a tedious and laborious harmonization of the various provisions” to justify excluding those convicted of heinous crimes, who arguably belong in the second class.
“Had it been clearly stated in one single provision — standalone provision — that the benefits of this law shall not apply to these classes of people, then we’ll probably not have a conclusion such as what we have now,” he said.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara filed Senate Bill No. 995 which aims to plug loopholes in the law.
Angara’s bill seeks to exclude recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees, and persons convicted of heinous crimes from availing of reduction of sentences.
He proposed to list the following as heinous crimes: treason, piracy, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, infanticide, kidnapping, robbery with violence, destructive arson, rape, plunder, carnapping, and drug offenses.