IN the din and the excitement among senator-members of the Blue Ribbon Committee who were rushing madly to pin down Bureau of Corrections Director Nicanor Faeldon, Mrs. Elvira Sanchez and her son Anton for some official misconduct, malfeasance or misfeasance at the hearing last Tuesday, Sept. 3, only one senator provided the reason by which certain convicts released under the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law could be legally rearrested and put behind bar. It was Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino.
Sen. Tolentino stood to ask Faeldon if he was aware that Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code prohibits the release of prisoners during the election period. He cited that the election period for the May 2019 elections was designated by the Comelec from March 14 to June 12. Faeldon admitted that he was not aware of this law. Aware or not, the fact is Faeldon violated the election code when he approved the release from the New Bilibid Prison of Taiwanese Chen Tiz Zang and four other Chinese convicts.
At the Senate hearing, immigration officials testified that these foreigners were released within the prohibited period, and were turned over to the BI for the start of deportation proceedings. It was just our luck that legal procedures move oh so slowly in the Philippines that the convicts are still here, and as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said, for all intents and purposes, are under the custody of the government.
Tolentino pointed out, and Guevarra agreed, that “when the release was granted it was in clear violation, willful violation of existing laws, especially the election code. Therefore, it is void.”
Apropos of this, Sen. Panfilo Lacson had a good opportunity to follow through on the issue raised by Sen. Tol. Lacson then asked Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente for the dates of the foreign drug lords’ release. Morente said the Taiwanese was released on April 1 and the four Chinese – Chan Chit Yue, Kin San Ho, Ching Che and Wu Hing Sum – were released on June 4. Ho Wai Pang was freed on June 6.
With hundreds of convicts being released under the retroactive effect of Republic Act 10592, some of them under questionable circumstances, it behooves the Department of Justice and President Duterte himself to put things in order at the Bureau of Corrections.
Many Senate investigations proved just a waste of time, with issues and resolutions being forgotten once the senators are through with their on-cam performances and photo ops. But this time, with Sen. Tol’s legal research and timely debunking of the appropriateness of the Bucor chief’s action, authorities are given the reason to move in the right direction.
Minority Floor Leader Sen. Franklin Drilon’s explanation on why the re-arrest of freed convicts may be made – the Supreme Court decision on People v. Fidel Tan – has no direct application in the present GCTA cases because it involved dissimilar details and was about transfer of custody venues for a particular prisoner. Sen. Tol’s proffered reason for the convicts’ re-arrest is more viable, clear, and legally sound.
How the government will act on both Drilon and Tolentino’s suggestion is worth following up because this is a gigantic job – going after thousands of GCTA beneficiaries.