Far from closed
It took a while since the can of worms involving the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) was cracked open late last month, but President Duterte has finally gone and done it. On Wednesday night he presided over a hastily arranged press briefing where, in response to a reporter’s question, he said he was firing BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon, whose immediate resignation he had demanded only minutes earlier.
To be sure, it was time Mr. Duterte made a move. He had inexplicably let his longtime personal assistant, Sen. Bong Go, speak on his behalf as the scandal over the aborted early release of convicted rapist-murderer Antonio Sanchez erupted and settled into a steady simmer. With more disturbing information emerging from the Senate investigation being conducted by the committee on justice and human rights, including the discovery that other prisoners convicted of heinous crimes had succeeded in walking free under the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law, the soup was close to boiling over.
Faeldon’s firing, along with his promptly issued “Sir, yes, Sir” statement, served as opportune damage control: It lowered the heat and, for the moment, somewhat took the edge off mounting public shock and anger at the man’s temerity to fudge issues under the senators’ questioning—for example, that he signed a memorandum of release, and not an actual order for Sanchez’s release. (A subordinate of his shortly said there was no difference.)
But let it be clear: The case of the sacked former Marine captain is far from closed. There is much ground to cover in the labyrinthine prison system that he, his predecessors and other prison officials must help map out in order to pinpoint liability for the abuse of Republic Act No. 10592. His firing, though late in coming, is only one essential step in ultimately addressing the seemingly eternal rot at the national penitentiary that, among other things, allows the wealthy to comport themselves like kings—the former town mayor Sanchez, surely one among many, enjoyed air-conditioning, a flat-screen TV set and other amenities in his kubol—and the impoverished to live in the most squalid conditions: a vivid extension of the world outside.
There are crucial points begging to be addressed in this swirling controversy, foremost of which is the rumored sale of GCTA credits to those unqualified for coverage of RA 10592. Indeed, if prison privileges can be sold and bought, why not liberty? If we are to go by Senate President Tito Sotto’s “A-1 information,” many a fortune has been made by corrupt officials in the circumvention of the law, with moneyed felons ready, willing and able to come across and those in power only too happy to oblige.
For example, suspicion is rife that Sanchez’s wife and children were not reluctant to demand why his release did not push through because the wherewithal for it had been duly provided. That money talks is an old story in this unhappy archipelago. If the suspicion is true, imagine the windfall if the wealthy among the nearly 2,000 convicts released on the basis of the GCTA law had paid for a second chance. (And yet, as has been raised in the Senate inquiry, which Sen. Franklin Drilon duly noted, the Sanchezes have yet to pay the court-mandated damages to the aggrieved Sarmenta and Gomez families!)
The President’s order to rearrest the nearly 2,000 released convicts also promises to be problematic, with planned monetary rewards and tracker teams complicating the scenario. It behooves the uniformed forces to maintain a sober outlook on this latest strain on the judicial system, and the public and responsible officials to be vigilant in ensuring the welfare of those prisoners whose release on GCTA credits is valid. It must be said again: RA 10592 is a progressive piece of legislation. The problem is not in its enactment but in the implementation.
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