It was, from the first days of what would come to rage as the Sanchez-Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) controversy, a subject of keen speculation: Surely, there must have been money involved.
The sheer audacity and magnitude of the seeming racket, in which moneyed heinous crime convicts such as the former Calauan, Laguna mayor and a number of Chinese drug traffickers saw themselves included in a list of hundreds of prisoners to be given liberty under a revised good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law, pointed to the probable scenario that some prison officials had found a new line of business — profiting from and doing brisk business selling GCTA points and assuring favored prisoners inclusion in the release list.
How else explain the presence of the likes of Sanchez and the Chinese drug lords in the list, when the law excluded “recidivists, habitual delinquents, escapees and persons charged with heinous crimes” from its coverage?
Now-resigned BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon and sundry officials of an embarrassed Duterte administration trotted out the defense that the law’s wording was muddled and was being misinterpreted all this time — the cue to shift blame once again to the past administration, under which the law was passed.
But that defense now flies in the face of the latest revelations showing that prison officials were not confused about the law at all — they, in fact, knew it all too well, enough to exploit and pervert it for gleeful gain.
The going rate for a prisoner getting included in the release list was P50,000 to P1.5 million per prisoner, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
The minimum asking price was readily confirmed by a witness, Yolanda Camilon, the common-law wife of a minimum security prisoner at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP), who last week testified before the Senate that in February this year, a BuCor official named Maj. Maribel Bansil asked her P50,000 in exchange for freeing her husband under the GCTA program.
Through Bansil, Camilon said she met other officials who were also in on the trade: Ramoncito Roque, head of BuCor’s documents office, to whom she gave first P10,000 and then an additional P20,000; one Veronica Buño; and Ruperto Traya Jr., Roque’s subordinate, who, just days after the planned Sanchez release ignited public indignation and blasted the illicit prison enterprise wide open, ended up dead, mysteriously assassinated right on the NBP premises.
The scheme Camilon agreed to, in any case, was for naught. Her husband was not freed on the promised date, so Camilon said she asked Roque and Bansil to return the money, in vain.
When pressed about the allegations at the Senate hearing, Roque said he did accept the money, but it was Camilon who offered him the bribe. Also, he said he had wanted to return it, but had no time because of his busy work schedule.
Sen. Francis Tolentino could only express incredulity at that claim; Roque had all of eight months since February to return the money to Camilon, but never did.
How many other inmates had forked over money to such officials, whether they eventually got out or not?
Freedom wasn’t the only thing for sale; according to a GMA report from an inside source, even hospital passes were being sold to prisoners.
Some inmates seeking escape from the congestion of prison would fake being ill and buy from prison personnel a “hospital referral official pass,” the personnel taking care to finesse the bogus medical record.
Among those who had reportedly availed themselves of this ploy are big-time drug lords detained at the maximum security compound.
Amid what is now emerging as a picture of sprawling corruption and criminality in the NBP, where was the BuCor chief, and what was his role in all this?
Squirming this way and that to try to elude responsibility, Faeldon — who denied signing Sanchez’s release order despite a physical document with his signature on it, claiming he only signed a memorandum order recommending Sanchez’s release but not the release order itself (his subordinate said the memorandum stood as the official order) — appears to have no qualms painting himself as a clueless, blameless leader victimized by nefarious underlings who ran rings around him.
Camilon’s testimony, he said, was the first time he had heard of the GCTA-for-sale scheme, and it crushed him: “Noong narinig ko ang testimony, gusto kong maiyak sa galit (When I first heard the testimony, I wanted to cry in anger).”
Faeldon (an “upright man,” his diehard patron President Duterte continues to insist) should know — that kind of monumental ineptness, assuming that’s all there is to it but now striking twice after his similarly disastrous Customs stint, makes the country want to cry, too.
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