On Feb. 19, in broad daylight on a busy street just a hundred meters away from the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) legal division chief Fredric Santos was shot dead by two gunmen on a motorcycle as he was driving to pick up his daughter from school.
Curiously, all CCTV cameras in the area were found defective. At this writing, almost a week later, police have yet to announce a lead in the latest of a string of murders of BuCor officials.
Santos seemed marked for the kill. At a Senate inquiry last year into the questionable grant of good conduct time allowance (GCTA) to convicts, he testified on the “unholy alliance” at the state penitentiary that allowed inmates to enjoy all kinds of “favors” from guards in exchange for money.
“Nababayaran po lahat” was how he described the systemic corruption that apparently reached all the way to the top. Everything was for sale.
He said only a few inmates were prepared to break the “code of silence” and those who did “sing” could end up killed, their bodies found where they slept or hanging from a beam in their cells.
Was it a rubout, considering what Santos knew and did before he was killed?
Sen. Richard Gordon said the killing was “most definitely” connected to Santos’ testimony at the Senate blue ribbon committee’s investigation of the grant of GCTA to heinous crime convicts including the rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez.
“Maybe he will become a state witness. Those behind this are afraid; that’s why they got rid of him,” said Gordon, who chairs the committee. “This culture of killing people who may have … knowledge of crimes is a threat to everybody. It is a warning to all in this country that if you know something and then talk, ‘We can kill you.’”
Quite troubling is the fact that Santos was the 15th BuCor official killed since 2011. Only on Aug. 28 last year, in the midst of the controversy over the GCTA, BuCor chief administrative officer Ruperto Traya Jr. was shot dead as he was leaving his car. Traya’s office was in charge of processing the documents of Sanchez and other high-profile convicts.
The issue of corruption in the GCTA grants blew up last August when it was announced that Sanchez, a former mayor of Calauan, Laguna, was among thousands of convicts due for release from the NBP for good conduct.
Then BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon signed Sanchez’s release paper but withdrew it in the face of public backlash.
As it happened, Santos testified at the Senate inquiry that Faeldon approved the questionable release of prisoners without notifying the Department of Justice, in violation of the DOJ’s Order 953 requiring prior approval of the justice secretary before a convict sentenced to life imprisonment could be released.
Faeldon vehemently denied this, and suddenly Santos became evasive and told the Senate committee that he could no longer remember the circumstances.
The Senate committee forthwith cited him in contempt and held him in detention for days.
According to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Santos was “ready to tell all” about the GCTA anomalies but subsequently backed out.
Thirty BuCor officials including Faeldon and Santos were suspended by the Ombudsman for 60 days for their role in the questionable release of heinous crime convicts under the GCTA Law. The Senate blue ribbon committee also recommended charges for Faeldon et al. for violating the law.
Faeldon was eventually fired by President Duterte for disobeying his order against releasing heinous crime convicts. Earlier, Faeldon was removed as chief of the Bureau of Customs for the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu (crystal meth) into the country under his watch.
Santos was in fact the sixth BuCor official killed since Faeldon was appointed to head the bureau late in 2018.
Gordon observed that the killing of the BuCor officials “remain unsolved.” He went on to say that “death and violence seem to follow” Faeldon.
Indeed, what has happened to the investigation of these murders? Apart from the usual assurances of having the Santos killing looked into, officials have not shown sufficient outrage to prompt the police and other authorities to conduct a swift and thorough inquiry.
Can it be that they are afraid to uncover more corruption in their ranks?
The inability—or failure—of authorities to solve these brazen killings serves to embolden criminal syndicates in tandem with the corrupt in the government to murder with impunity and expect to get away with it, thus adding to the general perception of lawlessness.
And the killing of a would-be whistleblower on the liability of high officials is yet another mortal blow to this administration’s avowed anticorruption stance.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.