Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Friday said convicted drug lords have allegedly paid P1.5 million each for their release on good behavior, while Senator Panfilo Lacson revealed the existence of an “organized mafia” within the Bureau of Corrections.
Sotto and Lacson said the syndicate members demand P50,000 up to P1.5 million from each prisoner for their early release based on good conduct credits.
They said the amount being exacted depends on the prisoner’s financial capacity.
“It is a big and organized mafia involving officials of the BuCor. The Senate will not stop until we crack these shameless acts wide open and hold to account those responsible no matter who they are,” Lacson said.
This developed as Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde said they might tap Interpol in the hunt for 1,914 inmates who were convicted of heinous crimes but who were released on good behavior.
President Rodrigo Duterte has given them 15 days to surrender, but so far, only about 33 have done so as of Friday.
After the President fired Nicanor Faeldon as BuCor chief, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra designated Assistant Secretary and Deputy Director General Melvin Ramon G. Buenafe as officer-in-charge of the BuCor.
He also created a committee headed by DOJ Undersecretary Deo L. Marco, with Assistant Secretaries Neal V. Bainto and George Ortha II to exercise close administrative supervision over the Bureau pending appointment by the President of a new director general.
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, said the PNP must also be furnished a list of all prisoners erroneously released, particularly those who were serving life terms or multiple penalties.
“These are the people who are most likely to run and not surrender,” Gordon said.
Sotto said he got his information from one of the three witnesses of the alleged corruption at the BuCor.
“One witness, without preempting his entire story, he knows that drug lords paid each P1.5 million,” Sotto said.
He also said the same witness told him that six to eight inmates allegedly paid P100,000 each for their release.
“So the price is dependent on the stature of a [prisoner],” Sotto said.
Sotto underscored the need for a cleansing at the bureau, from top to the bottom.
He also said there were reports that money changed hands in the assignments of jail officers, noting that those in the maximum security compound refused to be transferred to the medium security compound.
Sotto presented Yolanda Camelon, a wife of an inmate in the New Bilibid Prison, during Thursday night’s Senate hearing into the reported sale of Good Conduct Time Allowances for the early release of inmates for good behavior.
Camelon testified she paid P50,000 to BuCor officials for the release of her husband. She named Maj. Mabel Bansil and Staff Sgt. Ramoncito Roque as the persons who received her payment on a staggered basis—but her husband was not released.
Lacson also said he was informed by a Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency official last year that a group of Chinese inmates allegedly control narcotics operations from the maximum security compound using smuggled cellphones.
He said four Chinese drug lords were freed under the GCTA Law earlier this year.
Senator Joel Villanueva said the revelation on the illicit “GCTA for Sale” scheme was a manifestation on how corruption could render a law worthless.
“It seems a handful of BuCor personnel used their enterprising ways all for the wrong reasons to continue trampling on the dignity of [prisoners],” he said.
Guevarra vowed to conduct an investigation against BuCor officials for their involvement in the allegedly selling of GCTA credits.
After listening to Camelon’s testimony, Guevarra said he believes that such anomalies are taking place at the BuCor.
“I do not have the facts before me but I tend to believe that is a high possibility,” he said.
Those implicated in the GCTA-for-sale scandal, he said, must be investigated and, if need be, charged.
In the wake of the growing scandal, Senator Christopher Go demanded transparency from BuCor when it comes to the release of any prisoner.
“Let us force the BuCor to be transparent in the releases of any prisoner,” he said.
Gordon’s committee is conducting a hearing on the controversy surrounding the implementation of the GCTA following the aborted release of convicted rapist-murderer Antonio Sanchez.
Faeldon on Friday said he wanted to cry in anger over the revelation that some prison officials and personnel were extorting money for the early release of inmates qualified under the GCTA Law.
“When I heard the testimony, I wanted to cry because I worked hard everyday to try to fix the bureau,” he said.
Faeldon, who has been with the BuCor for almost nine months, said it was the first time he heard of such a kind of corruption involving the GCTA system. He was not aware that such operations exist, he said.
“You do not exact money from the prisoners. That’s your job to protect them. It’s your job to fix the government,” Faeldon said.
Faeldon said he has “never been happier” after he was fired from BuCor.
“When the weight is lifted from your shoulder, you can soundly sleep,” he said.
Faeldon has been accused of favoring the release of convicted rapist-murderer, former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez, and other high-profile convicts facing heinous crimes in the grant of GCTA.
Controversy over the GCTA broke following reports about the possible early release of Sanchez.
But the former Marine soldier insisted he merely followed the law and its implementing rules in ordering the release of convicts who exhibited good behavior while in jail.
Senators, however, said Faeldon violated several rules when he did not seek the Department of Justice’s approval for the release of convicts convicted of heinous crimes.
Of the 1,914 such inmates released, 1,000 were released during Faeldon’s term.
The President has ordered freed prisoners rearrested.
The Office of the Ombudsman, meanwhile, said it would look into the culpability, not only of Faeldon, but his predecessors, including now Senator Ronald dela Rosa.
“Was there a corruption in the release of convicts [of heinous crimes]? Was there a pay-off that took place? Why was it true that those involved in drugs have been granted release?” Ombudsman Samuel Martires asked.
He ordered the conduct of an “exhaustive” investigation of BuCor officials involved in the release of prisoners under Republic Act 10592 or the Good Conduct Time Allowance Law since 2014. With Rio N. Araja and PNA
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