At the stroke of midnight Thursday, police began a manhunt for hundreds of heinous crime convicts who have not turned themselves in, following the expiration of a 15-day grace period set by President Rodrigo Duterte
READ: Duterte sets ultimatum vs. convicts
The convicts were among 1,914 inmates erroneously released from prison under the Good Conduct Time Allowance Law.
At least 106 tracker teams from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group are tasked to locate and re-arrest the 249 criminals, labeled as fugitives after they failed to surrender during the 15-day period.
So far, 1,665 prisoners have surrendered to the police.
PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said CIDG tracker teams will be equipped of revised lists of the fugitives.
“The manhunt will be done with or without a reward. Though a reward may be helpful to entice possible informants against convicts who fail to surrender,” Banac said.
Earlier, President Duterte said police could make warrantless arrests and said it would be “better” to bring them in dead rather than alive.
But Banac said “the PNP will exert all efforts to arrest them...following the prescribed procedures and with the utmost respect for human rights.”
“We believe that through swift and relentless arrests, we can convince and expedite the surrender of more freed convicts,” Banac added.
Metro Manila police director Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar on Thursday said there were 202 convicts residing in Metro Manila.
Twenty-one of these 202 convicts already surrendered to the police, while three turned themselves in directly to BuCor. Two have reportedly died of natural causes.
READ: Trackers hunt down convicts
Justice Secretary Markk Perete said the rearrest of the convicts who fail to surrender will be warrantless on the grounds that they are evading their sentence.
BuCor released these prisoners on account of the Good Conduct Time Allowances, entitlements provided under Republic Act No. 10592 or the expanded GCTA Law.
However, the government has now taken the position that those charged with heinous crimes should be disqualified from earning any kind of time allowance under the law. Authorities have revised the implementing rules of the law to formalize this exclusion.
The names, offenses, dates of and reasons for the release of the 1,914 convicts are in a list prepared by the BuCor, but a revelation of errors in the information prompted the BuCor record's chief to admit that it was hastily put together.
The Department of Justice has cleaned up the list and will forward it to the Department of the Interior and Local Government for guidance on who to arrest, to avoid cases of mistaken identity and save government resources, Perete said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said released prisoners who would question the rearrest may go to court. He has also said the government will welcome any legal challenge to its interpretation of RA 10592.
“If you were not entitled [to GCTA] to begin with, even if you acted in good faith, that’s really beside the point. You have to go back and serve your full sentence,” Guevarra said.
Perete said 1,025 convicts erroneously released were now back in the custody of the Bureau of Corrections as of 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the National Bureau of Investigation confirmed the connection between witness Yolanda Camilon, and two BuCor officials—Correctional Officer III Veronica Buño and Correctional Senior Inspector Maribel Bansil.
Camilon testified before the Senate that she paid P50,000 for the release of her common-law husband Gadrey Gamboa from the New Bilibid Prison.
NBI Director Dante Gierran told the Senate hearing that the cellphones owned by Camilon, Bansil, and Buño showed that they communicated with each through text messages.
The exchange of messages in February was validated through the digital forensic examination conducted by the bureau.
Under questioning at the Senate, Buño she admitted that she texted Camilon.
Her phone has been turned over to the NBI in an attempt to recover the deleted messages.
Meanwhile, NBP hospital chief Ernesto Tamayo told the hearing there is no hard evidence to support allegations that money changed hands for hospital passes for inmates who were not really sick.
Nursing attendant, Meryl Benitez, also denied any knowledge of payoffs, saying she had not heard or seen any exchange of money inside the NBP hospital.
But NBP doctor Urcisio Cenas said he had heard of such payoffs.
In the last hearing, Cenas was accused of allegedly receiving money—at least P1,000 every visit, which he denied.
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