Ombudsman Samuel Martires has placed 27 Bureau of Corrections officials under preventive suspension without pay for a period of six months over the questionable release of convicts who were doing time for heinous crimes on good behavior.
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In his order, a copy of which was furnished Manila Standard, Martires said the release of the heinous crime convicts violated the Good Conduct Time Allowance law.
“Respondents’ continued stay in office may prejudice the cases filed against them. Noteworthy, respondents... have custody and control over the documents pertaining to the questionable release of the convicted prisoners,” Martires said.
He said based on the testimonies of witnesses and the public documents gathered by the Office of the Ombudsman, “[the] respondents, in their respective official capacities, and in the course of the performance of their public functions” allowed the releases.
“This office finds that the evidence showing the anomalous release of prisoners convicted of heinous crimes/offenses appear to be strong,” Martires added.
Among the BuCor officials who have been placed under preventive suspension are Ramoncito Roque, officer-in-charge of the Inmate Documents and Processing Section; Benjamin Barrios, supervisor of the Board of Discipline, Maximum Security Camp; Gerardo Padilla, chief superintendent of the National Bilibid Prison; Francisco Abunales, NBP superintendent; Celso Bravo, officer-in-charge of the Directorate for Security and Operations; Melencio Faustino, regional superintendent of the Davao Prison and Penal Farm; Cherry Caliston, chief of the documents division of DPPF; Ruelito Pulmano, IDPS liaison officer; Emerita Aguilar, chief of the reformation and rehabilitation office; Raymund Peneyra, chief overseer of the Maximum Security Compound; Jomar Coria, NBP South Reformation Coordinator for Education and Training, Maximum Compound; Roy Vivo, COG of the Maximum Security Compound; and Wilfredo Bayona, Deputy Supt., NBP South Maximum Security Compound.
The 27 BuCor officials have been charged with grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
Earlier, Senator Christopher Go, who continues to act as President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, said the President wanted to relieve all Bucor personnel involved in the GCTA and have those next in rank assume their duties.
Hearings on the early release scandal resumed Monday, with BuCor officials agreeing to undergo a lifestyle check and to submit their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth for the last six years after they were accused of issuing GCTA credits in exchange for money.
Staff Sgt. Ramoncito Roque, head of BuCor’s documents division; Correctional Senior Inspector Maria Belinda Bansil; Corrections Officer 3 Veronica Buño and Fredric Anthony Santos, BuCor legal division chief, all agreed to a request from Senator Risa Hontiveros that they undergo lifestyle checks.
Sacked Bucor chief Nicanor Faeldon, meanwhile, urged more witnesses to come forward and testify about what they knew about anomalies at the bureau.
“I am also appealing to all the prisoners, if they have experienced these irregularities, those still detained, and those who had been released, do not be afraid because the government will protect you for the truth to come out,” he said.
But Senator Richard Gordon said it was possible that Faeldon too might face charges for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, if it can be shown that his actions prejudiced the rights of other persons.
Gordon said Faeldon was “incompetent and negligent” when he signed the release orders of convicts guilty of heinous crimes, including former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was serving seven life sentences (of 40 years each).
Facing the hearing of the Blue Ribbon committee and the justice committee, Faeldon admitted he was not aware of Department Order 953, which required him to seek Department of Justice approval for the release of convicts serving life terms.
Faeldon said the bureau’s lawyer had not informed him about the order, so he based his decision to release Sanchez and hundreds of others convicted of heinous crimes on the GCTA law.
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Gordon countered that Faeldon cannot invoke ignorance of the law to evade prosecution. He said it was also clear that Faeldon was not aware of what was happening inside the bureau.
In the same hearing, Senator Panfilo Lacson revealed that cell phones were allowed inside the New Bilibid Prisons in exchange for a fee, depending on the model.
Lacson said some prisoners surf social media from behind bars. “They are also on Facebook,” he said.
Yolanda Camilon, common-law wife of inmate Godfrey Gamboa earlier testified that prison guards charged P100 to P200 to smuggle cell phones and other contraband items to inmates.
Gamboa also appeared in the Senate Monday and corroborated Camilon’s statements. He also bolstered Camilon’s testimony that she paid a total of P50,000 for his release, which never happened.
Gordon said Gamboa could stay in the Senate detention facility as his life might be in danger for revealing the corruption at the bureau.
Lacson said the alleged corruption in the BuCor also extends to payments for hospital passes, transfer to the maximum security compounds, and even inmates’ food.
The Justice department said it would investigate these reports.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said some BuCor officials and personnel were also involved in the so-called “tanim-kaso” scheme where prisoners due for release are asked to pay in exchange for the dismissal of fabricated charges.
At the same time, Lacson confronted Santos for reportedly “jamming” with Chinese drug lords inside the national penitentiary, an allegation Santos denied.
When Santos would not change his answer, Lacson said he would get evidence.
“I’m telling you... there are reports that you were jamming with the Chinese drug lords inside Building 14. I’m just telling you. You are under oath and I’m telling you that,” Lacson said.
Meanwhile, Bansil denied she took the P20,000 Camilon gave for her husband’s early release from jail. She accused Camilon of lying.
But Camilon said there was a security camera near the restaurant where she and Bansil met and footage could prove that Bansil took the money.
Camilon earlier alleged she gave P50,000 to BuCor officials in three installments in February 2019. She said she delivered the first payment of P10,000 to Roque’s house accompanied by Bansil, while two other payments consisted of P20,000 each.
Buño also denied involvement in the alleged scheme, saying they had no say in the processing of a prisoner’s records.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, said the release of Sanchez did not go through the regular process.
He said the case of Sanchez was not in the minutes of the Management Screening and Evaluation Committee submitted to the Senate Blue Ribbon and justice committees.
“The minutes [of MSEC] that you submitted did not seem to include Mr. Sanchez as among those whose entitlement to the GCTA was taken up, contrary to your rules,” Drilon told Santos.
Santos said he would check the minutes again.
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