Citing ‘A1’ info, Sotto says freedom for sale in Bilibid
MANILA, Philippines — Convicts doing time in New Bilibid Prison can buy their freedom for millions of pesos from an organized group, Senate President Vicente Sotto III disclosed on Wednesday, bolstering speculation that high-profile criminals have walked out of the national penitentiary by greasing the hands of prison officials.
Speaking with reporters, Sotto said he received “A1 information” from “prison insiders” that certain individuals had been facilitating the release of inmates, including heinous crime convicts, ahead of the completion of their jail terms.
He said he had shared the information with Sen. Panfilo Lacson in time for the continuation on Thursday of the Senate inquiry into the near-release of former Calauan, Laguna, Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who is serving nine 40-year terms for rape and murder.
Sanchez was convicted in 1995 of the rape and murder of University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend Allan Gomez.
He was also sentenced to two 40-year terms in another double murder case.
His release on supposed good conduct was thwarted by public outrage and opposition from President Duterte.
“There [is talk] that huge money [is] circulating inside,” Sotto said, referring to the state penitentiary in Muntinlupa City.
“We have intelligence reports already… So in the hearing [on Thursday], we will see if we have to uncover them or not,” he said.
Asked how credible the information was, the Senate President said: “It’s solid. [It’s] A1. [The source] may not come out alive.”
Asked if he would present witnesses during the hearing, Sotto replied: “I refuse to answer. [But] I am not denying. We are [still] validating.”
Sen. Risa Hontiveros earlier said she, too, had heard of reports that moneyed convicts had been able to shorten their jail terms through the application of good conduct time allowance as spelled out in Republic Act No. 10592, with the help of corrupt Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials.
She said good conduct “for sale” may have led to the release of 1,914 heinous crime convicts.
RA 10592 excludes heinous crime convicts from reduction of sentence with the application of good conduct time credits.
Sotto said he believed the murder of Ruperto Traya Jr., the deputy records chief of the BuCor who was shot dead after Sanchez’s planned release was reported in the media, was related to the questionable releases of prisoners.
“According to the intelligence reports that we gathered from inside, it (Traya’s killing) is related to the releases,” he said.
As to the possibility that BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon and other senior prison officials were on the take, Sotto said: “Your guess is as good as mine… But the story we got accused everyone. Let’s see where this leads.”
“I am sure the President by now has a very good idea what has happened, what’s going on and what he plans to do,” the Senate leader said.
Sotto said he was expecting to receive a report on the text message that Sanchez’s wife, Elvira, allegedly received from an unknown mobile phone number informing her that her husband would be walking out a free man soon.
Pressed by senators who sent her the advance information about her husband’s supposed release, Elvira told the Senate hearing on Tuesday that she decided to throw away her cell phone moments before she appeared before the committee on justice and human rights.
Senators doubted Elvira’s claim, with Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon saying that the former mayor’s wife could be “hiding something” from them.
Sotto said the report on the contents of Elvira’s cell phone would come from a “very reliable” source, referring to his close friend, former Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II, now information and technology secretary.