Deadline nears for convicts’ return; still no arrest order
MANILA, Philippines — Hundreds of heinous crime convicts “prematurely released” through a law that rewards good behavior in detention have four more days to return to prison before they are hunted down as fugitives.
Waiting for the expiry of the Sept. 19 “deadline” given by President Rodrigo Duterte to the convicts to turn themselves in, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to issue an order for their arrest.
Justice Undersecretary Deo Marco, who heads the department’s interim oversight committee on the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), on Sunday said there were no orders yet for the arrest of the freed heinous crime convicts.
“There are no instructions yet. I think they still have until Sept. 19. We’re hoping for their surrender soon,” Marco said.
Among those who have not yet surrendered are two of the seven men who were sentenced to 40-year prison terms for the 1997 kidnapping, rape and murder of sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy Chiong in Cebu City.
Last week, the DOJ expected James Anthony Uy and Josman Aznar to turn themselves in but they had not surrendered to authorities as of Sunday.
“Like all the rest, they (Uy and Aznar) have until Sept. 19 to surrender. After that, the police will also treat them as convicts prematurely released but who will be recommitted to [serve] the rest of their sentence,” Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said on Sunday.
Two convicts in the Chiong case who had been released, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Caño, surrendered on Sept. 6.
The DOJ learned that 505 of the more than 2,000 freed prisoners have voluntarily returned to the BuCor’s custody.
The Philippine National Police said on Sunday that the convicts turned themselves in at police stations across the country.
PNP spokesperson Bernard Banac said the surrenderers had been turned over to the corrections bureau.
Most of the surrenderers, he said, were heinous crime convicts. Forty were convicted of less grave offenses, including homicide, robbery, car theft, illegal weapons, attempted rape, acts of lasciviousness and illegal gambling, he said.
Perete said only 28 of the 127 foreign nationals on the BuCor list of released prisoners had to be accounted for.
He said the Bureau of Immigration found no departure records for 99 of the foreign convicts.
President Duterte sacked BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon on Sept. 4 for disobeying his order to halt the release of heinous crime convicts through the good conduct time allowance law, and nearly releasing Antonio Sanchez, a former mayor of Calauan, Laguna province, who was convicted in 1995 in the rape and murder of University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend Allan Gomez.
The DOJ belatedly pointed out that prisoners convicted of heinous crimes are excluded from the law so they should not be released without fully serving their sentences.
President Duterte also ordered more than 2,000 heinous crime convicts who had been released since 2014 to surrender within 15 days or until Sept. 19.
The DOJ said police could arrest the freed prisoners even without a court warrant, a position that has been challenged by some lawyers.
The DOJ said the convicts had to return to prison for a review of their good conduct time allowance records. —WITH A REPORT FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE
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