“We have intelligence reports that I already shared with Senator (Panfilo) Lacson, so in the hearings (today), we will see if we can uncover them or not,” Sotto told reporters.
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Senators suspect syndicate in NBP behind convict releases
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 5, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — An “organized group” inside the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) may be behind the release of hundreds of convicts from prison in exchange for millions of pesos, Senate President Vicente Sotto III disclosed yesterday.

He said the resumption of the inquiry into the issue by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee today will try to confirm the existence of such a group, especially after he received reports that the assassination of a top BuCor records official last month could be linked to the controversial release of several high-profile inmates and convicted Chinese drug traffickers from the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

“We have intelligence reports that I already shared with Senator (Panfilo) Lacson, so in the hearings (today), we will see if we can uncover them or not,” Sotto told reporters.

He said based on the reports he received, the killing of BuCor officer Ruperto Traya last Aug. 27 by unidentified gunmen in Muntinlupa City was apparently connected to the release of inmates convicted of heinous crimes.

Other sources, howeber, said the murder was related to illegal drugs.

At the time of his death, the 53-year-old official was the second highest official at the agency’s records office tasked with processing documents for the release of rape and murder convict Antonio Sanchez and other high-profile convicts.

The release of Sanchez triggered public outcry.

When asked how such reports would be validated, he said there could be testimonies or witnesses who would attest to the veracity of such accounts.

“If the one who gave (the bribe) will not admit to it, and the one who accepted will also not confess, what about the one who gave money but was not freed (from prison)? What if there’ll be one who will testify that he saw money changing hands?” Sotto said.

The group, he said, apparently uses several conduits between convicts wishing to be freed and corrupt BuCor officials who can make their wish come true. He said the process involves millions of pesos.

When asked whether BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon was part of the group, he said the report indicated that nearly all officials in the bureau were involved in the scheme.

He, however, declined to give more details, saying the chamber has yet to resume its inquiry.

Sotto said the Senate is also trying to trace the sources of the text message supposedly received by Sanchez’s wife, Elvira, informing her that her husband was about to be released.

At the last hearing on Tuesday, Elvira said she received a text message from an “unknown number” informing her that her husband was about to be released.

When asked by senators for her phone so the number could be traced, she claimed she destroyed it, as she had been received nasty messages and death threats in the past weeks.

The senators also did not believe Elvira’s claim that it was her first time to meet Faeldon last Aug. 21. During their meeting, she supposedly asked Faeldon why her husband had not yet been released.

Senators said tracing the owner of the number that sent the message could validate reports of the existence of a group that facilitates the release of prisoners in exchange for huge sums of money.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the release of almost 2,000 convicts of heinous crimes under the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law has prompted the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) to call upon families of sickly and elderly inmates deprived of the benefits of the program to file complaint.

“The families of sickly and old inmates that should be benefitting from the GCTA law can file a complaint to us so we can investigate,” ARTA director general Jeremiah Belgica said yesterday.

He said that while ARTA has not gotten wind of complaints regarding the processing of GCTA at the BuCor, recent events convinced it of the need to closely watch the prison agency.

“If the processing is too fast than usual, is that still red tape? It could be, because if it is too fast-tracked, it raises a lot of red flags,” Belgica said in Filipino.

The release of almost 2,000 heinous crime convicts has raised doubts on the processes followed by BuCor, Belgica said.

“Maybe it’s because the complainant is behind bars. In another case, someone who wants processing expedited would not complain,” said the ARTA chief, adding that his agency would initiate a motu proprio investigation. — Neil Jayson Servallos

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