Convict manhunt suspended
Because of the confusion, the Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday asked the police to put on hold the manhunt against former inmates prematurely freed under the good conduct and behavior law.
Russell Palma
Convict manhunt suspended
Robertzon Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government wanted 1,914 freed convicts to return to custody, but 2,009 turned themselves in, beating the Sept. 19 deadline.

Because of the confusion, the Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday asked the police to put on hold the manhunt against former inmates prematurely freed under the good conduct and behavior law.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said there were errors in the list submitted by the (Bureau of Corrections) BuCor, which prompted him to request the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to call off the manhunt momentarily.

The BuCor had listed 1,914 convicts who were granted freedom under the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law. Initial reports said 2,009 former inmates had surrendered, with 1,773 going to the BuCor and 236 turning themselves in to the PNP.

Some of the ex-convicts who surrendered were not in the list, with some of them convicted of lesser offenses.

“We requested that further law enforcement operations be suspended in the meantime,” Guevarra said. 

“We deemed it safe and prudent not to pursue any coercive law enforcement action at this time because we may unduly or unnecessarily endanger the life of not only the PDL (persons deprived of liberty), but even the law enforcement agents,” he added. 

DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete said they made the request to hold the arrests shortly after midnight Thursday.

Perete said they found out some errors in the BuCor list that needs to be verified and validated.

He mentioned some 40 of the former inmates who surrendered should not have been included as they were already pardoned or paroled, while some did not avail themselves of the adjusted time allowance under the GCTA law, or Republic Act 10592. 

According to Perete, they are expecting “much less than 600” former inmates to turn themselves following the 15-day deadline by President Duterte that lapsed Thursday.   

“We do understand it would be unfair for them to be detained one day longer. But understand that this is an operational problem that we encounter as well,” Perete said.

He said the BuCor officials have offered some of the former inmates freedom to leave after learning they are not among those subject for recommitment.

He added the former inmates insisted in staying in the custody of BuCor until after they are given certification that they are officially off the list.

“Pending the issuance of that certification, they insisted that they remain inside the BuCor, which is understandable. And so these are the operational and logistical challenge that we are facing,” Perete said. 

“We are verifying the list, we are trying to come up with the cleaned-up list, at the same time we would have to present, or prepare necessary documentations which would somehow legally protect those who have turned themselves in that once they are outside they would not be subject to re-arrest,” he added. 

For the meantime, the former inmates who had surrendered were quartered at the minimum detention facility of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

Perete said the arrests will resume upon verification of the BuCor list.

PNP spokesperson Lt. Col. Kim Molitas said they received the request and decided to hold the arrest operations until after securing the “clean” list from the DOJ.

“Pending the clean list yet to be received from the DOJ, the command group of the PNP has ordered the suspension of the arrests… we will wait for the list to resume operations,” she said.

Molitas said the remaining former prisoners in the list who would want to surrender could still go to the PNP or BuCor.

“If they decide to surrender, they would still be accepted and processed by police officers. And eventually be turned over to BuCor,” Molitas said. 

For the meantime, the police tracker teams deployed to go after the ex-convicts were told to wait.

The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) director Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar ordered his 26 tracker teams to place their operations on hold.

Eleazar said they had just arrested four ex-convicts, one from Makati, another from Muntinlupa and two more from Manila, when they received the order to suspend operations.

Eleazar said the tracker teams were told to monitor the movements of some 170 other former felons living in Metro Manila.

‘Pinpoint accuracy’

Malacañang expressed support for the DOJ’s move to suspend the manhunt operations.

Secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Alexei Nograles said the DOJ and BuCor are coordinating their efforts to revise the list to determine those who are qualified or not.

“They are finalizing the list on who are really disqualified in the GCTA (law), meaning to say, more importantly, the heinous crime convicts. They are finalizing the list so that the PNP can implement warrantless arrests with pinpoint accuracy those who were freed erroneously under the GCTA,” Nograles said.

Authorities are scrambling to track down the former inmates, most of them convicted murderers, rapists and drug offenders, who were released early due to what was perceived to be a wrong application of the GCTA law and possible corruption of BuCor officials.

Duterte had set a Sept. 19 deadline for the ex-convicts to return to jail or face the consequences, and put a P1-million price on their heads.

Nograles noted the ex-convicts are subject to a warrantless arrest since they are considered fugitives after the 15-day deadline had lapsed.

“In effect you can do the warrantless arrest right now, the PNP should just be very sure… As far as I am concerned,  warrantless arrest can be effected right now. We are not going against the directive of the President,” he said.

Nograles said the PNP is cautious in going after the former prisoners who would be targeted by the operations.

“I think in the meantime, they are finalizing the list of those who were disqualified or not… We will just leave it up to the DOJ on how fast they can finalize the list so by next week, it will be clear for the PNP,” he said. 

Nograles noted the high rate of surrender with the most number of former felons apparently heeding the warning by Duterte who had ordered their capture  “dead or alive – maybe dead would be a better option.”

“We are encouraged that many of those who were freed from BuCor have voluntarily surrendered. They are now being processed if they should be actually be freed or returned to jail,” Nograles said.

As to the reward money, Nograles said the offer is still there.

He said the bounty would depend on the actual number of ex-convicts arrested.

Nograles added Malacañang will issue the guidelines if necessary. –Christina Mendez, Romina Cabrera, Non Alquitran, Rey Galupo, Eva Visperas, Ben Serrano

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