Doing a fireman’s job
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - September 9, 2019 - 12:00am

It was one of the few times a hastily organized press conference was called Thursday night at Malacañang Palace. President Duterte announced – visibly with a heavy heart – his demand for Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Nicanor Faeldon. At the same time, President Duterte ordered all law enforcement authorities to help bring back to prison all of the more than 1,900 convicts of heinous crimes that were released due to an erroneous implementation of the law on the grant of Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA).

Recycled for the third time, the latest was as BuCor chief, the President quibbled when pressed at his press conference if he “fired” Faeldon. In so many words, the Chief Executive eventually conceded to having “fired” him for not heeding his verbal directives.

The former Davao City Mayor disclosed he would leave the matter now to the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct further investigations on the culpabilities of Faeldon and other BuCor officials and personnel involved in the dubious grant of GCTA to heinous crime convicts exempted by the same law to earn back their freedom.

Coming out more than a week after when the latest scandal rocking for the nth his administration, President Duterte finally stepped into the aborted release from the state penitentiary of former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez. Serving seven life-term imprisonments for the high-profile Sarmenta-Gomez double murder/rape, Sanchez nearly walked free out of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) at Muntinlupa City.

In the same press conference, President Duterte poured out his laments anew having to correct the misdeeds and undo shenanigans in various government agencies the past three years since he assumed office, including this alleged “GCTA-for-sale” at the BuCor. 

“As I have said, as President, it is my duty to solve the problem, rectify the error, and maybe ask Congress to come up with a law clarifying everything,” the President pointed out.

The sudden and highly suspicious circumstances about Sanchez’s release leaked out of nowhere prompted both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the BuCor to confirm to media on his possible release from jail. After twice rejected by the Bureau of Pardon and Parole (BPP) on his application for grant of executive clemency, Sanchez and his family found a way to secure his release out of the NBP.

Incidentally, the BPP and the BuCor are both attached agencies of the Department of Justice (DOJ) headed by Secretary Menardo Guevarra. Although the two agencies are under the DOJ Secretary, he only found out about the possible release under the GCTA of Sanchez and 11,000 more persons deprived of liberty without being first cleared with him.

The BuCor is now under fire for the wrongful application of the GCTA under Republic Act (RA) No.10592. But how could Sanchez who is serving seven life-term jail sentences at the NBP for the Sarmenta-Gomez double murder/rape, case almost got freed under GCTA?

As it turned out, it took President Duterte to stop Faeldon from releasing Sanchez.

“I said no releases but what he (Faeldon) said was a computation. May apoy na nga eh. I was trying to provide the fire extinguisher para wala nang maduda ‘yung tao. No releases. Eh kung sinabi niya ‘yan, ‘di wala na sana. Ang ginawa niya, he tried to justify ang computation nila, which maybe correct by the way,” the President narrating his version of the controversy.

But the President’s action came after the BuCor already freed more than 1,900 NBP inmates who included those convicted for the rape-murder of the Chiong sisters. And now the hunt begins to bring back these 1,900 who were freed hastily thru the GCTA.

In fact, the questioned release of these heinous crime convicts raised more suspicions that erring BuCor officials have apparently made a milking cow out of the GCTA through these years. Both chambers of the 18th Congress began looking into these reports after the BuCor’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) turned out to be obviously not compliant with the intent and spirit of the law under RA10592.

Senators led by Senate president Vicente Sotto III scored the flawed implementation of the GCTA that corrupt BuCor personnel have apparently cashed in from convicts and their families ready and willing to buy their freedom out of prison. As envisioned by its principal authors and sponsors, Sotto included, during the15th Congress that passed RA 10592, the GCTA was intended to benefit those having served their imprisonment sentence but could be released for good conduct, especially those already aged and sickly.

However, the rich and moneyed convicts in the likes of Sanchez jumped into the opportunity of taking advantage of the GCTA following a Supreme Court ruling on June 25 this year that declared RA 10592 as having a retroactive application to all those convicted after it became a law in 2013.

In no uncertain terms, President Duterte believes Faeldon was not part of any corruption that went into the grant of GCTA to Sanchez He hemmed and hawed asked if he already lost his trust and confidence on the erstwhile BuCor chief. “Hindi naman mga bobo ‘to eh. But the problem is there was a fire burning and ‘pag sinabi ng Presidente hintay ka until further orders, ang ibig sabihin noon, mag-imbestiga ako in a jiffy,” the President stressed.

The next day, the President publicly acknowledged anew Faeldon is “a decent man” for not being tempted what could have been easy money for him in that P36 billion cigarette smuggling case. This, despite Faeldon’s failed watch at the Bureau of Customs when the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu took place in 2017.

“Nandiyan na ‘yan. Ako ‘yung Presidente. So there’s a fire burning. Eh kung sino – hindi ako magtanong kung sino ang nagsunog, eh bumbero ako, pupunta ako to put out the fire,” he conceded.

As he vows “not to wash hands” from this latest scandal of his administration mid-way on his term, the 74-year-old President has a lot more of doing a fireman’s job to each and every conflagration that his people lit up in the remaining years of his office.

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