Three of the seven men convicted in the brutal 1997 rape-murder of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong are among the nearly 2,000 freed since 2014 under so-called good conduct rules that have become the source of public outcry in recent weeks, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Nicanor Faeldon admitted today in a Senate hearing.
Under questioning by Senator Panfilo Lacson, Faeldon confirmed that Josman Aznar, Alberto Caño, and Ariel Balansag walked free from Muntinlupa’s New Bilibid Prisons last month, but said he had no memory of personally ordering their release.
Faeldon was summoned by the Senate amid increasingly intense public scrutiny over good-behavior releases since the near-release of former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez, convicted in 1993 of torturing and murdering college students Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez.
Sanchez, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said last month, was eligible for release under Republic Act No. 10592 (aka Good Conduct Time Allowance or GCTA), a controversial 2013 law that deducts as many as 30 days from a prisoner’s term for every month served if they display good behavior during detention.
The former mayor’s early release was said to have been blocked by President Rodrigo Duterte, though such an intervention should have been unnecessary given that the law specifically excludes those who have committed heinous crimes. ABS-CBN News reported that data released by the BuCor showed that 1,914 prisoners guilty of such crimes have been released in the past half-decade.
Faeldon was today questioned about the Chiong convicts by Senator Lacson, a fierce critic of the early release scheme who on Friday said he believed the men had already been released and strongly insinuated that money had been behind their release.
“I cannot remember ordering the release of [these men],” Faeldon initially told Lacson.
Lacson then read the release orders for Aznar, Caño, and Balansag, which were dated Aug. 16 and signed by Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) technical chief superintendent Maria Fe Marquez on behalf of Faeldon.
“Question: have they been released?” asked Lacson.
“Yes, your honor,” answered Faeldon.
Marquez subsequently confirmed to senators that it was her signature on the release document.
In 1997, the Chiong sisters were raped and murdered after their abduction from the Ayala Center in Cebu City. A body believed to be Marijoy’s was later discovered in a ravine in the neighboring city of Carcar. To this day, Jacqueline’s body hasn’t been found.
Convicted for kidnapping the sisters in May 1999 were Rowen Adlawan, Caño, Balansag, Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrañaga, Aznar, and brothers James Andrew and James Anthony Uy, all of whom were sentenced to two life terms each.
However, in February 2004, the Supreme Court imposed the death penalty on all suspects except James Anthony Uy, who was a minor when the crime was committed.
The six facing lethal injection were spared in 2006 when then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo commuted their sentences to life terms. Now, at least three of them are on the streets.
The GCTA law is currently while under investigation by the government. Late Friday, Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the nearly 2,000 convicts convicted of “heinous crimes” and freed due to the GCTA law should be returned to Bilibid.
However, criminal lawyer and former Supreme Court spokesman Teddy Te said that rounding up and re-arresting these former convicts is illegal.
Update: Several days after Faeldon admitted that three convicts were freed, the Department of Justice announced that a fourth Chiong convict, James Anthony Uy, was also released from prison.