MANILA (UPDATE)—A witness on Thursday appeared at a Senate hearing and alleged that several Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) officials and personnel sold “good conduct time allowance” for her husband who is imprisoned at New Bilibid Prison.
Yolanda Camelon told the Senate blue ribbon and justice committees that she shelled out P50,000 to a group led by Staff Sergeant Ramoncito Roque, who heads the BuCor’s documents division, in exchange for the early release of her husband.
“Iyung issue na GCTA, isa kami na naging biktima, nagpapatunay na mayroon talagang GCTA buying sa New Bilibid Prison,” Camelon said.
(On the issue on GCTA, I was one of the victims who can prove that GCTA is indeed being sold at the New Bilibid Prison.)
Camelon said it was Correctional Senior Inspector Maribel “Mabel” Bansil who approached her and told her that she could take advantage of the GCTA system to secure the freedom of her husband, who was set to walk free next month, at an earlier date.
She said Bansil told her she could pay the P50,000 in tranches. She made three payments in February, expecting her husband’s release in March.
Bansil then introduced Camelon to Roque and another BuCor personnel she identified as Veronica Buno.
Camelon said it was at Roque’s house where she handed an initial P10,000 payment, before she paid P20,000 twice on separate occasions.
Camelon also met with Ruperto Traya Jr., a chief administrative officer 3 at the BuCor's inmate document processing division, during the course of her supposed negotiation with Roque’s group.
Traya was killed on August 27.
Camelon added it was also through Bansil that she learned of the threats to Traya’s life.
“Huwag kayong mag-alala kay Traya, kasi meron na siyang death threat, papatayin na ’yan,” Camelon quoted Bansil as saying.
(Don't worry about Traya because he already has death threats. He will be killed soon.)
Camelon said she has no personal knowledge of the extent of Traya’s involvement, if at all, in the alleged GCTA-for-sale scheme.
But she said several families of Biilibid prisoners admitted transacting with Roque and Bansil’s group.
But Camelon said the BuCor officials’ promised March release for her husband did not take place. It was pushed to June, but nothing happened, too, until the controversy involving alleged abuses in the GCTA system became public in August.
When Camelon tried to get the money back from Roque and Bansil, she said they passed the responsibility of returning the cash to one another.
Camelon said her husband, who is imprisoned at Bilibid’s minimum security compound, told her that Bansil warned him over their insistence to get the P50,000 back.
“Ang sabi sa kanya, ‘Konting halaga hinahabol niyo samantalang ang iba P300,000 ang binigay di naghahabol,’ ” Camelon said.
(She said, ‘You want such a small amount returned to you when those who paid P300,000 don’t bother anymore.’)
Roque, who was incidentally at the Senate when Camelon appeared at the hearing, denied Camelon’s allegations against him.
“Hindi po namin magagawa iyan, sir,” Roque told Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the blue ribbon and justice committees.
But Roque acknowledged Camelon gave him an envelope containing the P10,000 at his house at the Bilibid compound. He said he has since returned the amount, a claim Camelon denied.
“That’s bribery. If you are an officer of the law, you should have known they could go to jail for doing that,” Gordon said.
Roque replied: “Hindi ko na rin po maano sa dami ng iniisip ko,”
(I didn’t know what to do because so many things were running through my mind.)
Gordon said that, as the official handling prisoner records, Roque wielded so much power, but Roque said he was incapable of doing the things Camelon was accusing him of.
Former BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon, who was fired by President Rodrigo Duterte over the issue, said it was the first time he heard of such a scheme since he took the post in October 2018.
“Masahol pa ’yan sa heinous crimes. Kahit maliit na pera, iyung hinihingian nila ng pera, mga preso, they are the lowest member of our society, tapos aapihin mo pa ng ganyan?” Faeldon told reporters after the Senate hearing.
(That’s worse than heinous crimes. Even if that was a small amount, the one they are asking money from, the prisoners, are one of the lowest members of our society. And they will oppress them that way?)
The implementation of Republic Act 10592, which expanded the GCTA of prisoners, has come under scrutiny after the justice department announced that convicted rapist-killer Antonio Sanchez could be released from prison because of supposed good behavior.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Risa Hontiveros have both claimed receiving information that the GCTA was being sold to prisoners and their families.
Families of the released convicts' victims have expressed anguish over revelations of corruption in the system, originally meant to decongest prisons and given chance to deserving reformed convicts.
Senators said the BuCor has to seek the approval of the Department of Justice before releasing any convict on account of good allowance, but Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said no such request was coursed through his office since he took the post.