MANILA - For "Abel," a 73-year-old rape and homicide convict, nearly two months out of prison was just a "vacation."
He was released on July 19 on good conduct credits but had to turn himself in after President Rodrigo Duterte issued on Wednesday a 15-day ultimatum for heinous crime convicts released under the controversial good conduct time allowance law (GCTA) to surrender.
“Wala akong magagawa. Kung kailangan bumalik eh. Parang bakasyon lang eh na nakalaya,” Abel said.
(There's nothing I can do. If we need to go back eh... The time I was given freedom was like a vacation.)
As of 1 p.m. Saturday, a total of 74 convicts granted early release have surrendered, said Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Melvin Buenafe.
Of this figure, 38 turned themselves in to BuCor facilities, while 36 came forward to police stations.
Some 2,000 had been issued the President's warning, all inmates who have benefited from the GCTA since it was expanded in 2013.
Among those who have also surrendered were two convicts in the 1997 rape-slay of the Chiong sisters. They turned themselves in Friday night and are back at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
"I am happy that PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) erroneously released are voluntarily returning to their places of confinement to serve their remaining sentence," said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in a text message.
"This act speaks well of their character and willingness to obey the law. They can rest assured that they will be treated with utmost respect and fairness upon their return," he said.
Duterte issued the ultimatum on Wednesday, the same night he fired Nicanor Faeldon as BuCor chief over the release of heinous crime convicts through GCTA.
He said those who miss the deadline would face warrantless arrest. The Philippine National Police said it would use force in case the subject convicts resist arrest.
And so Abel on Saturday turned himself in to the Pandacan Police Station, accompanied by his son.
He had been held at Bilibid from 1993 for three counts of murder and two counts of homicide. He said he stayed with his son in Pandacan upon release.
He is expected to be soon turned over to the BuCor.
In Culasi town, Antique, a 67-year-old man came forward to police following his recent early release on good credits after serving 28 years in prison for murder. He was sentenced to reclusion perpetua or 40 years behind bars.
He said he also heard about the President's ultimatum.
Culasi police chief Police Capt. Clark Philip Dinco said they took the man's information and contact number then released him. He said they still do not have guidelines on how to put the man back to prison, wary of possibly violating the Constitution.
The man left the police station with the promise of remaining in touch with police.
The town's police called on the BuCor to issue clear guidelines on how to take convicts back into custody.
"Sana sagutin nila kung ano ang next step, kasi base doon sa memorandum, once may mag-surrender, ipa-register lang sa BuCor. Apparently wala tayong Bureau of Corrections dito sa Region 6, kaya hindi natin alam kung Bucor ba ang susundo o kami ang maghahatid sa kanila sa BuCor,” Dinco said.
(I hope they tell us the next step, because based on the memorandum, once someone surrenders, we need to register with BuCor. Apparently, we don't have a BuCor office here in Region 6, so we don't know if the BuCor will fetch those who surrender or we have to bring them to BuCor.)
The GCTA drew controversy after earlier reports that former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez, convicted for the 1993 rape-slay of Eileen Sarmenta and killing of Allan Gomez, was eligible for early release on good conduct credits.
Amid public uproar, his release did not push through.
The GCTA system, said to be corrupted, is under legislative investigation. The justice and interior departments have also suspended processing early release applications pending GCTA review.
- reports from Bianca Dava, Isay Reyes and Cherry Palma, ABS-CBN News