MANILA - The order for the re-arrest of some 2,000 heinous crime convicts released early for supposed good conduct should come from the courts and not government, human rights lawyers said Monday.
President Rodrigo Duterte last week issued a 15-day ultimatum for the convicts to surrender. At least 118 convicts have surrendered to authorities as of Sunday night, with the police arranging their return to jail.
Former senator Rene Saguisag said there was no "lawful justification to arrest someone who was released because of the action of government that was presumed to have been done regularly."
"They have to get an order from the court to arrest anybody. Not even the president today, not unlike during martial law, can order the deprivation of liberty of any individual," he told ANC's Early Edition.
"It’s not executive branch that has to determine that, it’s a court of jurisdiction. It’s the court that interprets the law. They have to go to court to get that interpretation before they can start arresting people," Free Legal Assistance Group lawyer Erin Tañada added.
Convicts who surrendered should be given "substantial credit, Saguisag said.
"No one should be obligated because the presumption is the law was followed. And it’s up to the government to review bago manghuli ulit (before they re-arrest)," he said. "Hindi naman escaped convict ito eh, released convicts ito (These are not escaped convicts, they're released convicts)."
Tañada said it was clear under the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law that heinous crime convicts were exempted from its benefits.
"Let’s review if there was a problem with the implementation. If there were sudden spikes in certain years, we should look into that," he said.
A total of 2,160 prisoners convicted of heinous crime have been granted early release since the GCTA law was enacted in 2013, according to the Bureau of Corrections.
Under the previous administration, 445 convicts got out of prison early, while 1,714 prisoners convicted of heinous crimes were released under President Rodrigo Duterte's administration.
The law was recently scrutinized after the supposed release of rapist-killer Antonio Sanchez, which sacked BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon allegedly approved.
"There are marks in Faeldon’s service in government that are questionable. For the President to continue to believe in him despite these actions, I think the people would lose trust and confidence," Tañada said.
A former mutineer, Faeldon was initially appointed as Customs chief. It was under his watch when some billions worth of shabu slipped past port inspections, which prompted his resignation.