MANILA—Despite recommending a temporary halt to the manhunt of convicts “prematurely released” on good conduct time allowance (GCTA), a Department of Justice (DOJ) official on Friday conceded the President’s verbal order to rearrest them stands.
“It is only the Office of the President, which can put on hold officially the rearrest because the original order came from the President himself,” DOJ spokesperson Markk Perete told the media in a press conference Friday afternoon.
Hours earlier, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told ANC’s “Headstart” that the department has requested the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to suspend the rearrests pending the DOJ’s completion of its cleaned-up list of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) convicted of heinous crimes who were “prematurely released” on GCTA credits.
Under the DOJ’s new interpretation of Republic Act (RA) 10592, the law which expanded the grant of GCTA credits, those charged or convicted of heinous crimes are excluded from benefiting from the GCTA.
Guevarra said they wanted to avoid unnecessary danger to the lives of the PDLs and law enforcers.
The president had ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to rearrest PDLs who will not surrender within 15 days, dead or alive. He has also promised a bounty of P1 million for each PDL still at large. The deadline lapsed 11:59 p.m. on Thursday night.
But Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Friday the warrantless arrests can still be done following the order of the president.
“In effect kasi you can already do the warrantless arrest right now but the PNP just have to be very sure kung ’yung pinpoint accuracy nga kung sino talaga ’yung hahanapin nila at sino ’yung arrestuhin. So it's just a matter of coordinating with the DOJ, finalizing the list but as far as I am concerned, warrantless arrests can be affected right now,” he said.
In response to Nograles’ statement, Perete said the DOJ can only recommend the suspension of the rearrests.
“The directive of the President given by him verbally stands and there is no requirement under the law on what form the directive of the President should be,” he added.
Some legal experts have pointed out that a court order is needed to arrest the freed PDLs but the DOJ had given legal justification for standing by the President’s verbal order, citing 2 Supreme Court cases in which the courts authorized the rearrest of PDLs because their GCTAs were erroneously granted.
On Friday morning, PNP tracker teams in Metro Manila began going to the houses of released PDLs whose names were included in the initial list provided by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor). They rounded up 4 convicts.
But the initial list had been widely reported to contain errors. Among those included in the original list were Janet Lim Napoles, who had only been recently convicted and could not possibly be freed on GCTA, and convicted killer Rolito Go, who had been ordered released by the Supreme Court in 2016.
Police personnel went to Go’s house Friday morning but did not find him there. Guevarra said Go should not be on the list in the first place.
Perete added there were 41 names on the list that have either been granted pardon or parole and did not benefit from GCTA.
It is errors such as these that the Justice department is seeking to correct, but 15 days after the President’s verbal order it has yet to finish cleaning up the list.
In effect, the PNP is carrying out the rearrests based on a faulty list.
“The complication that we face is as follows: we have to remove from the original list those who have surrendered, then remove from list those who have been pardoned and those who are on parole. Theoretically the remainder would be those who have been convicted of heinous crimes,” Perete explained.
“However, if you go over the residual list, the penalties imposed on certain individuals would be reclusion perpetua or reclusion perpetua to death. That does not necessarily mean that these are heinous crimes. We have to ascertain with finality who among the individuals in the residual list are in fact convicted of heinous crimes,” he added.
Further complicating the verification process is that some of the BuCor’s records are in the Senate.
Perete could not give a timeline as to when the DOJ will be able to finish cleaning up the list. He could also not give an estimate as to the number of PDLs yet to be rearrested.
As of 5 a.m. Friday, some 2,006 PDLs have surrendered, way beyond the 1,914 PDLs who were included in the initial list, with 1,773 of them in BuCor custody and 236 are with the PNP.
Those in BuCor custody are staying in the minimum security compound, according to Perete.
But he assured the public the DOJ is working to quicken their verification process and ensure peaceful rearrests.
“The government has taken a number of steps that the rearrest will be orderly and peaceful. The DOJ is fast-tracking cleaning up the list. The PNP said they will apply reasonable means to ensure that their operations will be peaceful,” he said.
“The DOJ will have to appeal to individuals who may be subject of arrest to cooperate with the authorities.”