MANILA, Philippines – "He's obviously lying." "He's not fit for the job."
These are what the senators had to say about Bureau of Corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon, after the two-day Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law.
The Senate investigation was prompted by the now-botched release of rape and murder convict Antonio Sanchez due to good conduct. The ex-mayor of Laguna was supposed to be out of the New Bilibid Prison by August 20.
While he insisted he was merely following the guidelines of the law, Faeldon took the credit for stopping the release of Sanchez.
The prison chief had admitted that he signed a memorandum starting Sanchez's release process on August 20, but later backtracked from the decision. Faeldon said he recalled the order even if it "does not have any legal basis."
In his version of the story, Faeldon acted on his own to stop Sanchez from getting out of Bilibid. It was because of the ex-mayor's bad record, Faeldon said.
But the senators don't believe him.
During the two-day Senate hearing, the senators sought to build the timeline of events from August 20, when Sanchez was ordered released, to August 22, when the decision was publicly recalled.
Based on the accounts of the resource speakers on Tuesday, September 3, Rappler put together the timeline:
August 20, 2019: The supposed release of Sanchez, the ex-mayor of Calauan, Laguna
Around lunchtime, Faeldon had signed the memorandum of release signaling the start of the process for Sanchez. It only takes about two hours to complete the process.
That day, the ex-mayor's wife, Elvira, said that she received a text message from an unknown number informing her of her husband's release.
Shortly around noon, Faeldon said that his office received a call from Deo Macalma, DZRH's station manager. This call, according to him, made him "rethink" his order.
"Tumawag si Deo Macalma. (Deo Macalma called.) I recalled him asking if Sanchez was released. Based on that, I stopped and [had to] rethink if there's still a possibility to stop the release. It was triggered by a call from one reporter. Within that minute, I ordered the recall," Faeldon said on Tuesday.
In the afternoon, Department of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the media about Sanchez's supposed release.
At around 6 pm, Faeldon talked to radio station DZMM about the possible release of Sanchez within the next two months.
At around 7:30 pm, Elvira, with her son Allan Antonio and daughter Ave Marie, went to the New Bilibid Prison expecting to see the Sanchez patriarch. They didn't see him.
"Nagpunta po ako ng August 20. I think that was 7:30 or 8 o'clock in the evening, to clarify things nga about the release of my husband. Sabi ng staff, 'di na siya (Faeldon) puwedeng kausapin. Pinabalik kami," Elvira said.
(I went there on August 20. I think that was 7:30 or 8 o'clock in the evening, to clarify things about the release of my husband. But the staff said that I can't talk to him anymore. So we were asked to return instead.)
August 21, 2019: Sanchez family met Faeldon
At around 11 am, Elvira went back to the BuCor to see Faeldon "for the first time." Her family waited around 15 minutes before they were allowed to talk to him.
The two-hour meeting resulted in a promise: That Sanchez "may be out" in two months if he met the criteria for early release.
But didn't Faeldon decide the day before that he would not be releasing Sanchez?
"They were crying in my office. That's why I said tactfully, 'If the ex-mayor will qualify in the GCTA, probably, he will go in two months.' Because all 11,000 inmates will go because that's the program," Faeldon said on Tuesday.
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
In the evening, Senator Christopher "Bong" Go messaged Faeldon, informing him of the President's order to stop the release amid the public outcry. Go said that the BuCor chief replied, "I will comply."
"To the credit of the President, siya ang nag-utos to stop (he ordered for it to be stopped)," Go said.
But Faeldon's version of the story included him telling Go about the reasons why he stopped Sanchez's release.
"Sabi ko (I told him): 'Sir, there are possible two reasons to hold the release of ex-mayor Sanchez because he may not qualify from GCTA. Because he is a convict of heinous crimes, and the other one is because of his kubol (cell) destroyed in 2015," Faeldon told the Senate panel.
August 22, 2019: Faeldon announced that Sanchez may not be freed after all
That morning, Guevarra was informed by the Office of the President about the President's order.
"I got this phone call from Undersecretary Jenny Ong in the morning. Right after that, I relayed the information to chief Faeldon. I think via text message. It's very difficult to call chief Faeldon because of the signal at BuCor," Guevarra said.
At noon, Faeldon called for a press conference. He announced to the media that Sanchez is not qualified for early release.
What's the truth?
The senators are not buying Faeldon's version of the timeline.
For Lacson, Go, and Guevarra's statements, check out the timeline. As for Faeldon, "he's obviously lying," the senator told reporters on Tuesday.
"Malinaw sa mga sagot niya at sa sagot ni Senator Go and SOJ Guevarra. Talagang hindi 'nya pinahinto, kundi inutusan siyang ihinto," Lacson said. (It's clear when you compare his answers to the answers of Senator Go and SOJ Guevarra. It's clear that he didn't stop, rather he was asked to stop it.)
Senator Richard Gordon, the Senate blue ribbon committee chair, said that Faeldon is only making up excuses.
"Tinanong ko nga siya, 'Talagang meron kang desisyon?' Palagay ko, maaaring nalaman 'nya na masyadong mainit at nasabihan siya ng Presidente. Ayaw 'nya lang sabihin," Gordon told reporters on Tuesday.
(I asked him, "Did you really decide by yourself?" I think he only realized that this is a hot issue that's why the President talked to him. He just doesn't want to admit it.)
The Senate blue ribbon commitee chair also found Faeldon's reason for halting Sanchez's release a "very weak statement."
At the Tuesday hearing, Gordon showed a CNN Philippines interview with the Sanchez children. In the video, Sanchez's namesake, Allan Antonio, said that halting his father's release was "different" from what they had discussed before.
"Sir, nag-usap po tayo. Nangako kayo na palalabasin 'nyo ang daddy ko dahil according to GCTA, isa siya sa makakasama at qualified naman po siya," Allan Antonio said.
(Sir, we talked about this. You promised that my daddy would be released because according to the GCTA, he is among the qualified ones.)
As senators think there are "GCTA for sale" instances inside Bilibid, Gordon said he's hoping that the Sanchez family would insinuate that.
"That was what I am hoping that the family will say, but the family is also protective of him. Something happened. Ano 'yun, nagbago isip (What made him change his mind)?" Gordon said.
For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Faeldon committed either negligence or malicious omission of facts when he appeared before the Senate panel.
Is the Sanchez family complicit? Elvira's admission that she destroyed her phone on Tuesday morning before the Senate probe raised eyebrows.
To check if the family never met with Faeldon prior to the August 20 encounter, Gordon said he would issue a subpoena to demand a copy of the CCTV footage when the Sanchez family visited the BuCor, along with the logbook of the bureau.
Clipping BuCor's powers
If not for the Supreme Court ruling on the GCTA's retroactive application, 11,000 inmates would not have hoped for early release. The 2013 GCTA law provided for new guidelines on how to compute "good conduct time," as basis for reducing prison terms. (TIMELINE: The GCTA law and the controversy it has stirred)
The issue shed light on gaps in the law: Should heinous crimes be excluded from its coverage? Is there something wrong with its implementing guidelines? Should the BuCor chief have the sole authority to approve releases? (READ: Gaps by both Aquino, Duterte administrations led to GCTA mess)
Even the justice secretary said that maybe it's "time for Congress to review its own creation."
At the Senate, 4 lawmakers have filed measures seeking not only to exclude convicts of heinous crimes from being granted GCTA, but also to clip the powers of BuCor.
Gordon's Senate Bill 974 seeks to amend Articles 97 and 99 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). His version includes two major points:
In SB 998, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also wants to amend the same articles of the RPC. His version excludes heinous crime convicts from GCTA coverage under Article 97.
Zubiri also proposed to downgrade BuCor's powers. In his proposal, BuCor will only recommend the list of eligible inmates for GCTA, subject to the approval of the justice and interior departments.
Meanwhile, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara seeks to change Articles 29, 97, 99, 171, and 174 under the RPC, and create a new Article, 99-A. Angara's SB 995 has the following key provisions:
Go also filed his own proposed measure SB 1003, categorizing the following crimes as heinous: Treason, mutiny on high seas, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, murder, infanticide, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery with violence, destructive arson, rape, plunder, drug-related offenses, and carnapping.
Just like his colleagues, Go moved to disqualify convicts of heinous crimes from GCTA. He proposed that the grant of allowances be subject to mandatory review by the justice secretary, and that the list of grantees be submitted to Congress.
But some senators also want to repeal the GCTA law.
In SB 993, Gordon joined Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III in seeking to repeal the GCTA law altogether, as its provisions need to be harmonized.
Should Faeldon resign?
With confidence, the BuCor chief who had been recycled twice under the Duterte administration said it's up to the appointing authority – the President – to decide.
Asked if he believes he should resign, Faeldon said, "No."
But the senators thought otherwise.
Gordon said on Tuesday: "Kung ako ang Presidente, (If I were the President), I would ask him to resign but I am not the President. He's not fit for the job."
While Senator Manny Pacquiao said he still trusts Faeldon, he said late Tuesday that the latter should "take a leave of absence to spare the President and this administration from embarrassment."
Faeldon enjoyed the favor of the President, being appointed thrice to different posts.
He first served the Duterte administration as chief of the Bureau of Customs, where he was accused by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency of involvement in the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling controversy.
In 2017, he was appointed deputy administrator III at the Office of Civil Defense. In October 2018, Faeldon succeeded now-Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa as director-general of BuCor. (LIST: No to corruption? Duterte's controversial reappointees)
Malacañang said the President will decide whether or not they will fire BuCor officials after the back-to-back congressional hearings on the GCTA controversy. Go even said that "heads will roll" when the President gets to the bottom of the issue.
Will Faeldon survive this controversy unscathed? – Rappler.com