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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, September 11, 2019
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with Matè Espina

Freedom for sale

Rock & Refuge

We always thought justice in our country is for sale, knowing how elusive it can be, especially for those who cannot afford to get a good lawyer, let alone leave their fate in the hands of overworked, and yes, sometimes corrupt and or worse, indifferent public defenders.

Add to that the stories among rumor mills that justice indeed can be bought, from the law enforcers all the way to the justices. It may be an unfair generalization but it’s hard to ignore these stories when it has been a source of many reports.

And now, we have the ongoing investigation into the Bureau of Corrections for the summary release of 11, 000 inmates under the good conduct law that included convicted rapist and mastermind in the murder slay of two UPLB students in 1993, former Calauan Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was serving seven life sentences, but which was fortunately reversed due to a public outcry.

Many of us can still remember the mass indignation against Sanchez when the crime broke out and rejoiced when he finally got convicted. That case actually gave our nation hope that justice is still viable.

And yet today, we are being told that not only Sanchez but other convicts of heinous crimes like the killers of the Chiong sisters in Cebu, were also given their release papers, some of whom have re-surrendered lest they face the manhunt ordered by the President if they fail to do so within 15 days.


The whole process puts to shame the entire agency, in particular sacked BuCor chief, Nicanor Faeldon who was finally put to rest from government positions after several controversies from the time he was appointed as Customs chief. I guess no matter how close the guy is to the President, he has done so much to embarrass the national government that there was no other way but to kick him out.

Granting that Sanchez and the other inmates have been on their best behaviour, Faeldon and top guns in BuCor should have known that while these crimes happened years ago, there is certainly going to be a huge outcry to release these convicts since what they committed was unpardonable and many of us can still remember what he did to his victims.

Just days after the controversy became public, photos of Sanchez, surrounded by inmates and prison guards who looked like they were his bodyguards behind prison walls surfaced in the internet. That particular photo looked like it was not because of good behaviour but his strut showed he had power over those people.

True enough, tales of freedom for sale are now being investigated after the ongoing Senate investigation revealed that some convicts of much lesser crimes who paid for their release were not given their freedom and are now asking for the return of their money.

More allegations are coming out how money can buy you a cellphone, a television and other comforts in life, including conjugal visits and contrabands. This is of course not surprising as we have already seen the crackdown in the New Bilibid Prison earlier in Duterte’s term where illegal drugs was the biggest trade and where millions have changed hands, including among prison officials and guard.

In fact, suspended BuCor legal chief, Frederic Santos, was alluded to by Senator Panfilo Lacson as a drug user who is chummy with apprehended Chinese nationals who are into the drug trade.

Meanwhile, Bucor officials are pointing fingers at each other as they are grilled by members of the Senate and are subjected to trial by publicity because of the live coverage.

It is clear that corruption in our country is systemic and even Duterte himself admitted his frustration about the never-ending corruption in various government agencies, some of whom were his actual appointees to supposedly curb that.

Duterte has made ending corruption along with eliminating illegal drugs as his battle cry when he ran for the presidency. Millions of people believed in him then, many continue to believe the tall tales, many still ignore the thousands of men, women and children who have been killed because of the supposed battle cry.

It cannot be ignored anymore though that while the President continues to vow he will curb these two crimes, his men have been party to cultivating these. Lest we forget, his very own spokesman, Salvador Panelo, was the lawyer of Sanchez who admitted being approached by the convict’s family about the matter.

More stories are expected to surface but while we welcome Faeldon’s removal from office, we expect more justice than a mere slap on the hand for him and for other BuCor officials who gave tags to freeing the devils.*

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