Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday demanded that the national prisons chief resign amid a public uproar over a decision to release one of the country’s most notorious convicts.
Duterte also ordered the re-arrest of almost 2,000 convicts who were released under the watch of Bureau of Corrections chief Nicanor Faeldon, a former military captain and one of the president’s staunchest supporters.
Faeldon told a Senate inquiry during the past two days that he had signed a release order for Antonio Sanchez, 70, a former mayor serving a 360-year sentence for rape and murder in the 1990s. Sanchez was named last month as among thousands of prisoners who qualified for early release because of “good behavior.”
“Faeldon has to go,” Duterte told reporters. “I am demanding the resignation of Faeldon immediately.”
News of Sanchez’s impending release sparked an outcry from the public and questions about corruption in government under Duterte, who took the presidency in 2016 on a promise to fight graft and illegal drugs, among other issues. Faeldon said that upon further consideration, he had decided that Sanchez should not be released.
Duterte also called on convicts freed under Faeldon’s term to surrender peacefully within 15 days.
“If you do not, beginning at this hour, you are a fugitive from justice [and will] be treated as criminals evading the law,” Duterte said, emphasizing that his order was to capture the convicts “dead or alive.”
In 1993, Sanchez was mayor of Calauan town, south of Manila, when he raped a college student who was kidnapped by his bodyguards and presented to him as a “gift,” according to court documents.
After Sanchez said he was “done,” he handed the woman over to his men who took turns raping her. The victim was kneeling and begging for her life when she was shot dead with a rifle, prosecutors said. They said Sanchez’s men also killed a male university student who happened to be with the woman when the kidnapping took place.
Sanchez and the other freed convicts found loopholes in a law that lowered their sentence under the “good conduct time allowance” law, which was signed in 2013. The law allows prison authorities to reduce the sentences of inmates based on good behavior.
But a Senate inquiry found out that the law had been twisted allegedly by corrupt penal officials to favor certain inmates, and that as of the start of the year alone, hundreds of inmates convicted of heinous crimes had been freed, including several Chinese drug traffickers.
Sanchez’s case, however, stood out. One of his lawyers in the past was Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s current spokesman, who had endorsed a letter to Faeldon’s office about the possible release of the convict. But the president on Wednesday said he saw nothing wrong with Panelo’s actions, and virtually cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Sanchez also appears to have maintained powerful friends. During the Senate inquiry, it was revealed that ex-first lady Imelda Marcos had also pushed for the release of Sanchez as early as May. She cited the need to release Sanchez due to his "advanced age, failing health," and his good behavior in prison.
Marcos is the widow of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted by a popular revolt in 1986 and died in exile three years later. Duterte has often thanked the Marcos family for backing him politically, and has reciprocated for supporting them politically. Her daughter, Imee, is now a senator, having won in last May’s national elections under Duterte’s ticket.
“The addressed circumstances represent a valid attention as regards his behavior, character antecedents, mental and health condition, which likewise justify a recommendation for executive clemency. Your utmost consideration on the case of former mayor Antonio Sanchez is highly appreciated,” Marcos said in her letter.
Duterte said Faeldon had betrayed his trust, and that the official had sought a meeting with him to explain. But he rejected the meeting, Duterte said.
Duterte has said in the past that he considered Faeldon as one of his loyal cabinet officials. But the president found himself on the defensive after a huge shipment of methamphetamine worth about 6.2 billion pesos (U.S. $125 million) passed through the customs bureau when Faeldon headed that agency.
Duterte, however, did not fire him then, instead moving Faeldon to the Department of National Defense before appointing him the corrections chief. One of Faeldon’s sons, ironically, was arrested as a suspect during a drug bust in December last year.