Last week, some 46 former prison inmates of the Iwahig Prison at the city outskirts staged a walkout in an apparent protest over the delay in the review of their individual cases by the Department of Justice. They earlier voluntarily “surrendered” after President Rodrigo Duterte in September ordered all former convicts released based on good conduct time allowances (GCTA) be recalled to their prison facilities, under pain of being hunted down as fugitives.
The last report from Iwahig authorities is that six former convicts of Iwahig remain at large, while the rest of those who staged the walk-out had returned to detention. Those involved in the walk-out have stated their reasons; they had been told that they are only being held temporarily as the DOJ completes a review of their time allowances and they are anxious to learn their fate and to return to their families for good.
The nationwide recall of inmates freed under GCTA came in the wake of the controversy surrounding the aborted release of former Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez who was doing time in Bilibid for a publicized case of rape and twin murder. The public outrage at the process by which the Bureau of Corrections was going to free Sanchez forced the hand of President Duterte to intervene and stop the release, and went further to recall all released convicts of heinous crimes under the GCTA law be recalled.
The GCTA returnees of Iwahig are part of close to 2,000 returnees nationwide whose cases, according to the DOJ, are presently under review. So far, as the latest reports have indicated, some 600 of these cases have gone through scrutiny.
Iwahig authorities have been candid about their seeming confusion on the status of the GCTA surrenderees, telling the media that they no longer treat them as detainees and that they are confined in an area separate from the regular detainees. All that, as they also have no choice but to wait for the DOJ to complete its review of the individual cases.
It is apparent based on the DOJ’s ongoing review that many of those released former convicts under GCTA followed the prescribed legal requirements, not at all similar to that of Sanchez who, apart from his conviction in a highly publicized case, had apparently not demonstrated any “good conduct” at all while in prison. In the case of Sanchez, he had numerous prison rules violations, giving rise to questions why was he even considered a GCTA candidate, also considering the fact that heinous crimes offenders are supposedly not covered by GCTA.
The public outrage over the Sanchez case has died down, eclipsed by more recent news events, even as the DOJ plods through with its task of cleaning up the mess created by the present administration’s knee-jerk handling of the issue.
It is to the credit of Iwahig authorities that they have opted to soft-pedal on the implementation of the President’s marching orders to literally treat those who refuse to surrender as fugitives and hunt them down accordingly. Considering President Duterte’s original marching order to hunt them down as criminals, the response of Iwahig authorities so far has been calibrated at best.
Meanwhile, the confusion over the validity of previous GCTA releases will continue and the anxiety of those beneficiaries caught in the wake of the BUCOR mishandling will prove to go from bad to worse unless the DOJ undertakes and completes its individual reviews.
The snail pace by which the DOJ attends to the cases of the GCTA returnees is an injustice in itself, and the long and painful wait, particularly by those who honestly earned their credits, is almost Kafkaesque in scale like they are waiting for nothing.