How the Senate shifted its inquiry from ‘GCTA for sale’ to ‘Agaw Bato scheme’

Marje Pelayo   •   September 28, 2019   •   647

Senate President Vicente Tito Sotto III, Sen. Richard Gordon, and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon listen to the latest revelations during the continuation of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law hearing in the Senate. (Courtesy: PRIB / Joseph Vidal)

MANILA, Philippines – Many are wondering how the issue of the so-called ‘Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) for sale’ scheme is connected to the controversy of drug recycling or the so-called ‘Agaw Bato scheme’ inside the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

It all started when the supposed release of former Calauan, Laguna mayor, Antonio Sanchez — a convicted murderer and rapist—made headlines in August this year.

The Senate immediately called for an investigation and no less than then BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon confirmed that Sanchez didn’t qualify for the privilege under GCTA.

Also, the family of Sanchez’ victim, appealed to the Senate not to allow the release of the former mayor.

The next day, Sanchez’ family appeared at the Senate inquiry and revealed that ‘somebody’ informed them through a phone call about Sanchez’ impending release.

From then on, questions about the alleged ‘GCTA for sale’ have perplexed lawmakers and no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself ordered the dismissal of Faeldon as chief of the BuCor.

On September 3, Yolanda Camilon, wife of one of the inmates inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) appeared before the Senate inquiry.

Camilon tagged BuCor employees Veronica Buño, Mabel Bansil and Ramonsito Roque, the chief of the BuCor’s Document Section who Camilon claimed as the one who asked P50,000 in exchange for the release of her husband.

The day after, Camilon’s detained partner Godfrey Gamboa appeared before the Senate to testify that indeed, ‘GCTA for sale’ exists inside the NBP.

On the fifth day of the inquiry, another money-making scheme inside the BuCor was revealed — the ‘hospital pass for sale.’

Detained former Valencia City Mayor Jose Galario Jr. testified that such scheme exists inside the agency.

Meanwhile, former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) official Rafael Ragos and Jovencio Alben Jr. divulged during the inquiry that there were actually seven money-making schemes inside the BuCor which included the alleged drug money which detained Senator Leila de Lima received from drug inmates.

On the sixth day of the inquiry came former PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who revealed the so-called ‘agaw bato’ scheme or the practice of drug recycling inside the national penitentiary.

Magalong confirmed that until today, several high-ranking police officers are still involved in recycling illegal drugs after they confiscate them from drug suspects.

The former official asked the Senate for an executive order to allow him to reveal the names of the police officials involved in the controversy.

The Senate approved the motion filed by Senator Ronald dela Rosa and authorized the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and Justice Committee to reveal what transpired in the September 19 executive session.

The names were immediately sent to President Rodrigo Duterte.

No less than PNP Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde was dragged into the controversy and his dismissal as Pampanga Regional Police Director in 2014 became an issue because it involved cops under his jurisdiction.

Albayalde was asked to appear at the Senate hearing.

From GCTA, the Senate inquiry has now shifted to drug recycling and the so-called “ninja cops”.

Despite the shift, the senators believe these issues are interconnected.

Because of the GCTA mess, the Senate immediately filed a proposed measure that would exempt convicts of heinous crimes from the benefits of GCTA.

Faeldon may have been dismissed, but the Senate said he is not yet off the hook.

“Ang tingin ko sa kanya is more on negligent, incompetent,” said Blue Ribbon Committee chair Senator Richard Gordon.

Senator Vicente Sotti III said it was possible that the illegal drugs confiscated in the “agaw-bato” incident in 2014 were likely sold to the drug lords inside the NBP.

“Baka isipin kasi ng iba ano ang koneksyon nito sa hearing namin, (People may be wondering what is the connection of [agaw-bato] to the hearing)” Sotto said.

“Malaking bulto noong na recycle na nahuli ay ang mga drug lord sa NBP ang nag transact. kaya konektado sa NBP iyon, (The bulk of recycled drugs confiscated [in 2014] were transacted by drug lords in the NBP. So that connects it to the NBP),” Sotto said.

The senators said it is time that these issues were raised in the Senate inquiry so that the lawmakers could think of measures to eliminate such corrupt practices and prevent them from worsening.

“Iyang sinasabi natin na nag-shift dito, inevitable dahil nakadikit ang drugs doon sa loob ng jail, (The shift is inevitable because illegal drugs are linked to those inside the jail),” Gordon explained.

“May puputok at puputok dyan, (Something will definitely come out and) we’re getting additional information from new sources,” he added.

The Senate is expected to issue a comprehensive committee report on the matter which include recommendations as to who should be charged in relation to the GCTA and the Agaw Bato scheme. – MNP (with details Grace Casin)

BuCor issues release order for Pemberton

Robie de Guzman   •   September 10, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) on Thursday issued the release order for convicted killer US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton following President Rodrigo Duterte’s grant of absolute pardon.

The release order signed by BuCor chief Gerald Bantag was then transmitted to the compound of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) inside the Camp Aguinaldo where Pemberton is being detained pursuant to the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Pemberton will be turned over to the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for the process of his deportation.

The BI earlier said the deportation order was issued against Pemberton in 2015 for being an undesirable alien when he was sentenced for the 2014 murder of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude.

Pemberton was convicted of homicide for killing Laude at a motel in Olongapo City in 2014. He was sentenced to serve six to ten years in prison.

Prior to Duterte’s pardon, an Olongapo court had ordered BuCor to recompute the time that Pemberton served and to determine if he is eligible to avail the good conduct time allowance rule.

Foreign nationals who are up for deportation are required to submit clearances from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and regional trial court as proof that they have no more pending criminal or civil cases.

Once these requirements are submitted, the deportee’s flight will then be arranged and scheduled by the BI.

“Depende po yan kung maibibigay kaagad ang NBI clearance, may ticket, sa atin pag mayroo na lahat niyan automatic madali na po yan kasi implementation na lang po mayroon nang departure order. Eh mayroon ng deportation order,” BI acting spokesperson Melvin Mabulac said.

According to Guevarra, the deportation proceedings can be completed by the weekend but Pemberton’s actual date of exit from the country depends on his flight arrangements as he is a military personnel of the US. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Dante Amento)

No special treatment for Pemberton release, BuCor says

Robie de Guzman   •   September 8, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) on Tuesday assured that no special treatment will be given to convicted US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton as they prepare for his release from detention.

Pemberton is set to walk free after President Rodrigo Duterte granted him an absolute pardon on Monday.

BuCor Spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag said they have started the preparations for Pemberton’s release although they have yet to receive a copy of the pardon.

Chaclag assured that the case will be treated as an ordinary release of an inmate and its process, which could take days, will be followed.

“At sa ngayon ay tini-treat natin na ordinary release ito ibig sabihin ay susundin po natin lahat yung mga process at hindi po tayo mag-i-skip,” he said.

“[Ang] gagawin siguro natin ay i-expedite lang po natin para matapos na rin po yung usapin,” he added.

The ordinary process for the release of inmates takes about four days to two weeks, the bureau said.

Chaclag further said that they will also await the directive from the Department of Justice before turning Pemberton over to the Bureau of Immigration

“Kukuha po tayo ng advice o directive sa DOJ kasi iba po ito sa ordinary pong foreigner ay itinuturnover po natin sa Bureau of Immigration,” he explained.

“Dahil may special case itong si PDL Pemberton, isasangguni po natin yan sa DOJ at kung sabihin nila na sa Immigration ay doon po handa po tayong mag turn over sa kanila,” he added.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the president’s granting of absolute pardon is enough to spur the BuCor to process Pemberton’s release from detention.

He will also direct the Bureau of Immigration to revoke the hold departure order issued against the American soldier, adding that he will not be treated like a deportee.

Pemberton was convicted of homicide for killing Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City in 2014. He was sentenced to serve six to ten years in prison.

He has been detained in a facility at Camp Aguinaldo pursuant to the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement.

Prior to Duterte’s pardon, an Olongapo court had ordered BuCor to recompute the time that Pemberton served and to determine if he is eligible to avail of the good conduct time allowance rule.

Pemberton to remain in detention pending appeal resolution – DOJ

Robie de Guzman   •   September 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was convicted of killing Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude, will not be released from detention yet pending a court’s resolution on the appeal filed by the victim’s family, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said Thursday.

 The DOJ said it has directed the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to wait for the court’s decision on the Laude family’s motion for reconsideration.

“The MR would have to be resolved first. The BuCor cannot preempt court action on the MR by prematurely releasing Pemberton,” DOJ Spokesperson Markk Perete said in a message.

The BuCor, for its part, said it will heed the DOJ’s directive and respect the court process. It also assured that Pemberton will remain detained at a facility in Camp Aguinaldo.

The Laude family, through their counsel Virgie Suarez filed a motion for reconsideration on Wednesday, arguing that Pemberton should not be granted an early release sans proof of his good behavior or participation in rehabilitation programs in jail.

“Simple ang mga ibigay lang nila sa korte ay mga computation I mean what can you see from the computation? Computation is just a computation it should not be taken ay yun na yun that computation is equated with the good conducts dapat may mga records,” she said.

Suarez also stressed in her appeal that Pemberton has been serving sentence “solo” in Camp Aguinaldo and no one can attest about his alleged good conduct.

  “What constitutes good conduct? Ano ba ang mga ginawa nito para sabihin mo mayroong good conduct? The court could easily scrutinize that but the court did not,” she said.

The Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 in an order dated September 1 said Pemberton should be released over good behavior.

In 2014, Pemberton was sentenced six to 10 years in prison for homicide over the slay of Laude at a motel in Olongapo City. He has been held at a facility in Camp Aguinaldo under the provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the United States and the Philippines.

The court credited to him a good conduct time allowance (GCTA) of 1,548 days or more than 4 years plus a total of 2,142 days in detention which amounts to more than 10 years of the maximum penalty imposed on him.

The court is set to hear the Laude family’s appeal on Monday, Sept. 7. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Dante Amento)

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