POSTSCRIPT / September 22, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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My being ‘ninong’ of a Bilibid ex-con

THE DISMAYING story of the authorities ordering back 1,914 convicts who had been released from the Bilibid prisons for supposed good conduct — and seeing 2,009 return! — calls to mind my nearly harboring a murder convict.

We once had a kasambahay, a devoted all-around help (she cooked, laundered and looked after the kids) who would occasionally visit a friend locked up at Bilibid for murder, and come back at the end of the day looking none the worse for it.

It was on her free time and part of her private life, so even if it was somewhat disturbing having a member of the household seeing this prisoner at Bilibid, I tried not to mind her visiting Rudy.

Yes, Rudy was his nickname (“alias” in police parlance), who was serving time for shooting a businessman dead for a fee, so I was told.

Our house help, then in her early 30’s, claimed having met the guy through a pen-pal column and decided after some time to visit him. That was how it all started for them, for better or for worse.

One Sunday months later, she brought to the house a lean, dark fellow somewhat older than her, in rubber shoes and faded denims. Before me was Rudy — the killer-for-hire! — claiming to have been released from Bilibid days earlier.

I didn’t know if he escaped, was paroled or what, but by whatever manner he got out, he was there before me reaching for my hand to press on his forehead for my blessing. He seemed courteous and I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

It was explained to me that they got married, civilly, the week before – and, of all things, put my name on the papers as their ninong! As instant godfather, I shelled out a cash gift, not unlike the folding stuff one sometimes slips into the palm of a cop (with prior presidential blessing.)

They appeared to love each other, so that was it. Rudy would drop by now and then to see his wife and have lunch with us. Sometimes they went out on her off-day. But after about two months, she decided to settle in Marikina with him.

 Unfair to inmates deserving release

THE RECALL of 1,914 prisoners who had been released, then seeing 2,009 turning themselves in, betrays not just poor record-keeping but also the utter mismanagement of the system, gross incompetence and big-scale corruption of prison authorities.

Officials who worked out or sold the illegal release of heinous-crimes convicts should take the place of the prisoners who have earned freedom under RA 10592, the law on Good Conduct Time Allowance.

It is cruel and unjust to scare those who deserved their release but are now being ordered rounded up. Arrest them for what crime? Why punish them for the mistakes of their jailers?

From the administrative point of view, it might be better to allow those who have been released but are not heinous-crime convicts to remain with their families, instead of being forced back to Bilibid.

Others who are not security or flight risks and have GCTA credits could be allowed to stay in their registered residence and directed to report periodically to the local police as in a parole-type arrangement while their status is being verified.

Staying home is conducive to their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. It will also reduce the administrative costs of confining them and lighten the burden on police units rounding up the prisoners released on shaky grounds.

Prisoners being freed because they deserve it must be issued documents saying so, to rule out harassment and to give them and their families peace of mind.

In a TV interview Thursday, Fr. Eli Lumbo, executive director of the Philippine Jesuit Prison Service Foundation, clarified that some of those on the recall list were released not under the GCTA law but on parole or have been acquitted.

The confusion, which is not of their own making, has placed them under a cloud and made them anxious for their freedom and safety. Nevertheless, many of them had presented themselves to the authorities to play safe.

 SC on the spot in Marcos-Robredo case

MANY judges in the lower courts who also handle local election protests and disputes must be watching how the Supreme Court acts on the “initial determination” issue in the Marcos vs Robredo case pending before the SC sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

If the SC/PET “sets aside” (as President Duterte did with the Hague arbitral ruling) the results of the recount and revision of ballots in the three pilot provinces chosen by protestant Bongbong Marcos, lower court judges would have reason to act similarly on protests before them.

Under the “initial determination” rule, which in PET is Rule 65, if the protestant fails to make significant recovery of votes in his three pilot provinces, the protest is dismissed. The pilot recount in the Marcos case reportedly did not show him gaining a significant vote recovery.

For the SC/PET to disregard or change Rule 65 in the middle of the game and allow the protestant to revise more ballots in other provinces would deviate from the practice and set a precedent for determining if there is probable cause.

In the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal there are 11 pending protests. There are some 60 cases in the lower courts where the judges could also opt to set aside the “initial determination” rule (based on the selected 20-percent of the contested precincts) — if the SC/PET sets a precedent.

With all due respect to those affected, the setting aside of that rule that determines if there is a justiciable case could open the gate to corruption and the fixing of election protests.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 22, 2019)

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