MANILA, Philippines (AP) - The Philippine president on Wednesday fired the government’s top prison official amid a public outcry over the release of hundreds of prisoners, including convicted drug traffickers and rapists, under a law rewarding good behavior with shorter jail terms.
President Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised news conference that Undersecretary Nicanor Faeldon of the Bureau of Corrections would immediately resign for disobeying his order to halt the releases of convicted prisoners under the 2014 law. Officials are now demanding a review of the “Good Conduct Time Allowance” law.
Prison officials will be investigated by a special anti-corruption prosecutor called the Ombudsman in connection with the massive releases of convicts, Duterte said. A Senate Blue Ribbon committee has opened a formal inquiry into the releases.
Duterte ordered at least 1,700 prisoners who have been freed since the law took effect to surrender in 15 days, either for a re-computation of their jail time or for investigations to determine if they paid their way to freedom in corrupt deals with prison officials.
“If you do not, then beginning at this hour, you are a fugitive from justice,” Duterte said.
Some legal experts say the government cannot re-arrest convicts who have been freed under the law.
Duterte said he was considering a large bounty for the capture of the freed convicts “dead or alive,” adding he preferred that they end up dead.
“If you die, that will save us some money because we don’t have to feed you,” he said, adding he needed to act firmly because people were angered by the releases of criminals convicted of heinous crimes.
“I am the president, there is a fire burning,” Duterte said. “I’m a firefighter. I should go and I have to put out the fire.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, praised Duterte’s action. Lacson has said about 1,900 convicts were actually freed under the law, including at least four convicted Chinese drug traffickers who were to be deported by the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation. Officials have moved to block their deportation.
National police chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde ordered the deployment of police to track down the convicts, who police said in a statement “will be treated as fugitives if they choose not to surrender.”
The releases sparked an outcry after it was reported that one of the convicts being considered for freedom was former Mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted in 1995 in the killings of two university students. One was gang raped and then shot.
The 1987 Philippine Constitution abolished the death penalty but capital punishment was reintroduced in 1993, then abolished again in 2006. Duterte, who took office in 2016, has advocated harsh anti-crime measures and the return of the death penalty in the largely Roman Catholic nation.
Associated Press photojournalist Bullit Marquez contributed to this report.
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