Confusion abounds as DOJ rushes final arrest list of convicts

MANILA, Philippines – Confusion reigned after President Rodrigo Duterte's surrender deadline for heinous crime convicts lapsed at 12 am on Friday, September 20, with the Department of Justice (DOJ) rushing to finalize its arrest list.

Police began their midnight operations and managed to rearrest at least 3 heinous crime convicts, Tokhang style.

But by early morning Friday, Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said the DOJ had to suspend the rearrests because there was no final list yet.

Perete was referring to a final list of heinous crime convicts who were prematurely released, minus the names of those who had already surrendered, and others erroneously included in the list.

While the Bureau of Corrections initially said 1,914 heinous crime convicts were released, Perete said the BuCor list contained only the penalties of the prisoners and not their crimes.

For example, prisoners on the list punished with reclusion perpetua cannot be assumed to be heinous crime convicts because such punishment is not limited to those who committed heinous crimes.

Because of this confusion, as of 5 am of Friday, a total of 2,009 convicts surrendered or more than the 1,914 in the initial BuCor list.

It had been a month since issues about the good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law were reported, and 15 days since Duterte ordered released convicts to return to prison or face warrantless arrest. Why was the DOJ taking so long to finalize the list?

"The process, as I've mentioned, is we had the list, we had to subtract those who actually surrendered and those on pardon or parole and the only way you can do this process is after you take account for those who have surrendered," Perete said in a news conference on Friday afternoon.

What now?

Philippine National Police (PNP) deputy spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Kimberly Molitas said on Friday that operations had been suspended following the DOJ's announcement.

Over at Malacañang, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles told reporters a rather confusing statement.

"In effect hindi pa ma-implement practically muna ng PNP (Philippine National Police) ‘yung warrantless arrest hanggang makuha nila from DOJ (Department of Justice) ‘yung final list," said Nograles.

(In effect, the PNP cannot practically implement the warrantless arrest yet until it gets the final list from the DOJ.) 

But Nograles also said, "Athough legally speaking puwede naman i-effect ‘yung warrantless arrest but siguro the PNP just wants to have ‘yun tinawag nga nating pinpoint accuracy kung sino talaga ang hahanapin nila."

(Although legally speaking, they can enforce the warrantless arrest but maybe the PNP just wants to have what we call pinpoint accuracy of who to look for.) 

Told of Nograles' statement, Perete said, "Based on the latest pronouncement of the Palace, it would seem that the rearrest would still continue." 

Metro Manila police chief Major General Guillermo Eleazar told Rappler in a text message that they were going to continue the rearrest.

The confusion could lead to a potential situation where cops rearrest convicts who are truly qualified for release like Rolito Go, who was still tracked Friday early morning even after Justice Menardo Guevarra himself had said the previous day that Go would be delisted. 

The Supreme Court had already ordered Go's release in 2016 – a fact reiterated by his lawyer, Estelito Mendoza – in a Senate hearing on the GCTA on Thursday, September 19.

Trust the police?

The police, who had earned a reputation of using deadly force against crime suspects in the Duterte government's drug war, had said it would apply reasonable force if the convicts resist arrest.

Perete reminded subjects of arrest to cooperate with police to avoid any problem.

"At this point, the Department of Justice will just have to appeal to individuals who may be the subject of arrest to cooperate with authorities to make sure no untoward incident will happen," said Perete.

Perete was also counting on the promise of the PNP that it would conduct its operations properly. Duterte had promised a P1 million reward for each rearrested convict, or those who miss his surrender deadline.

"The Philippine National Police and law enforcers have already come up with the statement that they will apply all reasonable means to ensure that their operations will be peaceful and will respect the rights of individuals," Perete said.

The DOJ official said that even qualified convicts who had surrendered were immediately allowed to walk free, but that they themselves refused to leave the New Bilibid Prison without a certification.

"We understand that it's unfair for them to be detained one day longer, but understand, this is the operation problems we encountered as well.... All of these are logistical problems we are addressing at the moment," said Perete. – With reports from Rambo Talabong and Pia Ranada/Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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