Philippines tracking down released convicts

Police special action force personnel look on as funeral parlour workers carry the body of a drug convict who was killed in a knifing incident inside the national penitentiary in suburban Manila's Muntinlupa City in this file photo. (AFP Photo)

Philippine police pledged on Thursday to track down nearly 2,000 ex-prisoners including convicted murderers and rapists who were let out early for good behaviour, in some cases years ago.

Revelations in recent weeks about the inmates’ release have sparked outrage in the Philippines, with critics accusing authorities of gross incompetence and possibly corruption.

“I have immediately directed all police units nationwide to receive and account for (the ex-prisoners),” national police chief Oscar Albayalde told reporters. “Tracker teams... will be deployed.”

The controversy centres on about 1,900 people convicted of serious crimes such as rape, murder and kidnapping who were released early due to good conduct under a 2013 law intended to ease conditions at the nation’s notoriously overcrowded prisons.

These releases had gone largely unremarked until news broke last month that a former politician convicted in the 1990s and sentenced to decades behind bars in a notorious rape and murder case was about to get out early for good behaviour.

The news sparked a fierce backlash from the public and prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to halt the man’s parole, yet also revealed many other convicts with similarly serious records had already been freed.

Since then there has been a steady drip of blame and confusion, with allegations the law was never supposed to be applied to serious crimes and the possibility raised that corrupt officials had played a role.

Duterte waded further into the matter Wednesday by ordering the ex-cons convicted of the most serious offences to turn themselves within 15 days or face arrest, or worse.

“If I were you, I would surrender to the nearest police or military detachment wherever you are now because I do not need to have a warrant,” Duterte said.

“If you do not... well, you know things can go wrong,” added Duterte, who frequently threatens perceived enemies with violence in his public comments. 

By Thursday police said that two men convicted in separate murder cases, one of whom had been freed from prison over a year ago, had surrendered to authorities.

Resistance to putting the ex-prisoners back behind bars has been muted, but opposition lawmaker Carlos Zarate expressed concern over the legal impact.

“My fear is that in so doing (arresting) we are sacrificing substantial rights just because we want to address this with speed,” he told the media. - AFP.