THREE of the 1,914 released convicts who have been ordered to surrender and return to jail are members of the infamous Chiong Seven who were found guilty of kidnapping, raping and killing the two Chiong sisters in 1997.
To Cebuanos, convicts Josman Aznar, Ariel Balansag and Alberto Caño are the human faces in a troubling legal question that may be brought to the Supreme Court again with new twists to the issue.
People old enough will remember the three men from their black-and-white photos re-published from news archives. How do they look now if they surface again?
Different kind of fugitives
Aznar, Balansag and Caño, along with the close to 2,000 other convicts, are a different breed of fugitives.
They did not escape from prison. They were officially released by the Bureau of Corrections after their papers, based on public records of conviction and detention, were processed.
It has turned out, however, that most of them could’ve been illegally released: (a) because they committed heinous crimes and slapped with multiple life imprisonments (in the case of the Chiong Seven, at least four reclusion perpetuas each) or (b) because they were erroneously credited with good behavior when in fact they misbehaved (in the case of Calauan ex-mayor “rapist-killer” Antonio Sanchez).
In sum, they were released because of bureaucratic error and, from initial disclosures at the Senate hearings on the controversial Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law, probable corruption.
Last Wednesday (Sept. 4), the officially released convicts were given 15 days, from that day, to surrender or face the risk of being shot if they’d resist or flee, with P1 million on each of their heads.
Or they could return to prison and test the legality of the administration’s moves, which are unprecedented and don’t snugly fit into the mold of the jurisprudence it relies on for support.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also last Sept. 4 said the legal bases for President Duterte’s ultimatum are not laws but two decided cases of the Supreme Court. The SC rulings, of course, are part of jurisprudence which is part of the law of the land.
But the two cases–People vs. Fidel Tan (1967) and Warden of Manila City Jail vs. Raymond Estrella (2001)—are not exactly similar to the current situation.
How they differ
 In the cited cases, the SC said only the Bureau of Corrections has the authority to issue certification of good conduct and to order the prisoner’s release.
The close to 2,000 released convicts that would be hunted down were freed under the new GCTA law and ordered to walk out of jail by no less than the BuCor chiefs under the administrations of Bato de la Rosa and Faeldon.
 In the same cases, the orders to re-arrest were issued by the court.
In the present dispute, the bounty-and-kill order, news reports said, was orally issued by the President.
Jurisprudence though supports the correction of the mess: the SC in the two cited rulings favored the re-arrest despite the GCTA law that says “once awarded it could no longer be revoked.”
Some people don’t wish to see the Chiong Three come into any harm. Most others just want to see the legal issue resolved by the high court.
Even as in the Senate, where radical changes on the good-conduct rule originated, a number of senators, including some who helped birth GCTA into law, already filed a bill to kill it.