MANILA - Most convicts who surrendered under President Rodrigo Duterte's ultimatum turned themselves in out of fear even though they were not guilty of heinous crimes, a priest said Thursday.
Father Eli Lumbo SJ, executive director of the Philippine Jesuit Prison Service Foundation Inc., said he has talked to at least 20 convicts who did not commit heinous crimes but surrendered.
Police earlier said 391 out of 523 prisoners who surrendered to them were not convicted of heinous crimes.
"The current situation now is a sense of fear given the President's directive that they should surrender before the 19th, which is today. Many, if not all including their loved ones, are afraid of what will happen to them if they do not surrender," he told ANC's Early Edition.
"They’d rather be on the safe side, surrender even though they’re not under the heinous crimes category, (even if) in their release paper it is not written there they availed of the GCTA."
The controversial GCTA policy allows the early release of prisoners based on good behavior. On Sept. 4, Duterte ordered some 2,000 heinous crime convicts released under the system to turn themselves in within 15 days or face warrantless arrest.
Lumbo said there was "a sense of frustration, sadness, and pain" among surrendered convicts and their families.
"They found work already to pay back how their families took care of them in the past years," he said.
"Many of them resort to the Bible. God gives, God takes away. At least nakatikim sila ng konting kalayaan, konting panahon nakasama nila ang pamilya nila (they tasted freedom for a while, they spent some time with their family)."
He said the policy was "a good law that can be given to deserving people."
"No matter how bad, evil a person is he or she can change," he said.
"They suffered many years already behind bars ibig ba sabihin hindi na sila nagbago (does that mean they did not change)? It’s illogical for people to say find the lost one and leave behind the 99. It’s a different thing if you are that lost one."
He added that the alleged sale of hospital passes and good conduct was "alarming."
"That’s why it’s sad that what the situation inside the prison is a manifestation of what society is at large," he said.