BuCor officers held in Senate for 'lying' about 'freedom for sale' mess

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Recovered phone conversations show they may have had cash transactions with ranking BuCor officials, including sacked Director General Nicanor Faeldon.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 3) — A Senate committee has cited in contempt two officers of the Bureau of Corrections after recovered phone conversations revealed they lied about the so-called "freedom for sale" scheme in the New Bilibid Prison.

The National Bureau of Investigation on Thursday reported to the Senate results of its forensic investigation into the phones of Correctional Officer III Veronica Buño and Correctional Senior Inspector Maria Belinda Bansil. Witness Yolanda Camilon earlier told a Senate hearing she had a deal with Buño and Bansil for the early release of her husband in exchange for money. Camilon said she paid ₱50,000, but her husband was not released in March 2019 as promised.

READ: ‘Negosyo na ang Bilibid’: Witness in ‘freedom for sale’ scheme bares more corrupt practices

Buño and Bansil denied the allegations, saying they never talked to Camilon or with each other.

The NBI's probe, however, showed that not only did they call Camilon in February 2019, they also talked about the alleged corruption in the beleaguered BuCor.

"Contrary to what they have stated in previous hearings, they were lying because you know, digital data cannot be tampered," NBI Chief Dante Gierran said.

In an August 31 text message that had been deleted, Bansil told Buño, "Mas pinag-uusapan GCTA... Babalasahin nanaman BuCor, tsaka si Faledon, tinanggi ang pirma niya, 'di ba e pirma naman niya talaga yun."

At around that time, then BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon repeatedly denied signing the release order of former Calauan, Mayor Antonio Sanchez, a convicted rapist and murderer.

The text message showed that Bansil and Buño were already talking about the controversy even before the Senate launched its probe on the questionable implementation of the expanded Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law, which cuts the jail time of inmates based on good behavior. GCTA credits were what Camilon bought on hopes her husband will be released. The measure almost led to Sanchez's release, but Malacañang said his heinous crimes exclude him from benefiting from it following public outrage.

Another message from Buño to Bansil showed possible cash transactions with ranking BuCor officials, including sacked Director General Faeldon.

"The mobile phone of Veronica Buño contains deleted SMS, conversation, text messages to Benilda Bansil which made mention of the word '8K, pera, badge (Veronica Buño) Chito, bibigay, 50K, 100K, Faeldon' among others," Gierran said, quoting the agency's report.

Camilon earlier said she gave Bansil ₱40,000 in two installments, with the first ₱10,000 paid to Ramoncito "Chito" Roque, documents processing section chief of Bucor. Roque told the Senate he repeatedly tried to return the money. Meanwhile, Faeldon has denied any involvement in the scheme but was fired by President Rodrigo Duterte for supposedly disobeying his order to stop any more releases under the GCTA.

"Nagsinungaling kayo (You lied)," Gordon told Buño and Bansil, who both refused to respond to the NBI's findings.

When asked if they believe they lives would be in danger if they will be detained in the Bilibid, they agreed. Gordon instead moved to have them detained in the Senate, calling it "humanitarian contempt."

"We’ll put you here, at least safe kayo dito (at least you're safe here)," Gordon said. He added that staying in the Senate will also give them time to think about testifying and finally revealing officials involved in BuCor corruption.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.