BuCor exec who wanted to testify on ‘freedom for sale’ scheme shot dead

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 19) — A senior official at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) who had wanted to testify in the Senate on the alleged “freedom for sale” scheme at the New Bilibid Prison was shot dead Wednesday near his agency's headquarters in Muntinlupa City.

Police said two gunmen shot Fredric Santos dead at around 2 p.m. on board his Toyota Hilux pick-up in front of Southernside Montessori school in Barangay Poblacion.

They said Santos was about to fetch his daughter from school when the two men shot him point blank, and immediately left.

Metro Manila police chief BGen Debold Sinas told reporters that investigators have retrieved six empty shells and a slug of a .45-caliber pistol, and CCTV footage of the area where the shooting occurred.

However, Sinas said the video does not clearly show Santos' fatal shooting.

"Ang nakuha ng CCTV na pinakamalapit doon, hindi po clear kung isa o dalawa ba [ang bumaril,]" he said. "Ang nakikita lang doon, area lang, ‘yung lugar, highway. [‘Yung pagbaril,] hindi na. Not so clear."

[Translation: It's not clear if one or two people shot him, based on CCTV footage nearest the area ... What we saw there was the place, the highway. The shooting, we didn't see it. It's not so clear.]

Sinas said they still do not have persons of interest in the killing of Santos.

He added that they have coordinated with the BuCor for the security of Santos' family and a joint investigation on the shooting.

"Maganda po 'yung joint investigation para mawala po ang ating agam-agam na iisang view po iisang pananaw sa ating investigation," BuCor spokesperson Gabby Chaclag told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: A joint investigation would be good so that we wouldn't have any worries that our investigation is only heading one direction.]

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III told CNN Philippines that Santos was “ready to tell all” about the supposed anomalies surrounding the implementation of the expanded Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) policy under the Revised Penal Code before the Senate’s last hearing on the issue.

Santos, however, backed out, Sotto said.

Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman Richard “Dick” Gordon, who led the probe on supposed anomalies in the BuCor, condemned the killing, calling it a “rubout.”

Gordon added that Santos is the 15th BuCor official to be killed within the vicinity of its headquarters in Muntinlupa since 2011.

“It is a warning to all in this country na kapag ikaw may nalalaman at ikaw nagsalita, kaya ka naming patayin,” Gordon told reporters at the Senate.

[Translation: It is a warning to all in this country that if you know something and you speak up, we can kill you.]

The Office of the Ombudsman suspended Santos in September for six months after finding that he, along with 29 other officials of the bureau, “allowed the questionable release of prison convicts” in violation of the expanded GCTA policy.

He called on President Rodrigo Duterte, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police to immediately probe the killing.

Gordon also noted that "death and violence seems to follow" Nicanor Faeldon, who previously headed the BuCor.

Santos is the fifth BuCor employee to be killed after Faeldon was appointed to the helm of the prisons bureau in November 2018. President Rodrigo Duterte sacked Faeldon in September 2019 for supposedly disobeying his order to stop the release of more convicts under the expanded GCTA policy.

Santos was suspended without pay for alleged grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct "prejudicial to the best interest of the service.” These could have led to his dismissal from service.

Faeldon, during a Senate hearing, pointed to Santos as the one who advised him that there was no legal basis to stop the release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez through the expanded GCTA policy.

He also confessed during a Senate investigation that convicts and wardens cover each other's backs by doing favors while behind bars.

He cited examples where prison guards would relent on the punishment that should be meted out to inmates caught using mobile phones or contraband items in their cell, opting for a settlement rather than filing a complaint against the prisoner in trouble.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson also accused Santos of “jamming” or using illegal drugs with Chinese drug lords detained at the national penitentiary.

The alleged corruption in the BuCor came to light after reports warned of the impending release of convicted rapist and murderer Antonio Sanchez through the expanded GCTA policy.

CNN Philippines Correspondents Gerg Cahiles, Joyce Ilas and Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.