THE HEAD of the country’s prison system yesterday confirmed that three of the seven convicts involved in a 1997 celebrated rape-slay case in Cebu had been granted parole.

The convicts in the rape and murder of the Chiong sisters were freed for good conduct, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director-General Nicanor E. Faeldon yesterday told senators during a hearing. He denied having approved their release.

Mr. Faeldon also said he had approved the process that nearly freed former Calauan Mayor Antonio L. Sanchez, who was sentenced to seven life terms in 1995 for the rape and murder of two University of the Philippines students in 1993.

The prison chief told the Senate justice committee he had issued the approvals “after I continuously consulted with the lawyers.” He suspended Mr. Sanchez’s parole because he had to review his case, he said.

The Senate body is investigating the parole granted to about 1,900 inmates convicted of heinous crimes. BuCor suspended the ex-politician’s release after a public uproar.

Mr. Faeldon argued that the law disregards the type of crime committed in the grant of parole.

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra disagreed with the prison chief’s interpretation. “The proper interpretation in so far as the exclusions are concerned, would be to exclude those convicted of heinous crimes from the benefit of the good conduct time allowance law,” he told senators at the same hearing.

Mr. Faeldon said inmates Ariel Balansag, Aberto Caño and Josman Aznar, who were convicted for the rape-slay of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong, had been granted parole, but denied signing any release orders. “I cannot remember ordering the release.”

Senator Richard J. Gordon, who heads the justice committee, said 1,900 ineligible inmates should be put back in jail.

Mr. Guevarra earlier suspended the parole program amid an uproar against the planned release of Mr. Sanchez.

Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri has said he would file a bill amending the law that expands the application of early release for good conduct. The measure would specifically bar its application to heinous crimes such as murder, drug trafficking and kidnap for ransom, he said.

Mr. Guevarra said he got an order from the presidential palace to hold Mr. Sanchez’s release until legal issues were settled. It was the Justice chief who first announced the plan to release Mr. Sanchez along with thousands of convicts for good conduct, which he said could not be appealed. — Charmaine A. Tadalan