Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s office has announced the official commutation of sentences for 27 prisoners deemed too ill or elderly to justify keeping in prison, the first of what the president’s office hopes will be more than 100 such pardons.
“This is the first batch, these are 27, of those given conditional pardon and commutation of pardon,” Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II announced on Monday. The president’s office has recommended a total of 127 prisoners for such pardons, though all have to be processed individually and deemed to no longer be a threat to society before being released. Rather than receive a full pardon, some will be eligible for shorter sentences.
“There are 100 more but we will explain that because most of them will be given commutation or shortening of sentence, but even if we shorten the sentence there are some months remaining. Some will be freed next month, some in May, so we will free them batch by batch,” Aguirre told reporters.
The inmates in question either suffer from extreme illnesses that significantly hinder their ability to commit crimes or are above the age of 80. When Duterte’s office first announced the plan for mass pardons, Aguirre told reporters they were looking at “old inmates who are pitiful”: elderly, low-risk inmates, “no high-profile” cases.
The Philippines is currently suffering from severe overpopulation in many of its prisons, in part due to a sweeping anti-drug campaign Duterte launched shortly after winning the nation’s presidency in mid-2016. Among the most overcrowded is the Quezon City prison, profiled by CNN last year. Built to hold up to 800 inmates, the prison boasted 4,053 residents at the time of the CNN report. CNN estimated that nearly two out of every three inmates were serving a drug-related sentence, that number set to increase as Duterte unleashed the police on drug criminals.
While many have criticized Duterte for his permissive attitude towards extrajudicial killings, his drug war has also resulted in a much larger number of drug addicts and dealers surrendering to the police. An estimated 700,000 people have surrendered to police on drug charges since Duterte took office in June 2016.
Duterte temporarily suspended the war on drugs in February after Philippine policemen abducted and killed a South Korean businessman. In response to the crime, Duterte corralled 228 police officers suspected of corruption and other crimes for a nationally televised speech from the Malacanang palace, his presidential offices. During the speech, Duterte challenged the men to a gunfight, referred to them as “sons of whores,” and threatened them with extrajudicial killing.
Ultimately, Duterte reassigned the men to work in Basilan, the cradle of radical Islamic terrorism in the Philippines and home to Abu Sayyaf, the nation’s Islamic State affiliate. “I will send you to Basilan, live there for 2 years. If you get out alive, you can return here. If you die there, I will tell the police not to spend anything to bring you back here but to bury you there,” the president told the officers.
Last week, Duterte announced the suspension of the drug war would conclude after police investigations removed a significant number of allegedly corrupt police. Duterte railed against a new Human Rights Watch report estimating that more than 7,000 people have been killed in drug raids since he took office and expressing alarm at the widespread violence of the drug war. “When you kill criminals, that is not a crime against humanity. The criminals have no humanity. God damn it,” Duterte said, promising “many more killings … as long as there is a drug pusher and a drug lord.”