More than a thousand ex-prisoners prematurely freed under a controversial law in the Philippines will be captured “dead or alive” if they do not surrender before a Thursday deadline, President Rodrigo Duterte said.
His government is scrambling to track down the former inmates — including convicted murderers and rapists — who were released early due to what he concedes was a wrong application of the law and possible corruption of prison officers.
Earlier this month Duterte set a September 19 deadline for the ex-convicts to return to jail or face the consequences and put a one million-peso ($19,000) price on their heads.
“The one million prize is available to those who can capture them dead or alive,” Duterte told reporters on Tuesday night.
“But maybe dead would be a better option. I will pay you smiling,” added the president, known for his brutal anti-drug crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives.
Nearly 2,000 prisoners have been released over the last few years, including those convicted of heinous crimes who were found to be ineligible for a law that rewards good behaviour with shorter jail time.
The law went into effect in 2014, two years before Duterte was elected president.
The premature releases had gone largely unremarked until news broke last month that a former politician convicted in the 1990s and sentenced to decades behind bars in a notorious rape and murder case was about to get out early for good behaviour.
Earlier this month Duterte fired the prisons chief over the early releases, saying: “The records would show that there has been a wrong committed and maybe corruption.”
At least 400 ex-prisoners have surrendered over the past two weeks, according to police. Their cases will be reviewed by authorities with a view to returning them to prison.