THE general state of disrepair, decrepitude and weakness of our jails and prisons was put to the fore with the advent of President Rodrigo Duterte’s highly controversial war on drugs.
The National Bilibid Prison, the Quezon City jail, the Manila city jail and others have become poster icons of congestion, security lapses, inhuman conditions, disease, and official corruption.
In fact, it is common knowledge that illegal drug trade flourished in the NBP during the successive administrations of Presidents Arroyo and Aquino.
This sorry state of affairs in the Bureau of Corrections, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the local government units and the judicial system has been projected adequately to national attention but only elicited a passing notice from our officials.
The daring, unprecedented attack by a group of heavily armed men on the North Cotabato district jail in Kidapawan City before dawn of Wednesday again pointed to the quagmire of continuing neglect our jails have been consigned to.
The well-planned raid was conducted after midnight with the aid of heavy weapons and the element of surprise that some 20 jail guards with their pistols and rifles could only offer token resistance. No reinforcement came from the police or the Armed Forces.
This resounding wake-up call on the inadequacy of the prison system took a toll of 158 escapees, five fatalities including one jail guard, several inmates wounded and huge property losses. The loss of face of the Duterte administration, particularly the Department of Interior and Local Government which supervises jails, is hard to quantify.
Early reports pointed to the Bangsa More Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) guerrillas, a breakway faction of the MILF, as behind the raid. Both the MILF and the MNLF have denied involvement, but the BIFF denial is most emphatic.
“We have other priority targets. And if ever we do conduct operations, we would never deny responsibility,” said BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama.
Insiders recalled that the raiders first freed the Tamayan brothers first, then the Salik siblings, all alleged BIFF members, and proceeded to open other cells. It is interesting to note that the cases of the Tamayans and the Saliks ranged from illegal drugs to kidnapping and robbery, including murder.
If the major groups of Muslim guerrillas are not involved in this daring prison raid, could there be other Muslim groups as militarily organized, trained, and prepared to conduct such an operation?
The Kidapawan incident should finally prod President Duterte and his cabinet to act, or we may find ourselves watching the fast erosion of government power and influence in that part of the country.