DOJ warns vs abuses in BuCor reforms

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    JUSTICE Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday warned against possible abuses or inhumane treatment of prisoners in the conduct of reforms at the Bureau of Correction (BuCor) under the new leadership of Director General Gerald Bantag.

    Guevarra made the warning as he directed a Department of Justice oversight committee to monitor the implementation of the reform programs initiated by Bantag amid reports that some inmates have been sleeping outside of their detention cells because of the demolition of illegal structures inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa city.

    “Although the DOJ is not supposed to interfere with the day-to-day operations of the BuCor, as it only exercises general administrative supervision and not control over the bureau, I have directed the interim DOJ oversight committee to closely monitor the reforms initiated by the new BuCor leadership and ensure that such reforms are being implemented within the bounds of the law and with due consideration for the well-being of inmates in our penitentiaries,” Guevarra said.

    Guevarra said if in the course of the monitoring the committee finds abuses or inhumane treatment by the BuCor, then the DOJ may impose disciplinary actions.

    “Supervision includes calling attention to actions which are improper, unlawful, or way out of bounds. It also includes instituting disciplinary action whenever warranted,” he said.

    BuCor spokesperson Maj. Alberto Tapiru said that because of the cramped and over-crowded detention cells, some inmates have put up the shanties which have served as their living and sleeping quarters.

    But Tapiru said the construction of the crude shelters was illegal since inmates are not authorized to erect structures inside the compound.

    He added that some of the shanties have been used as dens for the illegal activities of scheming prisoners and corrupt BuCor personnel.

    Stories of inmates camping outside their detention cells came following the demolition by BuCor personnel and elements from the Quad Intel task force of the illegal shanties put up inside the maximum security compound of the national penitentiary.

    The NBP was opened in 1940 and originally meant to house 10,072 inmates. There is now a total of 14,500 inmates detained in the NBP’s maximum security compound alone. The national penitentiary has a total inmate population of 27,071.

    The DOJ placed at 170 percent the overcapacity at the NBP alone and at 30 percent the congestion of jails all over the country.

    Aside from the NBP, the BuCor also operates and supervises the Abuyog Penal Colony in Leyte, the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City, the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Puerto Princesa in Palawan, the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Occidental Mindoro, the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga City and the Davao Prison and Penal Farm.

    Sen. Ronald dela Rosa proposed that the control and supervision of all provincial and sub-provincial jails be transferred to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

    In a statement, Dela Rosa said he filed Senate Bill No. 1100, citing the need for all jails to be regulated through a “uniform and standard set of policies and guidelines.”

    “Our proposed measure aims to implement a uniformed, undeviating standard in the implementation of existing policies and guidelines with regard to the administration of our detention facilities. This way, we could ensure a high probability of success in the reformation of our Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs),” Dela Rosa said.

    Currently, provincial and subprovincial jails, which house inmates who face trial for charges punishable by more than six months’ imprisonment, are administered by the respective provincial governments.

    Meanwhile, the BJMP, an attached agency of the Department of Interior and Local Government, administers city and municipal jails housing inmates facing trial for lighter charges.

    Jails should not be confused with prisons or penitentiaries, which house those found guilty of crimes and are administered by the BuCor, also an attached agency of the DOJ. Dela Rosa headed the BuCor for six months from April to October 2018. – With Vince Nonato