Decrepit prisons

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    ONE good thing to come out from the ongoing series of Senate investigations on the shenanigans in the Bureau of Corrections, particularly the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, is the government’s realization that we have decrepit prisons and the nation needs to modernize not just the concept of reformatory punishment for offenders but also the physical facilities needed to achieve these penal objectives.

    Several senators have proposed to have the 500-hectare New Bilibid Prison leased to private developers and use the proceeds to construct state penitentiaries outside Metro Manila. Other prison facilities of the Bucor are in Iwahig, Palawan and in Davao City.

    The NBP is temporary home to over 30,000 convicts although its capacity is only for 17,000 inmates, Bucor officials said. A relatively new law, the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law, Republic Act 10592, would have decongested the Bilibid, Iwahig and Davao penal colonies if not for the graft and corruption that attended the implementation of the law. These scandals were discovered, fleshed out, and condemned at the hearings of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, triggered by the failed release under the GCTA program of rape-murder convict Antonio Sanchez.

    President Duterte is not the only one who hastened to act on prison irregularities. He fired Undersecretary Nicanor Faeldon, vowed to relieve all Bucor top executives, and directed the DOJ-NBI to conduct an investigation. Not to be outdone, the Office of the Ombudsman at once suspended several Bucor officials. But it was the senators who were most busy looking for solutions.

    Sen. Richard Gordon filed Senate Bill 983 proposing to establish a Heinous Crime Penitentiary (HCP) which can be in the Philippine Army’s sprawling Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija. This is to separate the convicts of heinous crimes from those in minimum security who have better practical chances at character reform.

    Sen. Lacson said even if the NBP compound is now just 300 hectares, at a conservative price of P40,000 per square meter based on zonal valuation, the government can easily raise P60 billion to P120 billion in outright sale. Lacson, however, is partial to a long-term lease of the land so the government can continue receiving income, which can be used to establish new prisons across the country and modernize the existing ones.

    When Sen. Ronaldo “Bato” dela Rosa was Bucor director for six months, he asked President Duterte to increase the salaries of bureau employees to stem temptation and promote efficiency. Now, Bucor officer-in-charge Melvin Buenafe said the bureau lacks manpower, including a counter-intelligence unit to detect corruption, and other internal problems inside; facilities; and equipment to properly perform its mandate.

    Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri noted that the existing prison system perpetuates the belief that there are two faces of justice in the country, one for the poor and another for the rich. He based this observation, which really is not something new, on the facts gathered by the Senate that in almost everything you do or need as a prisoner, you have to pay a price.

    Decrepit facilities and a repugnant, detestable prison system. How can we even hope to reform our wayward members of society there?

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