Second of two parts
WHILE waiting in church for the Christmas midnight Mass, I thought of the poor inmates languishing at the Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa. I thought that the leadership of the national government in the past decades should have undertaken reforms to improve the living conditions of the more 30,000 prisoners there at the national penitentiary.
In particular, the Aquino administration could have spent P4.0 Billion in the past four years (2011-2014) taken from the despicable DAP funds that reached P144 Billion! Instead of DAP funds going to dubious projects of the Aquino administration and members of Congress, funding for Bilibid Prison would have made life for inmates more conducive for reformation. After all, the rehabilitation of prisoners is still the aim of the penal system.
Speaking of funds coming from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Senate President Franklin Drilon received P1.0 Billion for his allotments to his dubious projects in Iloilo like the P747 Million Iloilo Convention Center (ICC) where P300 Million of his DAP funds went. Sheer waste of taxpayer’s money. The Department of Tourism (DoT) through its Tourism Infrastructure & Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) had already appropriated and eventually released P200 Million for the controversial ICC.
When I turned on the computer on Christmas Day, I saw that our son had watched the moving “Sa Loob ng Munti” documentary of the Front Row. The four-part series shows the harsh realities at the Bilibid Prison as if the inmates were no longer human beings.
There were also many stories of the inmates like this prisoner who admitted killing another farmer over a dispute, but the complainants included his father and two brothers to get even although they were not involved in the murder case. His only request is for his aging father to be released since he is innocent and has serious health issues. But that would be asking too much from our flawed and ineffective justice system.
Much-delayed Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Act
After the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013 (Republic Act 10575) was signed into law by President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd on May 27, 2013, nothing much has happened. The only progress or development that occurred since then was the launch of the Implementing Rules & Regulations (IRR) of R.A. 10575 on December 12, 2014.
Hence, it took the Department of Justice (DoJ) one year, six months and two weeks to prepare the IRR of the prison reform and modernization law. The BuCor Act of 2013 is supposed to be part of the Aquino administration’s “Performance Agenda,” according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Yet the DoJ leadership moves at such glacial pace!
I quoted the beautiful words that Secretary De Lima uttered in my previous column (Dec.20, 2014) on the occasion of the signing into law of the BuCor Act of 2013. She spoke of “a new beginning” for the Bureau of Correction with the upgrade in prison facilities, professionalization and reorganization, and the increase of salaries and benefits of correction personnel and civilian employees. They turned out to be sad empty words.
It now appears with his inaction that President B. S Aquino 3rd has no genuine concern for the reforms in the penal system, particularly on the welfare of the prisoners. Of course, it may not be a case of lack of compassion, but just his sheer incompetence. There were already serious scandals at the Bilibid Prison in 2011 and 2012 that should have moved President Aquino to swift and decisive action.
In May of 2011, print and broadcast media reported the scandal that exposed the special privileges of former Batangas Governor Antonio Leviste who enjoyed “living out” and “sleeping out” of the Bilibid Prison. It was highlighted by Leviste’s decision to slip out of the prison compound purportedly to see his dentist due to a painful toothache.
The escape of the high-profile inmate on May 18, 2011 was not the first in his illicit trips outside the state penitentiary. Leviste’s arrest outside a building in Makati City that he owns (and the street named after his family name) led to an investigation of the alleged VIP treatment of high-profile inmates.
The contents of the DoJ 36-page report, as well as Secretary Leila de Lima’s 8-page memorandum to the President, were not made public after then BuCor Director Ernesto Diokno personally handed his resignation to President Aquino. This is similar to what happened to the NBI fact-finding report on the alleged MRT3 $20 Million extortion attempt by then MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol. After the forced-resignation of Mr. Vitangcol, the DoJ never released the findings. Daan na Matuwid?
Thus, the Bureau of Corrections Act should have been passed earlier in 2011 after the anomalies at the Bilibid Prison were first exposed in May that year under the Aquino administration. Then it could have been implemented effective January 2012. If it was done, we could see the results by now, such the relocation of the Bilibid Prison outside and far from Metro Manila and the construction of other regional prisons. At the latest, we would see concrete results in 2015 and/or first half of 2016!
I wonder why Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago did not file any bill in the last six months of 2011 (June-November) to address the living conditions in our state prisons. The feisty and ever-articulate senator was quoted in the beautiful Editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in early June 2011. “Again, lest we forget, the country’s prison system is the pits – or as Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago described it, it’s ‘completely miserable, overcrowded, stinky, filthy.”
Senator Santiago revealed that the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) admitted as much in its 2009 request for a budget upgrade. ‘Inmates are now packed in the most primitive and inhuman conditions, causing death from diseases and jail disturbances.’ She added: “At present, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology oversees some 1,000 jails across the country, with more than 60,000 inmates in them.”
It seems Senator Santiago loves to make public statements, but forgets her job of making laws by filing bills in Congress.
In a span of one week, the Inquirer wrote two insightful Editorials on the issues at the Bilibid Prison. Its first editorial of May 27, 2011 may have influenced both President Aquino and then BuCor Chief Diokno to do right thing with the latter resigning three days later and the former accepting on the same day. You wonder why the same has yet not happened under worse circumstances in the Bilibid under Bucor Director Franklin Bucayo.
The last paragraph of second Inquirer Editorial says it all: “Any prisoner who has gone through the hellhole of a Philippine jail with reasonably good behavior on his side and the prospect of completing his sentence soon should be allowed the incentive of breathing in the hope and promise of a fresh start outside the fetid air of his near-uninhabitable, overpopulated cell. Reform it, improve security, tighten restrictions, build more facilities – all toward making the system more reformatory than plain punitive.”
The last sentence is an indictment on us, Filipinos, as a people. “The ‘can of worms’ opened up by Leviste’s stunt reflects as badly on the society that has allowed such a squalid state of affairs to fester unattended. I cannot agree more. Why have we?