JUSTICE Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Tuesday said the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City needs to be closed down because everyone there wants to steal from it.

In an interview, Remulla said even the electricity at the NBP, the national penitentiary, is being "stolen" by jail guards.

Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, according to him, provided this information in an email sent to him recently.

Remulla said illegal electrical connections or "jumpers" were discovered running from the NBP's medium security prison going to at least 200 houses located outside the prison compound.

These illegal connections were believed to have been installed by the jail guards.

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When he learned about these jumpers, the Justice secretary ordered suspended Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director Gerald Bantag to cut them off.

"They have jumpers there that I had Director Gerald Bantag cut off. They were depriving the BuCor of electricity by making it pass to the back to the 200 houses that were constructed there," he added.

Remulla said the jumpers "weakened" the electricity inside the NBP.

He noted that all these houses had air-conditioners.

Remulla revealed that BuCor personnel live in some of the 200 houses while the rest are being rented out.

"The culture of entitlement at the NBP is really bad," he said.

Remulla further bared that some BuCor personnel have claimed tracts of land at the national penitentiary as their own.

"Much of the NBP land is being used for residential squatting. If we don't stop it, the land there will be depleted," he pointed out.

He said the penitentiary had an initial land area of 700 hectares, now there are only 244 hectares.

"Through the years when the term of a [Philippine] president ends, tracts of land are awarded to individuals, so the land is used up. The land is always being claimed for personal use. There is really abuse there," Remulla also noted.

He said this is the reason why he is pushing for the closure of the NBP.

"Let's just use it for government offices," Remulla added.

What is needed, he said, are regional prisons — maximum, medium and minimum ones in each region of the Philippines.

The Justice chief added that this way, persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) can be visited by their relatives.

"Because what happens when we have a central prison, being an archipelago, it is a very big trip for the family to visit the incarcerated," he said.

The "real plan" on the regionalization of jails as discussed by both Houses of Congress before was not passed into law, according to Remulla.

"The trend now is to make small jails on a regional basis so that there is a correction and rehabilitation function and our prison system is still family- based," he said.

"Because they (the families) are really the support group. The best coping mechanism of a PDL is the family, there is no other best coping mechanism other than that," Remulla added.

Meanwhile, he said the camp of Bantag may be granted an extension in the filing of a counter-affidavit should they ask for it in Wednesday's preliminary investigation of the killing of Percival "Percy Lapid" Mabasa and the alleged middleman, Cristito Villamor Palana.

Bantag's counsel, lawyer Rocky Balisong, personally went to the Department of Justice (DoJ) on Monday to get a copy of the subpoena.

Remulla said he sees no problem if Bantag asks for an extension in the filing of his counter-affidavit.

"No problem, the case will push through based on merits of the case. That will be up to the prosecutors, but I think usually they grant these motions," he added.

Remulla said it is not necessary for Bantag to attend since the latter has an option to issue a special power of attorney to his lawyers to represent him during the preliminary probe.

Aside from Bantag, another respondent in the double-murder case is BuCor deputy security officer Ricardo Zulueta.

Remulla said authorities are still verifying Zulueta's whereabouts, but added his absence will not affect the case.

"The case can stand independently whether Zulueta surrenders. Rumors that he is dead already are there, I was informed a few days ago about it, but the case will still stand as it is, so let it be," he added.

"A conspiracy is a conspiracy, and the act of one is the act of all, so that's where this premise will lie in this case," Remulla said.

But in the event that Bantag would not give himself up, the Justice chief also said it would be a different story because he would be marked as a fugitive from justice.

"Magiging wanted siya (He will become a wanted person). Flight is an indication of guilt, The more guilty he will appear if he doesn't show up," he added.

According to the Justice secretary, Zulueta can be described as Bantag's right hand man from way back when the embattled suspended BuCor chief was warden of the Caloocan City jail.

The panel of prosecutors set the hearing today, November 23 at 9 a.m.

The second hearing will be on December 5 starting at 1 p.m.

The cases filed against Bantag and Zulueta and several others would be consolidated with the murder charges previously filed against self-confessed gunman Joel Escorial and three other accomplices.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Philippine National Police (PNP) filed two cases of murder against Bantag and several others that were linked to the double-murder case.

On November 7, the NBI and the PNP filed murder complaints before the DoJ against Bantag, Zulueta and several other PDLs who were linked to the case.

Bantag has denied any connection to the killing of Lapid.

For the killing of Lapid, charged were Bantag, Zulueta, as principals by inducement, while PDLs Denver Batungbakal Mayores, Alvin Cornista Labra, Aldrin Miscosa Galicia and Alfie Penaredonda were charged as principals by indispensable cooperation.

For the death of Palana, charged were Bantag and Zulueta as principals by inducement, while Labra, Galicia, Mario Germones Alvarez and Joseph Medel Georfo were charged as principals by indispensable cooperation.