September 21, 2019
IT is amusing how senators seem to appear naive and clueless that there is a system of power among inmates operating within the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), and that there is an elite that controls the manner in which power is exercised, structured and apportioned within its walls. It is as if this is a new thing, something that we only discovered now after being vexed by the scandal over the aborted release of notorious inmate Antonio Sanchez.
We witnessed how the Senate justice committee hearing has transmogrified from purely an inquiry about Republic Act (RA) 10592, into what appears to be an obvious attempt by some senators to pin the blame on another inmate, Sen. Leila de Lima. Without an iota of proof, some senators in the justice committee appear to imply that de Lima deliberately crafted the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the law to cover heinous crime convicts so that she could use the awarding of good conduct time allowances (GCTA) to illegally amass money for her Senate campaign.
They conveniently forget that it was the Senate that expanded the GCTA computations regardless of the type of convict, which included even heinous crime convicts. They blatantly ignore that the law RA 10592 amended already had provisions for GCTA and did not discriminate the types of criminals. They ignore the fact that the intent of the law, which they approved, was rehabilitative and not retributive. They appear not to consider the fact that the law was only certain in excluding those charged of heinous crimes from getting full credits during the time of their preventive imprisonment but, thanks to the senators of the 15th Congress, is patently silent on the case of those already convicted. They blame the IRR as the culprit when it is standard knowledge, something even any non-lawyer political scientist would know, that IRRs cannot exceed the law.
And they heap the blame on everyone else except themselves. It was bizarre to see Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa move to cite Bureau of Correction (BuCor) officials for contempt for their alleged ignorance not only about the law, as interpreted differently by the Senate, but also about the existence of corruption in the bureau. And this when he himself can be accused of being guilty of the same ignorance when he released heinous crime convicts during his term, failed to seek the approval of the Department of Justice (DoJ) secretary as mandated by Department Administrative Order 953, even wrote a letter to the DoJ requesting for additional authority and appeared to be clueless about the persistent corruption at the BuCor.
It is mind-boggling how the Senate hearing has redirected its line of inquiry away from GCTA and into the corruption of BuCor officials, without putting Senator dela Rosa and sacked BuCor chief Nicanor Faeldon on the hot seat, but conjuring a wild scenario about de Lima’s alleged corruption of the GCTA. Faeldon appears to have been excused and dela Rosa untouched while three of their former underlings are detained for contempt, and de Lima is denied her right to face her accusers.
The procession of twists and turns in the Senate hearing makes one’s jaw drop in disbelief, particularly the spectacle of some senators acting as if it is only now that they are discovering the presence of power elites within and among inmates in the National Bilibid Prison (NBP).
On March 6, 2013, the entire world saw the existence of what can be considered as organic inmate communities in NBP, when Lou Ferrante’s show “Inside the Gangster’s Code” on Discovery Channel aired an episode about the Commando Gang. The episode documented how the leadership of BuCor has tolerated the operations of gangs inside the NBP and, in fact, allowed them to have a role in prison governance. With each gang having their own leadership structures and internal rules and procedures, gangs complemented prison guards in the maintenance of order in the prison.
In this arrangement, high-profile inmates end up either in control of gangs, or are part of the power elites. What Sen. Panfilo Lacson purportedly exposed, where these gang leaders end up having enormous powers, to a point that one can even surmise that they are the ones running the NBP and no longer the government, is something that is already well-known, and has been documented by Ferrante. In the particular Discovery Channel episode, one gang leader was even shown to have his own TV network inside the NBP. Thus, what Lacson revealed, that these powerful inmates have enormous influence in deciding who among their fellow inmates will be given privileges, such as staying in luxurious kubol or obtaining medical passes, is not new knowledge. It was publicly disclosed in international TV in 2013.
In addition, Ferrante and his show also discovered and revealed that gangs inside the NBP maintain their links to the outside world. And it is also an established fact that convicted persons inside the NBP can coordinate the conduct of criminal activities outside, such as drug dealing, kidnap for ransom and assassination.
Some senators act as if the participation of gangs in the running of the NBP is new to them, when in 2016 Lou Ferrante’s documentary was already shown by then-Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd at a House hearing. This leads some to suspect that this revelation is to further insert into the picture the fact that this arrangement, where BuCor entered into some kind of co-management agreement with the gangs, only happened during the term of de Lima as justice secretary.
While de Lima has some level of accountability on this matter, it is not correct to heap the blame solely on her. This co-management arrangement at NBP was already organic, with gangs lording it over inside its walls, long before de Lima became Justice Secretary. To act as if it is new is either utter cluelessness or merely feigning ignorance.
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