NEW BILIBID PRISON: In my time
ON OVERSEEING THE NATIONAL PENITENTIARY
I had the rare opportunity to administer the national penitentiary, the New Bilibid Prison, a premier penal facility situated in Muntinlupa City, four times on interval basis. The first was short lived. There was no way for me to have a continuous term because of certain conflicts I had with the prison leadership, the Director of Corrections. Once, I suggested to my lieutenants that I intend to abolish all gangs. My attempt reached my superior. The Director was not pleased. Abolishing gangs may entail violence and trouble; something which may trigger a security nightmare, a matter unwanted by the prison director. It was delicate operation and administration never wanted to rock the boat, so to speak. All prison leadership wished was for a stable and a quiet administration of all penal establishment. Besides, if prison administration was into some kind of a transaction, the more silence it would demand to its constituency. I was relieved instead.
In another occasion when I was again ordered to take command of the penitentiary, another incident would spark a disagreement. I was designated as penitentiary superintendent but was never allowed to take charge. I would merely be there at the sideline, governing how the custodial and security personnel are deployed and nothing more. I would just follow the succeeding Director and if at all something unfortunate will happen, I presumed that I would just be made as scapegoat. I resented the arrangement. Either I run the facility or stay outside the loop of the organization. I was again relieved for not being a stereotype follower. Initiative in government was always viewed with suspicion and on the whole, seen as a crime. So out goes my planned program as a prospective initiative and it goes without saying that I must look for a corner, something inconsequential to spend my time on floating status.
It was during these period in my career that I began to reinvent my concerns. From an active administrator to a sedate analyst. Subsequently, I started to write a series of references which later I published into books. I would also venture into lectureships in criminal justice administration and dabble in consultancy.
My third term was the shortest at six months. Barely I could flex institutional muscle when I would again be relieved for performing the role as prison superintendent. Doing so means that the Director of Corrections would not have any function at all. Directors are political appointees and as such would presume that they are all in charge of the New Bilibid Prison, not knowing that NBP is just one of the seven prison and penal farms in the country. What makes NBP different is not the population alone (it houses almost 55% of 30,000 prisoners in the whole agency), but the fact that the office of the Director of Corrections lay mainly within the administration building of NBP. All Directors for that matter must exercise hands-on and whoever was chosen Superintendent of NBP must be contented as cheer leader. Worst, if there should be a blunder in the course of administration, the NBP Superintendent carries the burden of misadministration. I was again sent to the freezer. There was no room for anything impressive. Silence was the name of the game.
My fourth term was literally insignificant. I have been subdued by years of pressures and pursuing my earlier moves might instigate misunderstanding. I merely played according to what was intended by the prison leadership. No more initiative, no more stellar performance, just coasting along. Until I grew tired and requested to be replaced. I would rather stay at the background and revert to literature, writing books instead. Going into lectureship was more rewarding since I was given stipend several times higher than my take home pay. Less work, more rewards. Less pressure, more leisure. Scholarship was to be preferred than to be at logger heads with my superior. I would rather commit on paper what an ideal prison facility is than pursuing it and threatened in the process. (When I got back my command years later and was instructed to pioneer a correctional facility, I began to rummage my notes and transformed my concepts into a workable system. The correctional institute for women in Mindanao, is a concept transformed into a reality.)
Whenever my peers would tease me on terms at NBP which was never completed, my expression would always be the same. “Sa NBP, walang ibang sumisikat kung hindi ang araw lang!” (In the penitentiary, no one is allowed to shine except for the sun!) An ordinary day at the helm of NBP was always a toss between excitement and dreariness. And who would not be excited to govern 20 thousand prisoners compressed in a few hectarage of confinement facilities. And to think that here is a place considered the most dangerous sector of our society. I would even indulge a researcher when I was asked how it felt to manage the prison community with the following challenge. I would express: “As soon as you wake up in the morning, you count 20,000 and before retiring at night another count of 20,000. Try it just for one week without let up.” That to me in simple term is one way of describing the responsibility of handling and maintaining the prison community. And I would interject another mathematical proposition with the following statement: “In the maximum security wing, there are 12, 000 prisoners guarded on three shifts by an average number of 50 prison officers. Allow the 20,000 prisoners not to commit violence but merely to sit on the 50 guards, and I will tell you that one or more of the guards sat upon may die of asphyxiation. “
At NBP, like in any penal facility in the countryside, work is a form of sacrifice. One must forego intimacy with his family and even to the large extent, must be ready to give up his values and sanity. The prison community is a marginal environment which is the opposite of the free community. One must have the patience of a philosopher, the fortitude of a warrior, the serenity of a sage, the endurance of an Olympian and the vigilance of a dreamer. One does not succeed in this kind of environment. There is only one grand effect of coming through and that is merely to survive after a day’s immersion.
In between my assignment and command duties, I would sit down to review how prison administration has progressed, not only in the country but all throughout the world. Technology has made it easy for anyone who wanted to compose a scholarly on a specific field. The cyberspace is a great place to download ideas and materials. And so, I hop from one concern to another and it is indeed a course not only in adjustment but more on making one’s time profitable to government service.
Prison service, for all there is to it, is a test for survivors, nothing more.