The Case of an Honest Prison Leader
THE SCORE IN THE CASE AGAINST PRISON LEADERSHIP
The National Penitentiary was in frenzy for renovation. The filthy corners, the spoiled and soiled looks, the dingy pathways and unmaintained nooks had to give way for upgrading. Prestige must begin somewhere. The new Director of Corrections (Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan) wanted to promote a good projection for corrections and the rusty look must have to go. In the process, he must have to overcome lethargy and conservatism, indifference and indolence, sluggishness and stupor if only to bring to the fore the real corrective outlook of the agency. Further on, the new prison leader does not like any hanky panky, fraud, corruption; everybody must have to toe the line. It was an unsettling scenario for those used to receiving some form of pay-offs. But every irregularity must have to banish.
For a while, the path of righteousness has been defined. The military man at the helm was having a grand time pushing what could have been a dedicated crusade against government inaction and apathy. Yet he, wittingly or unwittingly, has already declared a war and the battle lines were almost defined. A singular event would have sparked a minute explosion but it could turn into a conflagration if left unattended. And then it happened. An affected officer went beyond his usual griping, having nothing to squeeze from transactions, until he packed some incomplete documents as evidence and raised hell in media. It was a make or break affair for him. If he succeeds, then the usual shakedown from transactions will be revived; that is, the leader is sent somewhere outside of the agency. If he fails, then back to hiding, or to the frying pan, whichever, as they say, revolution swallows its own children. He was of course backed up by the usual suspects in the transaction halls of the agency and he has nothing to lose. As it were, he may even be gaining some material assistance already.
Media picked up what could have been a piece worthy of sensationalism. It would be a hot copy. The prison leadership is a political appointee and he would be a grand piece of headline to shake the political leadership. Never mind if the accusations were all incorrect, the point was, the public could relish on something worth their dreary days. And as if on cue, almost instantly, news was all over. The integrity of the prison leadership has finally been brought on the slide of the microscope and the public was excited for some scandals.
Suddenly, the prison leadership was stalled from his crusade. He must have to account himself from the expose slapped on him. He must have to come clean. Never mind if the one accusing him came from a sully source, he must have to be lily white to deserve public sympathy. Prison reforms therefore must have to pause to give way to explanation. The Department of Justice must have to investigate to ascertain the issue. Never mind if its trivial, never mind if it is a plain gripe, never mind if it is inconsequential. The point is that the issues which has grabbed prime time news are addressed and ventilated accordingly.
And so, or quite eventful, the DOJ in a move calibrated to smooth the feathers of an excited media, came up with a fact finding panel and the prison leadership is called to explain. He must have to account for every evidence submitted, never mind, if it came from a polluted source, the so called poison tree, or from elsewhere. The point is, the prison leader must slow down, stop formulating improvements and if necessary just to submit himself for the inquiry. That is how government is. It must be given a way, sensitive as it were, on every question to be laid down. Well, again, never mind if service grounds to a halt. Never mind the distractions. Never mind if progress is waiting. The noisy crowd, a handful of them, must be appeased. That is also what is happening in national government when it is attacked by a few disgruntled groups. That is what is meant by insurgency. That is what is meant by decadence. In this situation, a localized version, it is that which is already obtaining. Yet the prison leader must have to attend, leave his post if necessary, ignore the changes and reforms he is crusading for a while and allow him to be subjected to scrutiny.
The panel has started its probe. And the prison leadership along with his staff was huddled into the conference room. Questions were asked. Documents were shown. It is not a trial yet; the inquiry is more on understanding and ascertaining the facts. In other words, there are no sub judice rule violations to be reckoned at the moment. There is no case to speak of but there is already some semblance of it.
And the inquiry goes on. There are receipts to be studied, materials which came from nowhere. There are transactions to be analyzed. There were allegations imputed but there is no clarity of purpose. It has been bannered that the prison leadership has abused his post. He merely ordered what in government is inconceivable: No Drugs, No Bribes, No Fraternization. He reordered correctional administration and this caused a lot of discomfort in an agency known for its ultra conservatism. He defined in clear terms his intention to bring prestige in a blighted prison environment. But he used his military orientation and in a civilian outfit used to something unstructured, this is unthinkable. Yet he made already a lot of inroads.
His work ethics is a terrifying schedule which any civilian agency would never wish to dawn upon them. He starts work at exactly 6 AM and leaves the office at 9 PM! A good 15 hours a day, daily including Saturdays and Sunday even holidays! He maintains that schedule from the date he assumed the post of Director up to the present, another good seven months, without let up. He is a nightmare as far as the regular 8 hour stretch of a bureaucrat and almost a curse as far as the lethargic environment of government service. No wonder, he is unpopular in some sectors but for the idealists in government, he is heaven sent.
As it were, the prison leader has already made an imprint, a lasting point. He improved the entire administrative infrastructure, office and systems in a period less than a year, what could have been a combination of several attempts made by other leaders, even if merged, since the agency was founded. I have worked with a number of prison directors in the past, some 15 of them in the course of my 35 years in the prison service and no one can measure up to the standards set by this leader. No one can even come close to the improvements he introduced. But what is even more enduring is his honesty and sincerity to reform the entire prison service, a quality never sustained even in the farthest corner of the bureaucracy.
I am lucky to be a part of such a historic episode, an event actually given the magnitude of its effect on the whole of corrective service in the country.