TRANSFERRING THE NATIONAL PENITENTIARY
ON THE MATTER OF TRANSFERING THE NATIONAL PENITENTIARY
…to another site outside of the Metropolis
Sometime in 1940 during the Commonwealth period, there was a move to decongest the Old Bilibid Prison. It was also the year when construction began on what would later be known as the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in the outskirts of Manila, further south near the boundary of Laguna province, a part of Rizal province then, within the Muntinlupa estate. In the early 80s, the final transfer of all insular prisoners would be completed and the Old Bilibid Prison would be decommissioned from its use. (The vacated facility became a haven of squatters and virtually the enclave of pickpockets and illicit trade in Quiapo area—along Recto Avenue. A portion would be occupied the city central market on one side and the Manila City Jail on the other.)
NBP started full operation in 1945, a perilous period and at the height of Philippine involvement in World War II. It would become a Japanese garrison and later would be the confinement area of war criminals, prisoners of war and collaborators. In the 50s, the penitentiary would also be the detention facility for political prisoners and in the 60s would be a hotbed of the most violent riots ever recorded in prison history.
When Manila expanded its demographic activity and would become a central metropolis, the adjoining cities and municipalities—including Muntinlupa (then a municipality and now a city) on the southern side of Manila—high-end subdivision sprouted like mushroom enveloping the prison reservation of New Bibilid Prison on all its flanks. In 2005, a serious move was conducted to determine the feasibility of transferring NBP to another site outside of Metro Manila area. Several options were studied. Several sites were offered. Several teams dispatched to conduct a study. The transfer program however came at a time when national economy has as yet to get its bearing properly organized. In other words, the budget for the transfer of the penitentiary became an overarching consideration to overcome. It has been estimated that construction of a penal facility that would absorb the twenty thousand prison population of NBP requires a minimum of 20 Billion pesos (and this was in 2006).
That amount to be sought from Congress at that volatile time was already tantamount to asking the legislature to commit a political sepukku. Besides, Congress was predisposed to grant said financial appropriation provided that it would create revenues to government. Funding the construction of barangay road which means advancing the cause of farm-to-market traffic flow would increase productivity and therefore more revenues for government operation. Building prison facilities on the other hand, spending almost the same cost, would never realize any return-of-investment scheme, well, except for the fact that the prison reservation would not stand out as a sore finger among the rows of exclusive subdivision in the area.
In 2007, the transfer of NBP to another site determined by the DOJ composite team (composed of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council or HUDCC, DENR, DOJ, NHA, BuCor) fizzled out (due to a series of changes in DOJ leadership and eventually after another shift in the national leadership) and as a belated response to a pending matter after an executive order of PGMA was issued slicing a part of the NBP Estate in favour of government subdivision plans. To date, the western portion of NBP prison reservation was released in favour of NHA for said purpose. The remaining part still subsist and an active reservation area utilized and under the management of BuCor.
In 2008, HUDCC through its housing program spearheaded by NHA built a relocation site for those living along the railroad tracks. A 50 hectare land was effectively deducted from NBP reservation and a low cost housing organized. This was followed by the subsequent development and occupancy of some 78 hectares in favour of DENR and the Office of the President.
In 2009, a major alternative road spliced the entire prison reservation to create a detour link for the exclusive and high end subdivision coming from Cavite and Las Pinas as an access thoroughfare into the South Luzon Expressway. The middle part of the prison reservation became a passage way and virtually opened to vehicular traffic as it was likewise exposed to all subdivision and relocation sites within the vicinity. Suddenly, without the awareness of the proponents in the housing program and without even realizing their gullibility, the civilian community and the subdivision where their relatives would find their respective residence, became in effect vulnerable escape routes in the event of a prison upheaval. The area they have occupied and presently undergoing development is precisely the security buffer of the prison community. Any violent spill over without the buffer would literally expose anyone on its fatal consequences. (A situation happened at Camp Bicutan when around 3,000 prisoners led by renegade detainee Commander Robot sparked a violent riot where several inmates died. During the conflagration, the Camp and its environs shook to its foundation and extending several kilometres from the area, the violence would be felt up into the Expressway. And in said detention camp there only 3,000 detainees. What we are concerned is the plight of 20,000 convicted prisoners in NBP compacted in a space without a security buffer anymore.) It is like building a vacation house along the shoreline where tsunamis are constantly imminent. The proponent for the housing of DENR and the Office of the President, knowingly or unknowingly, must be that recklessly hurried to say the least.
In 2010 onwards, construction of subdivision roadways has been at a high point and only a few phases are left before the housing structures are built and eventually awarded. In 2011, as follow through to this development, another attempt to pursue the transfer of NBP has been organized. As a matter of fact, it is a regular feature in every prison administrator’s policy program to commit itself in the process of rebuilding the penitentiary in another site. This time around, the prospective recipients of the NBP estate housing courtesy of the executive order realize that there is wisdom in transferring the prison facility outside of their jurisdiction. It is akin to realigning the waves so that no tsunami would hit them.
As it were, the site where the penitentiary is to be moved has as yet to be ascertained. Worst, Congress is not warm in appropriating funds unless it is convinced on the wisdom of the transfer. (Note that for the last 30 years no legislative resolution or laws were passed relative to prison affairs.) If at all the funds to be divine would come from sales of the NBP estate, at most it could only translate to a facility which could accommodate a fraction of the prison population. Assuming that in concrete terms, a site has been determined and that fund are available; the construction of the facility would take a minimum of 5 years to complete. And this is only for the migration of 25% of the prison population. The security tsunami still lurks within the corner.
Transferring the national penitentiary with such volume to transport is not a joke. It is a serious business which should be conducted with utmost care. While it would greatly benefit correctional administration, the cost however is very prohibitive. Never mind the displacement of personnel, the inconvenience of officers and the process of starting from scratch, the prison community will be re-ordered according to a set of proper arrangement. The virtual violent traps which have been built by the prison community to conform to illicit activities will be removed. Discipline from all the ranks will dawn in a new environment. Prison administrators will finally be able to conduct the appropriate correctional regime necessary in running the system. There will be fairness in the application of rules. Corrections will have achieved its proper calling. And further on, those (DENR and OP stakeholders) who were lucky to have been awarded a piece of lot in NBP will have a gracious future to bank on without fear, without terror, and without the trepidation of a sudden uprising in their midst.
But of course, before going into the motion of entertaining an administrative desire, the practical requirements ought to be within reach. Is there an area where transfer can be conducted? (If so, where is it? There are several sites singled out but none as yet has been ascertained. ) Are there funds for the purpose? (If so, where is it guaranteed?) These are two basic components to be realized as upfront in any serious endeavour. As it were, prison administration whether we like it or not is never a priority policy requiring serious executive and legislative, much more so, judicial consideration as long as poverty, homelessness, unemployment have as yet to be taken care of by national government. The efficiency of correctional administration lies at the very heart of a disciplined and flourishing society. Advanced countries experience the same challenges we are also confronted with. (Reference to an article “Prison Condition Around the World” at http://www.philippineprisons.com). But transferring facilities is the least solution to correctional problems.
If at all there is a political requisite or exigency (although this has been a wish since the incumbency of then President Ferdinand Marcos; the same wish has been carried over to the succeeding presidents—except President Cory Aquino— up to the present.) to transfer correctional administration, it should never be aimed at the facility but rather on the prison community to start with. There are five prison and penal farms in the country where 15 thousand prisoners may be farmed out. The mathematics of transferring prisoners may be formulated in this manner: 2,500 can be transferred to Sablayan Prison; 2,000 to San Ramon Prison; 1,000 to Leyte Prison; 5,000 to Iwahig and 5,000 to Davao Prison. The remaining 5,000 in the former strong 20,000 prison population of NBP will be retained for purposes of a diagnostic program. As far as the Correctional Institution for Women is concerned, since there was a pressing need by the DSWD to recover its land occupied by CIW, the NBP Minimum Camp (otherwise known as Depot) squarely fit for its use. (The excess population especially those from the Visayan and Mindanao, may be transferred to the CIW Mindanao.) The personnel complement will have to be divided accordingly and it goes without saying, the proper budgetary allocation too. On this score, NBP or what remains after the area has been reduced accordingly will stay as it was. NBP as a facility will be decommissioned. It is as it should be the site for BuCor Central Office and the gateway for its technical or diagnostic division; on top of the fact that it is also in charge of a historical monument, symbol of the country’s correctional system and headquarters of correctional policy formulation. If this should be the outline of the transfer program, it would only take a year to conduct with minimum appropriation to expend.
Options however are still available and the transfer of NBP/CIW still in the works.