WHAT NOW PRISON?
It is refreshing to note that a military officer has transformed the central office of the Bureau of Corrections into a world class facility. It’s a truism that changes and reforms must have to start somewhere. If it could not be conducted through programs or through the performance of its officers, at least it could be reflected through the facilities utilized by officers and inmates alike. As it were, the main administration office of the agency is a spanking edifice reflective of discipline, integrity and vigilance: a quality which the prison roadmap has determined, a situation which all serious students of corrections wished for.
But the military campaign to literally transform the entire prison service would stall. There are people who are affected by changes and there will be resistance. It’s a struggle, a constant and relentless effort, to press what is necessary depending on one’s interests. There will be a force to push a concept or program and there will also be a countervailing force to neutralize it. It’s a cycle, a never-ending process in prison. No one becomes a hero, a performer worth admiring in the pursuit of reforms in correctional administration. As the saying goes, “ang sumisikat lang sa bilibid ay araw!” (No one shines in prison except for the Sun!)
It’s a pity that Reverend James Lee, a Korean national but a Filipino at heart, has transferred to Pangasinan—the haven of milkfish production. Well, according to the kind minister, he merely took a respite. He never left prison actually but only showed a friend in the beginning that he can perform Christian charity work even if it means to visit prisoners for a day. That visit would encourage him to stay longer to preach the Good News to a sceptical community. Before his prison ministry, he had a congregation founded in Northern Luzon and he merely joined a Filipino friend who wished to visit a relative in prison. He accompanied his friend as they trek Muntinlupa in search of an inmate. They found the inmate-relative and found also the situation worth a challenge. In a few months, Reverend Lee was in the midst of the maximum security compound engaging the hardened community to an exploration of faith.
Reverend Lee is a respected prison evangelist who advocated Christian principles among prisoners in the National Penitentiary. (After graduating from a course on theology in USA, he chose the Philippines to be his mission site—and why not? The Philippines is a tropical country compared to Korea with its unforgiving climate, where in a year, 9 months are winter.) In the Philippines, he would build temples for prisoners—his new found friends. And he would stay with them exhibiting an example of a true Christian missionary. His charity not only extends through material support but also staying close and representing the requirements of the prison community. He built temples in several prison farms, the first is situated in New Bilibid Prison, and then to Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm and the latest is at Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm. And the beauty of this charity work is that he is doing this without fanfare.
And then there are these groups of land speculators in Mindanao which chose Davao Prison and Penal Farm (Dapecol) as their target to promote their scam. The modus operandi of the group is to look for a developed area in the said penal farm, identify the boundaries, contract a subdivision planner and submit the plan to DAR. The group knows that DAR will never entertain such baseless activity but nonetheless would receive the document even if it would be thrown out later. The duplicate which would have a mark of “received” by DAR would now be used by these speculators in recruiting innocent farmers in remote areas to part with their small fortune in exchange for a cheap developed farm in Dapecol. And it is here where the social problem becomes explosive.
Those affected by the scam will have to seek intervention from their local political leaders and community elders. Instead of hunting for the speculators, the scam artists, they would rather join the victims in their quest to get a portion of the prison land for their own. That is where the conflict begins to complicate. While the victims, the farmer groups who were recruited and mulcted are about to face a blank wall; while the scam artists are all laughing all the way to the bank; community leaders and political stalwarts are breaking their heads on how to resolve the problem. It is high time to close rank to break the backbone of deceivers who victimize the farmers once and for all.
It has been said that New Bilibid Prison will have to be transferred somewhere. First, it was planned to be relocated at Laur, Nueva Ecija. A task force led by then DOJ Assistant Secretary (for Technical Affairs) Atty Teresita Domingo spent quite a considerable time and effort determining an area in Central Luzon planning and drafting a plan only to be met with a statement from the national leadership that there is no fund available for that purpose. This was during then President Ramos time. The relocation issue however did not die. As a matter for fact, it was passed on from one prison administration to the next.
To date, while there was an Executive Order issued by former President Arroyo (in 2006) identifying the area where NBP is to be relocated (in Cuyambay, Tanay, Rizal Province) it would also be set aside as one area which has no strategic value. Instead, another area would be identified as ideal. This is situated in Crow Valley, Nueva Ecija in Central Luzon. It is in the middle part of Luzon. Everything has been figured out from construction to funding, from transfer procedure to policy review. What is lacking however is the sincerity to make it happen. Sincerity is born out of a competent understanding on where to begin. DOJ through BuCor’s representation has initiated the correct approach—redistribution of prisoners. It is not the issue of transferring actually which is the ideal way but the redistribution process.
NOTES: The Facebook craze has caught up with most penal establishments. Davao Penal Colony, Iwahig penal Colony and Sablayan penal colony have their respective facebook accounts. Visit them and add them in your list of friend.
The DOJ Panel Report has as yet to reach the Office of the President for final review and disposition. The “report” circulating in media was only a draft. (The Witness Protection Program has provisionally allowed the complainant, Mr. Kabungsuan Makilala into its turf effective February 24, 2012.)
A group of professionals (composed of Ms. Rizaline Tesoro, Joane Davadilla and Jocelyn ) from Manila visited Davao Prison and Penal Farm and was impressed by the facility of the Correctional Institution for Women in Mindanao (CIW-M). Since they have visited also the world famous resort Pearl Farm, they thought that CIW-M facilities, its cleanliness and orderliness could match the resort’s maintenance!