WHAT TO DO WITH PRISONERS WHO ARE INNOCENT OF CRIME
Dr. Raymund Narag was just fortunate. This according to his testimony. He was charged with a murder case in 1992, an incident that brought to the fore issues on fraternity violence and he was one among several young men —all members of the UP Scintilla Juris Fraternity—who were immediately clamped in jail for the alleged felony.
Seven years later, (that is right, 7 years) the court handed down a decision clearing Narag of the offense while his co-accused bore the burden of serving time for the crime committed. After the decision was promulgated, all his accused were subsequently transferred from Quezon City jail to the National Penitentiary to serve time.
Raymund came back to his Alma Mater (UP Diliman) to receive honors and diploma as scholar and cum laude at the UP NCPAG where he completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration.
Thereafter, he continued his quest for more academic degrees and went to US to further pursue graduate studies. He was admitted as a instructor in Michigan University where he also earned his Masteral and Doctorate in the School of Criminal Justice and lately, moved and became a member of the faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He kept his linkage with Philippine learning institutions and occasionally would return to the country to pursue consultancy work.
Last July 11, 2013 on invitation of the Bureau of Corrections, as sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, he was tapped as resource speaker on the formulation of an ideal prison facility. For him, it was an ironic exposure.
Sometime ago, he was a detainee in congested Quezon city jail for seven years. He would have been inside the Penitentiary with his fellow frat brothers had he not been acquitted. In front of prison officers, he laid down one principle after another on how to design and administer a penal institution. He knows whereof he speaks. He was for sometime a denizen and now as expert after continuing with postgraduate research on life behind bars.
During his lecture, he remarked that those of his co-accused who were sentenced to serve time in the Penitentiary are, like him, also innocent of the charges. He said in all those times he visited them, he advised that “you came in clean, you must go out clean also.” That, according to him, is the mark of innocence.
For him, criminal justice in the country, without even mentioning it though, is paradoxical. And they are not alone. For quite sometime, regular releases in penal establishments include cases of acquittal too after a lengthy period of incarceration. Thespian Berting Labra, after 16 years in Death Row was released after the Supreme Court decided on his innocence. Hubert Webb is another. After 19 years, he was released after the High Court was not convinced on his guilt. And more. Countless inmates who have not appealed also are serving time for no reason at all!
There are administrative remedies. Those incarcerated and were acquitted are qualified to seek redress and compensation from the Department of Justice under the victimology (victim assistance) program. The Commission on Human Rights also is championing through the courts compensatory reliefs by way of damages. But is it worth? A day in prison is a lifetime scar. It is an unthinkable and humiliating experience. It directly assaults the soul. However, one can only understand this within the purview of fate.
Innocents in prison? It is like a healthy person confined in the hospital, bombarded with prescription drugs, tested with numerous injectables, fed with salt less meals, checked and monitored almost every hour, garbed in dextrose and due for surgical transplant.