NEW BILIBID PRISON IN MY MIND
The facade of New Bilibid Prison has been equated with imprisonment, whether it is featured in movies or in every documentary. It is situated in Muntinlupa city. Muntinlupa has become synonymous with incarceration, much like Mandaluyong for the mentally deranged for hosting the National Mental Hospital. Hence, the expression that one is to be sent to Muntinlupa means a person is to be penalized and imprisoned accordingly. NBP is the flesh and bones of the National Penitentiary and it has been there since the late 40s. Whenever there is dearth of news, it is always something in NBP that serves as filler since everything that revolves in the penitentiary is of human interest.
Previous to its establishment, then Bureau of Prisons was located in what is today the site of Manila City Jail along Recto Avenue, Manila. It was referred to as Old Bilibid Prison and considered the oldest penal facility antedating the oldest prison founded in Zamboanga (San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm) in 1872. Congestion in Old Bilibid Prison necessitated its transfer to a remote southern province south of Manila in what is today known as Muntinlupa, then a municipality of Rizal.
NBP occupied a 500 hectare rolling sprawl of hilly estate similar in size with that of University of Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. (Presently, around 200 hectares have been left after 50 hectares were allocated for informal settlers coming from colonies residing along the railway tracts; around 150 hectares were titled in favour of a government based subdivision—Katarungan Village 1 and 2; around 100 hectares were paved for the access road from Daang Hari to SLEX.) It was bought during the administration of President Manuel L. Quezon and was built for four years starting on the day of its procurement in 1940. The facility was completed in 1944 while the country was being bombarded during World War II. That explains the fact that NBP has been for a time a garrison station where the Japanese Imperial Army held their ground and had installed anti-aircraft cannons which nearly downed all military aircraft of the allied forces entering Manila as open city during the final confrontation.
In the mid 60s, NBP had seen the worst riots in the annals of corrective history. Gang wars became a staple of daily grind and deaths due to violence and cruelty were almost an ordinary routine. Violence mellowed but deaths continued at present to haunt correctional facilities not because of gang hostility but chronic ailments brought about by congestion.
NBP is also the site where the infamous death penalty execution chamber is located. Likewise, the central office of the Bureau of Corrections is co-located here where the Director of Corrections and division staffs hold their administrative posts.
At present, it has three imposing prison camps located a kilometre away from each other. There is the Maximum Security Compound, the Medium Security Camp and the Minimum Security Camp. The total number of inmates in the entire complex is 22,000. It has overshot the accommodation level of 10k. Hence, the congestion rate is almost 150%.
There have been a number of changes in the treatment of prisoners since the time of riots. There were a number of concessions undertaken including a progressive reformulation of rules that would govern the prison community and the security supervisory outlook.
The admission of political prisoners in the penal facilities triggered a lot of changes and their presence literally became the turning point in the observance of the human rights by prison custodial personnel. A number of compromises were also introduced including several privileges. The entry of visitors, the stretch of time afforded for families to stay with their inmate families literally reduced to zero any collective upheaval and group inspired violence. Instantly, riots became a historical relic.
Suddenly, the gloomy prison camp turned into a vivacious community breathing with hope and creativity. Despite the inhuman congestion obtaining inside the prison facility, there was relative ease of interaction brought about by an understanding corps of correctional officers and influx of visitors including a phalanx of volunteers directly from the ranks of the religious and the academe.
This blissful space however would be broken intermittently with the assumption of officers with varying moods in their bag of administrative artifice. While the inmates could adjust according to whatever rules are laid down, what they could not fathom are changes based on sentiments and moods. When these happen, there will be occasional trouble and complaints.
When I was directed to administer NBP (my fourth time actually), I tried to revive the space where inmates could easily breathe and move about. The theme of prison leadership was focused on welfare that prisoners should look up to prison administration as brotherly, as succour and as sanctuary. Since I could not physically expand their place because there were no funds to build additional facilities, I merely allowed the vertical exploration of space by inmates themselves. I tried to make life for the prison community less complicated as possible. There was only one rule I imposed: SUSTAIN PEACE, that is, no organized violence. From there, I virtually reckoned every creative expression they may submit, be it in arts, in music, in crafts, in technology, in education, in faith. If inmates were sworn to stay in the facility for years and must have to serve time in an overcrowded area, the most that I could offer is a period free from harassment, wholesome respect and a host of humane consideration. There was relative peace and collective harmony. That was NBP when for a limited time I reigned.