THE PROBLEM WITH CALLING A SPADE A SPADE
Senator Madam Miriam Santiago’s legislative proposal entitled “No Frills Act” essentially declares that incarceration should be plain and simple captivity. In her pronouncement, she believes that prisoners, even detainees for that matter, should spend time in a facility FOR punishment. Never mind the dictum “a person is imprisoned AS punishment and NOT FOR punishment.”
Senator Santiago was emphatic as she sounded, “These prisoners are supposed to be experiencing punishment for their crimes, not taking a vacation. They are making a mockery out of the justice system by turning our jails into their own private resorts.” Had there been this law in operation during the time of Jose Rizal, there would have been no Dapitan at all.
In her estimation, all persons under custody of law should bear the brunt of pain of loneliness and seclusion. For her, spade should be called a spade. That is also what retribution is. The State must punish those who violated the law and it is not enough to segregate the offender, he should also suffer during the period of his servitude. Hence, she is advancing through a resolution that penal facilities should remain as it is, a mere confinement area.
For Senator Santiago, “It does not matter whether you’re a Johnny caught picking pockets or a Johnny charged with plunder. All detainees and prisoners whether common criminals or senators, should have the same accommodations.”
As such, inmates should never have television sets, radio and anything electronics. They should be isolated totally and deprived of anything that would spell out communications. Like all penal facilities, prisoners should be crammed in overcrowded camps, mixed in congested fashion and so what if faces would interchange in jam packed prison cells as long as their prison term is served, that would have served the purpose of judicial prescription.
Madam Santiago was a career trial judge before her political star rose. Her world view of prison is therefore understandable. She was a feared symbol of judicial competence. Her stature as an incorruptible government official made her reputation as a future leader. She could have been elected as President and made all Filipinos proud as a race. For the middle class, she was their “iron lady”, a Lee Kwan Yu, political savior, the mother of perpetual vigilance.
She detested mediocrity in whatever form. In the process, she earned a following (including me not because her sister is my best friend but because her ideals reflect those of mine too) and a number of detractors too. In a society that is shamelessly governed in a criminal way, she was an outsider, with a questionable mind. She was an outsider to her peers, a villain to most of her colleagues.
Recently, the feisty senator filed on February, 2014 Senate Resolution 525, urging the Senate to conduct a probe into the reported “extravagant lifestyle of rich prisoners and the double standard applied in treating inmates” at the NBP. This has been reported in media and whatever is projected in mass communication, oftentimes, is accepted as real and biblically true. Ironically, if the issue refers to those in power, media is always wrong.
Senator Santiago earlier filed the “No Frills Prison Bill” or Senate Bill no. 1759, proposing measures to prevent the favoured treatment for select inmates. The Bill was filed on October 2, 2013.
The Bill prohibits in-cell television viewing, unmonitored phone calls except with legal counsel and immediate family, possession of pornographic materials, less than 40 hours of work a week, use of computers and combat training equipment, among others to an inmate who already earned good behaviour credits. Accordingly, a prisoner serving a sentence for a crime of violence which resulted in serious body harm, the list of prohibitions is even more exhaustive. They are not allowed less than 9 hours a day of physical labor unless physically restrained to render work, leave prison premises for any purpose unless under handcuffs and constant escort of at least one armed officer, inter-prison travel for competitive sports, possession of personal property exceeding seventy five (75) pounds or what can be contained in a standard-sized bag, among others.
The Bill “aims to prevent luxurious conditions in prisons particularly for selected prisoners.” It was prompted by reports before when then prisoner, former Representative Romeo Jalosjos allegedly had his own personal bathtub at the NBP.
The Senator argued “How can there be justice in our correctional system when we have a double standard between the poor and rich inmates?”
Of course, under the air of corrections, there is a levelled playing field. If at all there was deference for those considered celebrity inmates, it is their fellow inmates that confer said adulation. The prison community has its respective atmosphere and culture only its denizens could express. For prison administration, all inmates are plain statistics. The Bill “No Frills Prison Act” must sit well in a well-funded penal facility where every correctional standard on space and program are observed, where prison officers are provided for with upgraded professional compensation, regular security and technology based instruments, where judicial decisions are perfected and no errors committed as in releasing inmates after years of incarceration because of acquittal. Further more, correctional administration should be a career consideration without any political contemplation.