ILLEGAL DRUGS AND THE NATIONAL PENITENTIARY
It was in the early 2000s when the curse of illegal drugs dawned upon the grounds of the national penitentiary. This was the period when numerous convictions were made as a result of an invigorated campaign against illegal and dangerous drugs pursuant to a legislative measure, RA 9165 of 2002 (otherwise known as Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) . Countless offenders were hauled including a handful of foreigners mostly Chinese nationals. These foreigners were labeled drug lords and were initially given a separate dorm assignment in the maximum wing of the penitentiary.
How these inmates referred to as drug lords are treated depends upon the manner how the prison leadership would handle their security requirements. The so-called drug lords were favorite prey of gangs. They can easily be cowed and threatened, readily subservient, noticeably fearful.
Note that in the National Penitentiary, the top honcho is not the Penal Superintendent of NBP but the Director of Corrections himself. The Superintendent is merely a superficial officer directly in charge of designating security personnel in posting and manning duties. The principal responsibility of prison security is safekeeping of prisoners to prevent violence and escape. Security policy formulation depends upon the prison leadership. Prison officers are liable for insubordination in the event they pursue additional rules on the prison community unlike in penal colonies.
Prison officers constantly advice the appointed prison leadership with security formulations but it is prison leadership that decides whether to issue or not. Advises like restrictions on conjugal visitation, entrance of visitors, definition of contraband to include money, appliances and jewelry, entrance of food and commodities, repose mainly on the decision of the Director. Movement of prisoners and personnel are also governed by the discretion of Director. The Director’s decision making is hinged on the confirmation of the Secretary of Justice. So in effect it is the Secretary of Justice and the Director of Corrections are the ones directly supervising the entire management of the National Penitentiary.
There was even a time in the past during an awarding ceremonies for personnel and select officers when the Secretary of Justice was a recipient of a Plaque of Appreciation signed by all gang leaders of the national penitentiary. The acceptance of the Plaque indicated that gangs are to be respected and reckoned by prison officers.
Handling of prisoners and the treatment scheme in the national penitentiary rests squarely on the knowledge, expertise and adeptness of the appointed Director of Corrections.
The following, describes how the prison leadership conducts his administration in relation to the drug menace posed by inmates, gangs and the so called drug lords.
Prison Leadership and their administrative influence
2002- Col. Ricardo Macala (DOJ Sec. Hernando Perez) It was during this period or the term of erstwhile Lipa firebrand and former vice mayor and member of the Batangas politics, Col. Ricardo Macala, that the influx of drug convicts began to troop into the penitentiary. RA 9165 of 2002 was in full force. During that time, there was a specific area in the penal facility of the maximum wing of NBP where foreigners involved in drugs were marooned.
2003- Col. Ricardo Macala: Macala’s administration centered on pro-prisoner recreation programs to include sports and entertainment. Numerous karaoke machines were allowed to be brought in to encourage inmates to sing during their spare time. He was advised to segregate drug convicts but there was change in DOJ leadership (DOJ Sec. Hernando Perez got embroiled in a scandal and he was replaced) forcing Macala to tender his resignation.
2004- Doj Usec Ramon Liwag: Macala was replaced by DOJ Usec Ramon Liwag. Liwag’s short lived term merely affected technical transactions from catering to procedures in bidding and extensions of contracts. He never gave any penal related policy to guide prison officers. Prison security force only reiterated what has been defined during Macala’s time. That means the prison community were allowed various sports and recreational program to mushroom in almost all dormitories including the area for foreigners thereby opening the area for interdormitory interaction.
2005-Gen Dionisio Santiago (DOJ. Sec. Merceditas Gutierrez) When Gen. Santiago took over, prison security were at a stand still. They were all awaiting for policy instructions from the new director. By this time, foreigner inmates had rapport with other local inmates including exposures to gangs. Most Chinese inmates (labeled as drug lords) were requested by gangs to be transferred to their respective dormitories. Gang animosities and competition reared its violent head forcing prison leadership to separate foreign prisoners from the camp for relocation to penal facilities outside of NBP. Around 10 prisoners convicted of drug offense were transferred to Leyte Regional Prisons.
Gen Santiago felt that his effort in handling corrections was not appreciated. A portion of the NBP reservation —a security buffer—has been spliced in favor of NHA which was never communicated by way of information to him. Gen. Santiago resigned. Meanwhile, those inmates labeled as drug lords who were transferred to Leyte Regional Prison had found a way to be visited by their friends and colleagues whose influence had spread out in the vicinity. It was during this period that Leyte local politicians were lured into the drug business by a combined network of people visiting their inmate patron in Leyte Prison.
2006-Gen Vicente Vinarao (DOJ Sec. Raul Gonzales) Other remaining inmates involved in illegal drugs in the maximum wing and were found actively participating in illegal drug commerce through the gangs, visitors and their families were rounded up and segregated in a separate facility adjacent to the maximum wing of NBP theretofore understood as “supermax” because of its tight and highly restricted design. Gen Vinarao’s approach to contain the excesses of some inmates may be effected through isolation.
Gen. Vinarao recalled those transferred in penal colonies back to NBP. By then, those who were transferred back had already organized a network in various municipalities in the local town.
2007- Gen Vicente Vinarao: Meanwhile, gangs took over where the drug lords left in NBP and had already infiltrated the drug business using their territorial networks in the free community as trading centers. Gang leaders were rounded up and transferred to various penal facilities, to Iwahig, San Ramon and Leyte to break the cycle of drug commerce. While illegal drug circulation in NBP was reduced, illegal drug enterprise in penal colonies rose and expanded in its operation as a consequence. Gen Vinarao could have rectified the situation but he was replaced.
2008-Gen Ricardo Dapat: Gen Dapat spent his first three months, much like newly appointed Directors in the past, reviewing the profile of the agency. During Dapat’s administration, his concentration was more in the technical review of cases of celebrity prisoners. While the drug problem in penal colonies were already posing a problem, Gen. Dapat’s attention was lured towards the petition of various groups and lawyers on the status of inmate Manero (whose service of sentence has been completed but the Church was still interposing its objection on his release), the status of Aquino-Galman case and the eventual release of former Congressman Jalosjos.
Gen Dapat could have addressed the brewing illegal drug trade in the prison colonies but he was dragged into the Jalosjos release caper which cost him his relief and replacement.
2009- Gen Oscar Calderon: The former PNP chief found himself at the cross roads of a drug infested albeit congested facility and a period of learning how to grasp institutional problems. Like his predecessors who were more trained in combat (as PMAers and achieved the rank of Generals), his approach was mechanical. He required the construction of additional facilities to solve the overcrowding problem. Calderon offered that infrastructure more than security was needed to rectify the problem obtaining in the penitentiary and in other penal colonies. He also started exploring legislative means to upgrade the correctional agency. He has as yet to evaluate if his approach is effective, he was replaced. He was an appointee of GMA and the PNoy administration replaced him immediately.
It was under Calderon’s leadership that the future law (RA 10575) will be formulated. He organized a unit under his office to conduct a study and draft a legislative proposal for the improvement of corrective services in the country. He was however replaced and his proposal was paralyzed.
2010- Gen Ernesto Diokno; PPA Manuel Co; NBI Asst director Rafael Ragos: Diokno’s term was abbreviated when the Leviste case blew on his face. He has as yet to check the profile of prison management when he was haunted by pressure groups headed by media until he was forced to resign. PPA Manuel Co assumed for a while. Co was still reviewing the reports when he was replaced by NBI Deputy Rafael Ragos. The problem of drug in NBP and Leyte came to his attention. He followed the same approach made before by transferring inmates involved in drugs in NBP to Sablayan Penal Colony. He was still reviewing the effects of the transfer when he was replaced.
2011-Gen Gaudencio Pangilinan (DOJ. Sec. Leila Delima): Gen Pangilinan’s administration continued the approach of Gen Calderon in dealing with institutional problems. He pushed a program for the improvement and renovation of various institutional facilities. He even formulated a road map for the agency to fulfill in 10 years’ time (through Bucor Road Map 20-22). He renovated the NBP administration edifice and made it a prestigious facility worthy of note.
Former Director Calderon’s legislative study for a new law on corrections was revived during this term. Director Pangilinan further enhanced the statutory references to include his Road Map into the legislative formulation.
2012- Gen Gaudencio Pangilinan: It was also under his administration that he allowed the renovation of prison facilities to be initiated by gangs. It was a period of a self-imposed cleanliness and beautification campaign among prisoners. Construction of additional structures was noted during this period. There was no violence and the entire maximum wing had witnessed almost a total facelift. It was during this term when PNoy and DOJ officials conducted their official visit of NBP and were treated to an instructive inspection of a reconditioned facility. The prison leadership’s aggressive posture in refurbishing offices and impressive display of expensive reconstruction projects however caused a media stir which later evolved into an issue of scandalous proportion. Charges on questionable deals and contracts marred the administration. As a consequence, the Director was relieved and replaced.
2013- Gen Franklin Bucayu: The structural restoration during the previous administration was also as a period when there were noticeable excesses. “Kubols” made of quality materials were discovered to have been constructed indicating “VIP” accommodation. Gen. Bucayu inherited long years of security negligence until gang competition for superiority becomes the order of the day. Gen Bucayu spent three months of correctional immersion before he could determine the proper approaches. In three months’ time (average period a new director learns the rope, so to speak), gangs had made adjustments and had started to mount their initiation on the new appointee. A baptism of fire is usually projected in terms of deaths, violence, escape attempts and rumors of riots.
It was at this period when RA 10575 has been signed into law by the President. Bucor was directed to submit its references to DOJ for the drafting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for the law’s immediate application.
2014- Gen Franklin Bucayu: There was increment of prison deaths and violence. A truce among warring and competing gangs were called. An inventory of newly constructed facilities including numerous gadgets were determined. Regular shakedowns were implemented and security restrictions imposed. “Kubols” were taken down and made into regular prison cells. Most of these structures were transformed into art workshops, classrooms, libraries, barbershops—-to encourage inmates to gain a skill and skip vices. These Activity Centers were also organized to lure inmates away from gang related activities that border on illegal drug use and other vices. Prison leadership recommended for the mass transfer of inmates to penal colonies to rectify overcrowding and illicit activities as follow through to earlier recommendation. To bolster the move to decentralize prison population, the prison leadership recommended for a massive shakedown on the maximum security facility by a DOJ Composite team which revealed excesses by prisoners.
A composite team led by DOJ conducted a shakedown on the maximum security wing of the penitentiary and crack down on contrabands and other prohibited items.
Gang leaders and those identified as “drug lords” were bundled up and transferred to NBI detention facilities. Threats flew thick and wide.
Prison administration and DOJ were confronted by media on the effect of the shakedown and made to explain their findings. Unable to satisfy public bashing, prison leadership handed over his resignation.
2015- Gen Ranier Cruz (Doj Sec. Alfredo Caguioa) Under Cruz administration, he continued with the regular shakedown and gave it a crusading lapel “Oplan Galugad.” And the crusade, emboldened by a successful yield of various contrabands became periodic and almost a daily security affair. Media has been furnished with blow by blow account. The shakedown consumed much of security time and yielded almost the same number of contrabands leading towards a questionable process that seems to replicate the same activity over and over again. The effort looked like an amusing cycle and recycling although media has cast a doubting appreciation of the activity.
Those inmates previously detained in NBI has been transferred back to NBP and safely kept in a newly reconstructed segregation facility at the back of the maximum wing. Despite continued raid and shakedown, contrabands were still smuggled in.
2016- Gen Ranier Cruz (DOJ Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre) Gen. Cruz was replaced by PNP Chief Superintendent Rolando Asuncion. Under the new dispensation, around 100 elements of SAF took over the security ring of NBP maximum security camp and around 200 prison officers sent to PNPA in Camp Vicente Lim for a two week re-orientation course.
2016- OIC Rolando Asuncion (DoJ Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre)
National Issues and the Prison Service
Ironically, the Prison Service has grabbed national attention when it was bruited out that illegal drugs are manufactured inside the prison camp. Accordingly, there is even a tunnel where high grade drugs are mixed and processed. In that, imprisoned drug lords can still manage the distribution and circulation of the drug trade with impunity inside the confines of their well-furnished prison cells through high definition and state of the art cellular phones. There were information leading to a network where druglords were given protection by police generals, local government executives and cabinet functionaries.
Lately, there was even a so called drug matrix indicating that illegal drugs are smuggled inside prison from Northern Luzon.
While all these impressions, excesses or products of negligence can be handled effectively through regular shakedowns which security administration has pursued, tapping media to create a stir and expose the prison community to public hatred and ridicule to get publicity traction is already, in the estimation of reasonable play, unfair and uncalled for.
Furthermore, everyone in the correctional service was primed to be judicious because of the recent passage of the Anti-torture Act (of 2009). RA 9745 (Anti-torture Act of 2009) recognizes torture as a separate crime and provides a number of important guarantees to aid torture survivors seeking redress. To be at the other end of prison hatred and complaint is a career ending option for officers.
Yet despite security advice to maintain the privacy and sanctity of personal lives of inmates if at all it will be shown for public viewing and aggravation, prison leadership along with DOJ administration has decided to light the fuse of controversy by exposing to the world through media the personal demons of the prison community. All kinds of negative impressions circulated as hell broke loose. Suddenly, the world hated ALL prisoners for the excesses of a few. Suddenly, the entire agency became the butt of jokes.
Lately, it has even made as a scenic background to charge a former high government official, a Cabinet official no less, playing footsie with drug traders. A case of drag to riches, or from obscurity to electricity. When the Secretary of Justice and the Director of Corrections was advised properly that exposing the prison community and its rotten effects to the world is impertinent as it would merely affect also adversely the innocent, the appetite for 15 minute fame could not be ignored. Good or bad publicity is publicity. Whoever would do that, as the belief goes; it would be some kind of a highlight and talk of the town. The advisers of the Secretary of Justice to go to the jugular and reveal the rotten prison system of a specific corner would make a projection of her as savior and therefore may spike her name recall as soon as the bell of election campaign starts to ring.
Well, hell broke loose. Speculation flew thick from everywhere. The prison agency was besieged with memes and unforgiving attacks and humiliating insults. The impression that prison was five star hotel and a high end hub of inmates, that the facility has become a community fit for the royalty, with giant TV screens, Jacuzzi bath, perfume, stacks of cash, firearms, illegal drugs constantly flowing to the merriment of the entire prison population. That was what was projected and the Secretary of Justice and her staff were there to expose and stop it. It was a mere stain in the entire fabric but the impression it created was a collective blemish on the entire curtain.
After the usual congratulatory tap on the shoulder by media among those who figured in the raid comes the succeeding query. People has begun to ask how come DOJ allowed what has been cursed, like the proliferation of drugs, to go unchecked during the period of their term. How come druglords can still lord it over and seek protective assurances, even privileges, from their guardians? Why are druglords virtually allowed to conduct their nefarious business even if they are supposed to be recluse? There are numerous questions, institutional problems which have already been resolved through legislation. Congress and eventually the national leadership issued RA 10595 otherwise known as the Bureau of Corrections Act of 1913.
Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013
RA 10595 is the prescribed medicine that could cure what ails Bucor. It was passed by Congress in 2012 and was approved by the President in 2013. The law studied seriously all the issues that afflict the correctional system from congestion to contraband control, from prison movement to personnel administration, so on and so forth. Had it been implemented, there would have been no scandal that would rock a significant sector in the criminal justice administration. Instead of applying the new law, it got snagged. It merely staggered on the corridors of power. People who are supposed to be knowledgeable in translating the law into real terms could not get their acts together. Instead of curing what afflicts the system, they merely exposed it to the world.
And rightly so, the world responded with shock. Issues which were discussed in the halls of Congress which merited the drafting of a legislative measure were once again in the limelight, this time in the raw. Corrections has been seen as terribly sick. But of course it is. That is the reason why Congress and the President issued the law, RA 10575. How come, three years and several whacking incidents, controversies and humiliating situations against a government agency later, the law is still in limbo, is beyond everyone’s imagination.
Bucor Act of 2013 intends to solve a major challenge in corrections but it is never implemented at all. It is as if exposing the ills, uncovering defects, baring controversies and divulging rotten practices could provide a cleansing process to a system. By ignoring or bypassing the law (RA 10575) we merely rejoice at seeing an ailment proceed from chronic stage towards its fatal end.
Just like in a pseudo hospital setting. A sick person is never given a medication. And when he turns to worse, the nurses and attendants are blamed.
It is hoped and fervently prayed that government should apply the law, RA 10575 (or revise it if it does conform to partisan or political policy) or amend it if not totally change it altogether. We know for a fact that prison administration is stale and defective. We cannot treat and restore to good health without medication or legislative intervention. That precisely is the reason why RA 10575 has been issued. We cannot succeed in the mandate of correctional administration by blaming everyone or hope for miraculous assistance.
But first things first. The prison leader, he who knows more and he who knows best, must be adhered to because he must implement whatever the law says. And the law is just waiting for its implementation.