“PARE, NABANGGIT KA SA HEARING NG KONGRESO!”
It was a burdened and hurried sound from a close friend. And it was followed by more frantic calls from my children, peers, former staff, colleagues in the organization, neighbors, associates and even acquaintances. There were even hushed and soft whispers that have reached me.
The mere mention of one’s name in the Congressional hearing on drug trade, at a time when government is in the midst of war against illegal drugs, is like being shoved into a lion’s den; or, receiving an instant conviction from the bar of public opinion. Worst, just a mere mention of one’s name notwithstanding the context, whether positive or negative, is almost like being lumped into the heap of garbage no matter how fresh your integrity looks from a distance.
That (October 10, 2013)was the fourth (and final) hearing at the Committee of Justice in the House of Representatives featuring scandalous issues that border on drug trade and its titillating considerations and criminal backdrop. The entire episode of the hearing was virtually wrapped in thrill and suspense, revelation and exciting eye openers, comic relief and stubborn repartees, intelligent exchanges and to a lesser degree, moronic discussions. The whole nation was gripped with apprehension, expecting the best and the worst. In a culture that delights in humor mongering, the congressional probe has all the elements of a blockbuster teleserye of sort. For once, those who are fixated or have a penchant for humiliations and shame finally found an HD channel to indulge in.
And right at the middle of the legislative scuffle was the Bureau of Corrections—-my former organization. And the probe featured an almost all inmate cast as its main protagonists with a sprinkling of government officers among their collaborating voices. While the intention was to craft a legislative response to the unacceptable situation obtaining in the national penitentiary, the constant view however was more along the lurid details of how a former Secretary of Justice was linked to drug trade by benefiting directly from its criminal produce.
Momentarily, inmates were lined up and from their sworn affidavits and congressional immunity came a deluge of information, allegations and revelations, which prior to the congressional probe were merely amusing anecdotes and sad yet comic commentary on certain personalities. The allegations were not textbook averments. It is something unheard of in the corridor of democratic countries. Government functionaries in other countries were hailed in court for playing footsie with captains of industry, dancing indecently with power brokers, staking with high rollers in commerce but never, if at all it is possible, personally hobnobbing with high security risks prisoners, of all places, inside their prison cell!
In a country that delights on its self-inflicted records as one of its kind (sabi nga Onli in da Pilipins) hobnobbing can be forgotten as plain braggadocio. But if it entails benefiting from the act as in being provided with funds to oil one’s political ambition, then that is something the citizens would scowl. Teka! Pangit yan. Kinukuhanan mo ng pera ang bilanggo. Nakulong nga yan dahil kapos ang pera tapos tatanggap kayo ng milyon sa kanila. Hindi na maganda yan! Whether truthfully disclosed or pathologically a lie passed on as fact, it was never a good highlight. Even assuming that the visit had no financial attribute, everything smacks of suspicion. That explains the horrid response of taong bayan while watching the congressional proceedings unfold and divulge secrets from the depths of the prison community.
Names were mentioned and recorded. Those who figured into the dark alleys of drug trade in the penitentiary were slowly unveiled. DOJ officials, Bucor officials were repeatedly cited virtually sealing a truthful air into the assertions. Who cares if one is innocent as long as the picture is completed and a profile formulated so that Congress can craft another legislative piece and for law enforcement agencies to complete its groceries of charges for prosecution of those involved in the shenanigans.
Moving towards the final stretch while a witness a certain inmate Sebastian, a person whose persona was previously bashed and demonized with numerous charges, stood to make his own dissertation and take in the brewing controversy. His declarations were conducted effortlessly and unrehearsed, candid and offered without even batting an eyelash. He must be telling the truth! The problem however was that his affirmations were completely different from earlier testimonies which were noted and confirmed by the committee as gospel truth. Now where lies the truth given what has been disclosed? The marathon was conducted for 13 grueling hours without noon break and those at the end of the goggle-box promised and swore to hear more.
I have dutifully watched the proceedings from Days 1, 2, 3 well except that I was traveling and I could not monitor Day 4, the final reckoning so to speak. I was intent on every statement, the depositions and testimonies. I was one of the prison officials during those tumultuous period of prison history when all the shenanigans began to explode. I know that I will be called up to render my own perception as reference. But it seems like it was an inmate all-star production and the likes of me was already unwanted, tainted as it were by the stereotype that Bucor and all its elements could no longer be relied upon. Unfortunately, I was typecasted along with the whole shebang.
Unless, of course if the inmate-witnesses themselves would drag one’s name into the fray.
The last inmate witness did just that when he mentioned me in reference to a query if the inmate knew me. “Yes, your honor” said inmate Sebastian, “Kilala ko po si Super Tesoro, tinex nga niyan ako.”
“Ano naman ang text sayo?” a legislator asked.
“Ang sabi balang araw kikinang ka na parang ginto at titibay ka sa bakal na parang riles. Hindi ko nga maintindihan kung ano ibig sabihin niya your honor.”
A minute of lull came and another question was lodged. The interpellation went on for more hours, the grilling session seemed to be relished by representatives while Sebastian was having a splendid time enjoying his grand full day media exposure. People in his provincial hometown may have feasted on seeing their fair haired boy on prime television and on that day, Sebastian was a celebrity.
I remember those words. I have called for a security conference of all senior inmate helpers thrice inside the maximum wing of NBP and on each occasion; my opening statement was along that line which Sebastian narrated. I would heed the prison community that Imprisonment is a make or break affair. You commit another offense, you perish. You make good, you are made. Those who are made will survive and not only that. They will be like forged iron and eventually will glisten more like gold and their strength more than the railway steel.
Sebastian may have received information on what my instructions were. Inmates, like ordinary students, would merely take note on opening statements of their teachers and would forget everything. The attention span of people nowadays were not as expansive like those of their elders. Actually, the text message was nothing. He was baiting the Congressmen that I am aware that he has a cellphone. He may have intentionally said that so that it would appear that I allowed him to keep a contraband, his cellphone. Nice try.
As a matter of fact, it was during my short lived administration, only 6 months—July, 2013 to December, 2013 (I asked to be relieved because I could not get the nod to declare money as contraband and abolish gangs) that Sebastian’s free wheeling influence through his personally built television program in prison was suspended. I ordered him to fold up the program. No more TV shows. If the program is institutional and supervised by prison officers and inmates were its crews, then I would have allowed it. But it was one activity which is founded, funded and operated by an inmate without any permission from the agency. So no way for a colorum media. Ayun, nagtampo na yung bilanggo.
My children called me up and so are my friends. They asked like a chorus if I was watching the congressional probe because my name was cited thrice. I asked if my name was mentioned in relation to any corrupt activity like obliging prisoners to produce money for me, or getting into the loop of drug trade and benefiting from its produce. My callers said that my name was never eluded to directly except that my administration was too lax (maluwag) during those times.
My response to my children was, “tama sila, ang pamamahala ko nga noon ay maluwag or very considerate. Isipin mo na lang anak, siniksik na sila ng gobyerno, eh di paluwagin ko naman. Ang accommodation level ng Bilibid ay pang 5k katao lang pero ngayon naglalaman yun ng 15k. Ang sabi ng batas ay parusahan sila sa pangungulungan ng ilang taon para baguhin. Take note ha. Para baguhin, hindi para GAGUHIN. Kaya naman pilit kong ina-ayos ang bilangguan para lagyan ng mga makataong programa gaya ng handicraft workshop, barbershop, therapeutic center, reading, counseling, etc. Yun, sinasabing kubol ay slowly being transformed into activity centers.
“Eh teka pare,” a neighbor interrupted. “Pasensiya na ha. Pero masarap ang buhay daw ang ilang bilanggo, parang nasa 5 star hotel. Pinayagan daw ninyo yun?”
“Dinatnan ko na yung ganung kalagayan nila. Hindi ko nakuhang magalit nga, natawa na lang ako. Sinabihan ko lang na alisin ang karangyaan o gamitin bilang activity center ng pangkaramihan ang mga kubol. Alam mo pare kung naranasan mo mag hotel, siguro naman kung hindi ka palabasin sa kwarto ng hotel sa loob ng isang buwan, hindi mo sasabihin na masarap kundi para kang nakakulong din. Eh yun mga tao sa bilibid taon na nakakulong. Sabi nga ni Ninoy Aquino nung nakakulong pa siya, miski daw kumain siya gamit gintong kubyertos, ang reality ay nakakulong pa rin pakiramdam niya. Ang nangangamba sa panganib noong mga preso na gusto magbuhay masarap ay yun pamilya nila mismo kasi alam nila na katabi ng mahal nila sa buhay ay puro magnanakaw at mamamatay na kada minuto pinaplano kung paano yun kanilang kapamilya ay taluhin. O di kaya subukin mo kaya maglakad sa palengke na suot ang mamahalin mong kwintas, singsing at relos.
I have administered NBP before, three times at different intervals, but the NBP that 2013 was completely different. Gangs were virtually running the show of the penitentiary. Gang leaders are in complete control of the prison community. The facility was awashed with cash. Gambling of any form could be seen and felt in every corner. There was a state of lawlessness, so to speak. Not only because the prisoners are numerically stronger than the prison personnel, but the gangs dictate the round the clock activity more than the prison authorities.
From my perspective, I will not allow gang influenced activities to happen. I initiated programs for the prisoners to lure them away from gang imposed drug trade. Although admittedly there was money in drug commerce, inmates who are peddling or required to circulate it had little percentage to claim. Worst, if they cannot remit on time they are goners. And so inmates began to populate my activity centers as alternative. After I have gained quite a following from the prison community, I proposed to declare money as contraband and the complete abolition of gangs. Failing to get the nod from my superiors, I begged to be relieved. And so, after 6 months I was outside the loop of NBP already.
The activity centers which I organized no longer receive a warm support. Siempre naman kasi ibang namamahala na. Iba naman ang gusto. When the centers were slowly reverting back into kubols, some affected inmates sent complaints to the Bucor and DOJ leadership. That was the time when Bucor and DOJ officials began to plan for a raid. A year later after I left NBP, a composite team from DOJ, NBI, PNP and Bucor raided NBP maximum wing complete with media coverage. As they say, the rest is history.
Corrective service is very crucial. It is in handling prisoners that makes the difference. If their humanity is ignored while they were serving time, you have produced future terrors in the free community. There were regular shakedowns conducted and were done with caution. This is to respect the privacy of the incarcerated humanity. This is also to approach and define for the prisoners what is fair, considerate and just. From this simple administrative action, an offensive mind or one given to predation begins to absorb such values as being nondiscriminatory, objective and neutral.
I can proudly claim that those prisoners who underwent my administration and who were eventually released are the most law abiding, constructive and conscientious and reliable citizens. This is so because I respect their privacy and their quest for seclusion. Furthermore, they had no quarrel or stress from my end since ni minsan hindi ako humingi o tumanggap sa kanila ng kahit anong mahalagang bagay. If there was anything I asked from prisoners, it is only their voluntary belief in my leadership. Ask Nilo Tayag (Supreme Bishop, Philippine Independent Church) , Jaime Tadeo (Chairman, Free Farmers Federation of the Philippines), Bingbong Crisologo (Congressman, House of Representative), Robin Padilla (Actor), Romeo Jalosjos (Former Congressman), Junior de Guzman (Former Congressman), Ambet Antonio (Former Chair, PAGCOR), etc.
From my retirement sofa, I could only witness that indeed changes are taking shape in the country beginning with corrections.