There was this prisoner who sought an audience in my office and in the process, I got into a fix. Instead of listening to a mouthful of problems and requests, he merely wanted someone to listen to him without being treated as weird or as a cuckoo. My profession as psychologist fits well with my role as prison officer. Aside from getting entertained by playing the part as listening post, I also get a lot of insights and well, psychology of people, that serves as well spring for my literary projects—blogs, books, diary, notes even poetry.
There was this inmate, a youthful, clean shaven baby face who materialized in my office one day. He was considered a high risk prisoner, a gang lord. I thought that gang leaders have that stereotype personalities and projections as mean looking, bully types, ready- to- pounce predisposition and with nasty expressions. Not for this character though. He had a scholarly bearing and on that day a different agenda. I know, I could read a person just by watching how he walks.
After a few subdued greetings, the inmate humbly asked permission to speak his mind. I motioned to him to go ahead, I also gestured to a security personnel to leave the fellow alone in my office so that the prisoner could liberally express himself. Of course I have to presume that the person is clean and that he has no intention of grabbing my neck. This is a paranoid thinking brought about by years of immersion in a deceptive community like prisons. Those trained in martial arts however have only confidence as their better shield. As a wushu player I have that mindset.
The prisoner thus spoke: Sir, I have been reading a lot of news and listening to a number of reports from media that I felt so disturbed. If it’s true that government officials, like senators, congressmen, department heads and all politicians for that matter commit thievery on the people’s money, then those imprisoned rebels here are right all along in their cause. I also pity my fellow prisoners, those who robbed banks specially. The extent they got was rickety and insubstantial compared with the amount of PDAF or pork barrel which government people pocketed. This could have been spent to improve our economy. Like oil exploration. Government has money all along. More so, we have sites for oil extraction. We could have been a Brunei or a Jordan a long time ago. And there will be few people in jails.
The prisoner was having a soliloquy of sort and I thought that he must be that well-grounded, well read, well informed despite the limitations of his environment. He has been in the facility for close to a decade and I have as yet to see the dent of frustration or mannerism of defeat in his behavior. He exhibited none though. His fingernails are clean, his teeth quite glowing, his tangerine uniform pressed and his posture during his deliberation was quite scholastic. He would pause and smile every time I twitch my head. He must be that sensitive to check whether I have an inclination to veer away from something uninteresting.
At the end of the session, he bowed in respect, tried to read my mind through my facial expression and having found nothing that indicated boredom, he asked for my response. It was more of encouraging him further to analyze and situate himself in the context of his ideas.
He stood up and begged for understanding. What he merely wanted to say was not frustration for inaction but a prescription on what to do. He said: Sir, we have a lot of laws already, why not abolish Congress and devote the funds to oil extraction, mass education and production.
I stood up appreciating a sensible man in the midst of an insensible milieu. I merely smiled back but deep in my mind I was muttering “Amen!”
When an agency is tasked to run after a crook, it better brace itself for good. There are a lot of legal “landmines”, or technical maneuvers, which could jolt anyone treading through into an explosive situation, blowing up into smithereens anybody caught into it.
In a simple case of search down in prison, a prison administrator once directed an officer to conduct an instant raid on a suspected drug lair in the prison camp. True enough, contrabands were seized and suspects investigated. What came out of the investigation however proved fatal to the raider. The suspect claimed that it was the raider who was supplying the contraband all along and that failure to remit the sales rendered the suspect vulnerable to searchers and eventually to filing of charges. The statement of the suspect was submitted and as a result, counter charges were filed and the prison leader has to reckon and unfortunately order for the dismissal from the service of his subordinate.
NBI was similarly situated. It was tasked to run after big time syndicates. It was directed to go after crooks. Of course, there also bad players in the team, it is always given anyway. It is how the team works that matter no matter how some bad players would spoil some plays. Even if NBI tries to project a la FBI stance (although FBI gets its manpower from the top 10 of law schools in USA), there will always be some shades of pitfalls along the way. It is given but the mission is always fulfilled at the end of the day.
In the Napoles case, NBI was lead agency. It deployed twelve tracking team to bag their celebrity prey. The world is watching. Presidential attention was even compelled to be agitate, resulting in the issuance of a 10 Million peso bounty. A few minutes later, Napoles with her lawyer surfaced. They went to the Palace to surrender to the President bearing the note that they are up against their NBI tormentors.
Some really are gifted or better, smarter than the others. The NBI prey proves to be smarter than their previous targets. At the end of the “catch me if you can” episode, it was NBI which is about to fold up. While suspect Napoles is getting every concession she seeks,—a good detention facility, an air conditioning unit and recently, a possibility for a maid as errand, the NBI on the other hand is disintegrating.
The world indeed is full of trickery as the poem Desiderata would point out.
Suddenly, PNP rose up to the occasion. In an instant, it became the protective agency sought for. PNP became the sanctuary of Napoles, the threatened fugitive from justice turned victim and viewed at times as state witness. PNP will blanket the accused with its mantle of fortification. Sometime ago, some PNP elements were found to have bungled on their prey. On two occasions, suspects were summarily exterminated along with innocent bystanders. PNP for a time was never called to be consulted but rather to be conducted in an assault.
The make over was fast. PNP has become the lead agency for safety, as what really it should be in the first place. Meanwhile, NBI was trailing, its integrity and reputation depreciating slowly. Worst, NBI was (and still is) at the forefront of sensitive situations like the alleged Ampatuan massacre case among others. If it continually reduce its effective representation, time will come when offenders become the bearer of revenge and the State, merely an audience of judicial tragedy.
Finally, the poem Desiderata concludes in the face of all these unfortunate incidents, “Let it not distract you (from trickery) from a virtue therein, for the world is also full of heroism. Be gentle. Strive to be happy.”
If there is any nerve wracking, emotionally draining and conscience stretching instance one finds in a particular space, it is in discovering a group of innocents serving time side by side with the guilty in the prison camp. It is not only a judicial phenomenon but a sociological spectacle. It is not only an insult to intelligence but an assault on one’s perception of what justice really means.
There are instances and these are numerous when a prison officer is informed that a prisoner is to be released on acquittal. It is almost a routine to hear such incidents, releases on acquittal after the poor fellow has spent almost a decade under the regime of incarceration. He is naturally spent in the process.
There is no way to recover lost years, not to mention lost loves and lost fortunes. It is akin to living a cursed life. How these acquitted persons would be absorbed into the mainstream is another question.
But buried into the pages of judicial review are those cases where persons who are serving time, properly defended by competent counsel and rightly decided by the judiciary and in fact, without guilt at all.
Whether there was a deficiency or abundance of technicality in the legal process, there remain some questions on the accuracy of finding culpability or innocence in appreciating an offense.
In the New Bilibid Prison maximum security camp, one can find samples of these disturbing situations. A prominent case is the death of Dennis Venturina, a Sigma Rhoan, which figured in a fraternity-related violence where members of another fraternity, the Scintilla Juris, would be charged and judicially made to account. Members of the Scintilla Juris Fraternity were haled in court, for years made to await the verdict, and after a little less than a decade, several would be acquitted while five among the group would be sentenced accordingly. This penalized group would be known in NBP maximum wing as the “UP Boys.”
After more than a decade and a half of incarceration, these prison denizens, donning orange outfit indicating maximum security classification have to undergo the most rigorous initiation ever to have been applied, their fraternal initiation serving as picnic relatively speaking whatever its physical effect on their psyche.
And the UP Boys, already wizened by time, hair graying and falling incessantly, wrinkles very apparent on weather beaten faces. They are no longer the youthful hunks they were before but shriveled inmates dreaming of an instance to breath the fresh air of freedom.
One of their peers, Raymund Narag became a celebrity in his own right, struggling from the pit of depression, overcoming his plight through sheer intellectual acumen, succeeded to receive one accolade after another after receiving the verdict of acquittal. He eventually earned his doctorate in US and became a bona fide academician.
In his talks, in most of his lectures, he would oftentimes reminisce his bout with the criminal justice system. He would echo his sentiment that while he has eluded the pain of incarceration, he would lament the state where his friends, his fraternity brothers, would get into. “They are all innocents” he would plead to the world. And there are a lot of them equally situated. Oh, well.
As for prison officers who would dare look into, they cannot but feel the pain and discomfort, agony and distress, unfolding before their very eyes the stark reality of innocence suffering along with the guilty. For those whose conscience is still undisturbed by the cold neutrality of power, innocence should have been clear, and should have been fought and brought forth in furtherance of justice.
As a prison officer, I am deeply affected to the point of rebellion!
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.
Last November 23, 2009 in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province, Mindanao a brutal carnage transpired which eventually was referred to as the Maguindanao massacre.
58 people perished in the bloodbath, 34 of them are journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the incident has been referred to as the single deadliest event for journalist in the annals of history.
Several people were indicted for the gruesome crime. The Ampatuans were held as principal in the case. They include former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan St., his son former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan, former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., former Shariff Aguak mayor Datu Anwar Ampatuan, for vice governor Datu Sajid Ampatuan and former Mamasapano mayor Akmad Ampatuan .
The case became a celebrated legal battle with the Ampatuans on the defense and several complainants on the other. 4 years have gone by. Hundreds of witnesses were also named and required to be given a day in court for their statements. Court trial is regularly held and scheduled accordingly.
Seasoned lawyers claim while assessing the progress of the litigation that it would take a number of years before the case would be rested for decision. This is because of procedures. A witness may be called on the stand, required to identify and provide testimony for a period or for a number of dates on end, and thereafter to be cross examined, presented anew and re-crossed. One witness may stretch the period of hearing for months in a tentative manner and several witnesses are still on board to undergo the same judicial procedure in the forthcoming session. This would take time. As each counsel would take pains in reviewing minutely the proceedings, responding to each through motions and other technical actions, the process would grind exceedingly slow.
Meanwhile, a number of complainants, encountering difficulties to move on, have to struggle to survive without their kinsmen, the breadwinner, the victim in the crime. Yet they have a responsibility to pursue, a role to play, an act to follow. They must be at the forefront of a crusade to bring the malefactors to answer for the offense they have committed. It is however easier said than done. On their own, the quest for Justice, an obligation of the State through its judicial system, is stiff and demanding. That should explain why, it has been reported by private prosecutor Harry Roque, that relatives of media victims in the case have agreed to negotiate for a settlement with those indicted.
Here is a situation when the courts would try a case where all charges and evidences are lumped, compiled, organized in a manner that would sufficiently point at the proper guilt as it get entangled into a maze of criss-crossing complaints. Why not try one case at a time. Complete one case and make a decision based on what is presented and heard. Then to be followed by another, so on and so forth. If a case has been completed, the rest remains pending subject for succeeding trials. The point there is that a case is done in an instant. It could be a conviction or an acquittal depending on how the case is submitted, defended and weighed. This is to be fair to the victims and those who are awaiting the verdict on their situation. Four years of trial is long for the completion of a case.
For the prosecutors and defenders, the fulfillment of justice is immediately known. For the courts and the judicial system, it is the accomplishment of an evenhanded duty.
Stretching the trial on great lengths while it is an ideal process to determine the truth, at times would render the entire exercise into a mockery. Complainants would become weary, witnesses will be drained and exhausted, testimonies become stale and overlooked, evidences become trite and would lose its potency. Court officers, some of them may cross over and would retire, others replaced if not suspended, and a number may shift and fade away. Politics would eat away interest, economics would gnaw at the marrow of significance and time would eventually consign every substantial matter into triviality. After a calibrated duration, a decision will eventually be made and as it drags on and on, it might virtually end up nowhere in time.
The cold steel bar is just in the lurk somewhere and it might become brittle as a result of rust!
This Act is a consolidation of House Bill 6887 and Senate Bill 3335 and was approved by the President on May 24, 2013. It has become a law known as RA 10575. As such, it is described as an act strengthening the Bureau of Corrections and providing funds therefor. Accordingly, the “State shall provide for the modernization, professionalization and restructuring of the Bureau of Corrections by upgrading its facilities increasing the number of its personnel, upgrading the level of qualifications of their personnel and standardizing their base pay, retirement and other benefits.”
The IRR to be formulated should not only conform with the intention of the law but it should likewise address what has been operative as principles previously considered in the Prison Law of 1917, Presidential Decrees during Martial Law and the provisions of the 1987 Administrative Code.
Note that under Prison Law of 1917, the foundation of penal institutions were highlighted including the powers and jurisdiction of prison administration. Presidential Decrees were likewise issued determining the status and organization of penal colonies into regular prisons. The 1987 Administrative Code went overboard with the renaming of the Bureau of Prisons into Bureau of Corrections.
Note further that Corrections is a field that comprises institutional and non-institutional approaches. Institutional Corrections includes Prisons, Jails, Locks ups, Detention Centers, Custodial Camps. Non-institutional Corrections includes Probation, Parole and those within Conditional Pardon. All these are subsumed under Corrections. Hence, when there are incidents pertaining matters of corrective importance or significance, immediately the agency concerned is the Bureau of Corrections—as the name suggest. In reality however, it is not how it was defined. The Bureau of Corrections is only concerned about Prisons. Jails fall under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, an agency directly under the Department of Interior and Local Government. Provincial Jails are under the Provincial Governors. Lock ups under the Philippine National Police. Detention Centers under law enforcement agencies like NBI, BI, and DSWD. Custodial camps under AFP. Probation and Parole is supervised by the Probation and Parole Administration, another agency under the Department of Justice.
Then, finally, a law on correctional reforms was issued. Contemplated in newly signed RA 10575 is the safekeeping and reformation of national inmates—those sentenced to more than three years. Not included are those who are unsentenced yet and those who were released through legal intervention. In other words, what is intended to be strengthened is the agency involved in the maintenance and management of prisons only.
RA 10575 intends to restructure the agency, Bureau of Corrections, into a uniformed bureau. As such, personnel will retire at the age of 56. And its mandate is to be pursued through directorial structure: The Directorate for Reception and Diagnostics, Directorate for External Relations and Administrative Directorates. Specific provisions in the law deliberate the strengthening process through training (establishment of Philippine Correctional Academy), upgrading of qualification for those designated in managerial positions in penal colonies, requirements for promotion, standardization of base pay and benefits and annual reporting system.
RA 10575 is a step towards a progressive direction to improve the criminal justice administration through a segment of the corrective service.
While appreciating the white-sanded cove of Pearl Farm resort in Davao along with the new Prison leadership, General Franklin Bucayu, we were informed by the agency staff that the President has signed into law the Bill “Strengthening the Bureau of Corrections”. We have received the information in between snorkeling and brain storming. It is a break worth indulging. As it is, the legislative intervention amended Prison Law of 1917 and improved the provision in the 1987 Administrative Code. We found ourselves at the vortex of a perfect occasion to contemplate on the changes to be conducted.
The significance of said law advanced the view that prison management and the treatment of prisoners should be responsive to the requirements of the times. For years, prison authorities are tied with obsolete principles in governing the correctional institution that it could not flex any policy consideration in addressing institutional problems. Congestion is the order of the day. Professionalism among the ranks of those on the ground are found wanting. A new crop of inmates, the so called celebrity and influential ones, have found gang life a favorable atmosphere in the pursuit of their previous illicit activities. Even if prison authorities wanted to control and be relevant in realizing the mandate of corrections, they are limited with stop gap measures and ad hoc rules as reactionary response. As a consequence, prison administration would find themselves at the bottom of every controversy.
The law was a response to a series of controversial incidents that marred the correctional system beginning with the treatment of prisoners, especially those who were referred to as the celebrity or the so called VIP prisoners. For quite a time, media had a field day amplifying what ailed the system. Former prison leaderships were pushed against the wall explaining on how certain celebrity prisoners were able to gain privileges and even an upper hand in the reduction of their sentences. With the passage of the Corrections Act issues pertaining corrective problems were addressed and provided with the necessary responsive resolutions.
There is however one specific concern which must also be taken into consideration. The term “Corrections.” It replaced “Prisons.” Hence, in the 1987 Administrative Code, the Bureau of Prisons was replaced with Bureau of Corrections. At first glance, the term invited rehab as the main approach and restorative justice, the corollary methodology. But that is not what is obtaining. Corrections has two major facets—institutional and non-institutional. When we say institutional corrections, we mean prisons, jails, lock-ups, detention camps, custodial centers. Non-institutional corrections on the other hand speaks of probation and parole. When something happens in jails or on those under parole, the Director of Corrections is immediately collared and obliged to explain. Technically however, the Director of Corrections is only in charge of prisons or penitentiaries. There lies the confusion and the controversy. While corrections in the Philippines remains fragmented, in the eyes of the public it is integrated.
This should be spelled out when the new law on Corrections will have its IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulations). Once the Corrections Act will operate and will be applicable, the decades of neglect will finally be over. It will dawn on criminal justice administration a new beginning as far as handling prisoners are concerned including the eventual professionalization on the ranks of corrective officers. It is hoped that standards in corrections will be fashioned by the agency and extended towards all corrective agencies in government.