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NEWS DISPATCH:  Palawan Governor Joel and Mayor Mario Reyes are among the so-called “Big 5” fugitives in a list drawn up by the Philippine National Police. The others are retired Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, dubbed “the butcher” by human rights groups; Dinagat Island Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr., who is wanted for murdering his wife; and Globe Asiatique real estate developer Delfin Lee, wanted for syndicated estafa involving P7 billion in fraudulent housing loans.

THE NATIONAL PENITENTIARY for quite some time has become a recipient of serious censure for handling offenders.  It has been denigrated for maltreating inmates, disparaged for handling programs, condemned for loose management of high profile convicts.

Accordingly, the penal facilities are porous, its personnel demoralized, the administrators indifferent, budget insufficient, equipage floundering, programs faltering and no security policy effectively drawn.  Worst, it is one agency whose legal basis (Prison Law of 1917) is vintage and operates through measures which is only based on reaction and consequence.  If the one appointed at the helm of the institution is a trained asylum administrator then it functions properly.  (We wanted to have a good pilot to fly us and we abhor the view to board a plane whose pilot is never trained at all unless of course we intend to quit whatever it is there in our future.)

I have heard a lot of prison administrators appointed by national leadership quip whenever they are confronted with critical challenges in managing prisons.  Their complaints are eerily similar.  The challenges in prison are different from those they stumbled upon where they came from.  (Talk of a pilot who is about to land and has encountered turbulence expressing lamentation that driving a plane is different from his training as a basketball coach!)

Our penal establishments, especially the national penitentiary, are designed for ordinary detainees.  The recurring theme of rehabilitating sick persons still the pervading approach applied although blended with token educational activities.  This does not hold significant control when implemented on a special sector, say for convicted drug lords, celebrity personalities, high profile cases and high security risk captives.  The penitentiary can hold toe to toe with pure predators, notorious and deranged characters but would fall short when it comes to moneyed, highly educated, largely influential, prominent and dominant class of incarcerated persona.

Prisons are not prepared for this kind of sector.  It has no defining rule promoting control.  It is not even primed to deal with gangs.  Gangs predominate the landscape of institutional direction.  Prisons have no power to check the circulation of contraband, money in particular.  It could not even manipulate and dominate the reformatory climate through rules because it is vintage that its implementers would oftentimes find themselves at the tail end evading complaints for human rights violation.

And now this.  If in the normal course of events, the Big 5 will finally be brought to the bar of justice and eventually be found guilty, will the penitentiary be able to control this group vis-a-vis the sworn institutional weaknesses it has as yet to resolve.  Media is only too excited to get this development up their sleeve.  Prison scandal sells like hotcake anywhere and in anyway.

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