Every last week of October since 1998, the Philippine correctional system celebrates Prison Awareness Week, like Fire Prevention Week or anything where social concern is focused or is persuaded to focus on a particular period.
Over at the National Penitentiary, at New Bilibid Prison, the face of corrective service in the country, where the so called basest, worst, most dreaded offenders are confined, the Prison Awareness Week is celebrated as National Correctional Consciousness Week, where it features the creative side of imprisonment. Here during the period, all penal establishments are all in display mode. Handicrafts of varying expressions are shown to the public.
The prison community is where one could find all offenders who were sensibly removed from free society, to be segregated from their community of orientation, physically deprived of family life, forced to live in a highly communal, almost dictatorial and regimented, grossly formulated routine of daily life for a specified judicially prescribed period.
Prison, it can be said, is an artificial community where everything is enforced externally and internally rendering life in a highly pressured and tensed situation almost unbearable to sustain. Deception is always the order of the day.
If there is anything genuine in every interpersonal contact, it is always centered on the individual interest of offenders. There is nothing social, there is nothing gregarious, there is nothing worth a sacrifice. Everyone is disadvantaged and any privilege offered is seen as a heavenly intervention. Prison is hell and it is never appreciated as home even by the vilest among the denizens.
Here one can find the radical among them de-radicalized by monotony and humdrum. Here one can find the sexually deranged almost castrated by fear. Here one can find the behaviorally maladjusted straightened out by peer group pressure. Anything lived previously as excessive, in prison becomes detoxified by excessive familiarization.
Outsiders never bring rehabilitation, that twin mandate of corrective safekeeping, into the prison community. It is an effect, which is internally formulated by latent frustrations and lamentation. It is brought about by contemplation. It is a personal offering almost a spiritual exercise by those who wish to be redeemed. It is winning over the past that bedeviled his life. It is an advent for change, a reinvention of the self, a birth of another person, a stronger, a firmer, a better one.
This is, at the core, what is celebrated every week of the year and as it culminates on the last day of every last week of October, on every Prison Awareness Sunday.
Fact: New Bilibid Prison maximum security camp was built in the 1940s and could ideally house an accommodation level for 5,000 prisoners—7,000 at the most as peak. To date, it is a confinement facility of 13,000 inmates—an almost 130 percent congestion rate from the ideal base.
Additional Fact: Confined in this 9 hectare facility are those who were sentenced to more than 20 years up to Life Imprisonment. Lifers constitute almost 70% of the prison population in the entire camp. When death penalty has not been abolished yet, the area was better known as a camp where a dormitory was devoted as Death Row.
Cases of those classified to serve time in this compound range from Kidnapping to Robbery with Homicide, Murder to Plunder, Violation of Drug Laws to Rape. Detested acts, which are defined in the Revised Penal Code and related special laws, would find flesh and blood inside the four walls.
With the kind of characters, background and type of offenses that denizens have presumed to exude; the facility could easily earn the title as the most fearsome if not the most dangerous corner of our society.
How to sustain and preserve peace in this kind of environment even for a day is already considered a miraculous act. Here is a situation when abnormality must rule the day. When exemption from the tenet of good housekeeping could rule the day.
Having a peaceful period in the crowd considered by law as predatory is almost an impossible situation. For how can one consider as normal a peaceful situation in a place filled to the brim. To think of harmony in this blight spot is already wishful thinking.
But miracles do happen. For the last few years, this camp, the maximum wing of the National Penitentiary seldom would hear of violence of great proportion. Riots, which were normal occurrence before has never visited a curve in the facility. Peace reign and serenity at nighttime is becoming ordinary.
There were pockets of troubles every now and then but the frequency is greater in the market place or some streets in the free community than in this exclusive enclave. Indeed, the prison facility is house to killers and pillagers; and, no one can claim a better killer or pillager than anybody inside.
Peace and harmony can be obtained even the most forsaken place but there is so much compromise to be offered. Like an emergency patient facing an extreme medical condition, abnormal dosages are administered and other out of the box approaches dispensed with to save the patient from fatal end. In a terribly congested facility like those in other countries, the same tactic can also be employed.
In Philippine prison settings, allowing entry of appliance, while a no-no, at times are resorted to in reducing the tension brought about by overcrowding. Loud blaring sounds, normally a very disturbing condition in the free community, are an accepted intervention medium that drowns collective emotional difficulties. Entry of visitors, mostly family members conditions peace and public safety. One is reminded that crimes are mostly performed as a dedicated act in the name of love for family. One kills to protect his family. One robs to improve family life. Having all these around normalizes an abnormal condition.
Again in the on-going investigation of the PDAF scam: What was pocketed by corrupt government officials intended to benefit the greater masses, could have been dedicated to the exploration of oil—which could have lowered the cost of commodities. It could have modernized the armed forces of the country, improved the criminal justice administration, from an increased professional support to law enforcement, prosecution, courts and correction. Sent all children to school, treated all patients in hospitals and sustained all commercial activities from manufacturing to production.
The country could have leveled with Singapore if not Japan.
This could have been done using those funds, which were lost to corruption in the past 10 years. No matter how jubilant government is in projecting a robust economy, if government officials would corner these resources, the people would remain poor and in the state of penury forever.
The prison community welcomes these corrupt elements for an absolute cleansing process.
Sometime in 2009, the national government through an executive order directed the partition of 50 hectares from the remaining 300 hectare estate exclusively reserved for the use of the Bureau of Corrections since 1935 in favor of HUDCC housing and relocation program for those required to vacate shanties along the railroad tracks, the so called “home-along the riles residents.”
Some two hundred families were awarded a housing unit each in said patch of property along the periphery of the NBP prison reservation. Earlier, through a DOJ resolution a 100 hectare parcel of estate was spliced on the northwest side of NBP prison reservation in favor of DOJ personnel for their housing requirements. All these housing projects came to be known as the NHA Housing Site (for the marginalized families formerly living along railroad tracks) on the southwest plank of the prison reservation and on the opposite perpendicular area, the DOJ Katarungan Village 1 and 2.
The NHA Housing project opened the prison reservation area through an access road leading to San Pedro, Laguna on the eastern side and to Las Pinas and Cavite on the western side through the Daan Hari road. The Katarungan village on the other hand, likewise opened the prison reservation through an access road leading to Daang Hari road which leads either to Cavite or Alabang. Both housing projects virtually tore up the main access road previously an exclusive and restricted road network of the NBP prison reservation.
The NHA housing program, not much with Katarungan village (composed of professionals and officers of DOJ offices) would provide a clear and present danger to the prison reservation (where the main penitentiary and housing for prison personnel are situated). Almost daily, prison personnel would hale a number of youthful delinquents preying on their quarters, would trespass dwelling and pack sack full of equipment and valuable properties. Since the kids are minors, they would be released as a few hours of questioning. These are children coming from the NHA housing community. Most of those in the NHA housing site are unemployed and would find the prison reservation an enriching ground to loaf and scout around. Enterprising residents of this area would likewise mount itinerant tents near prison facility for vending wares and other street foods.
For a time, until all minimum security prisoners were restricted in an enclosed zone, these NHA housing denizens would tempt, encourage and fraternize with prisoners until cases of escapes would be attributed to such interactions.
With the presence of these two major housing units, NBP prison reservation became vulnerable to civilian pedestrians, residents, visitors and even motorists who wanted to short cut their trips from Muntinlupa poblacion to Alabang or Cavite. Such route rendered the prison reservation including prison personnel quarters (officer residential zone) and minimum security prisoners maintaining the group before receiving discharged papers exposed and susceptible to the elements.
DOJ Fact Finding Board which investigated the so called Leviste Caper observed and noted that NBP prison reservation has a lot of road links passing through entrance and exit without restricted security measures. Restoring strict security measures on entrance and exits points of the prison reservation, on this score however, would render gross inconvenience on housing sites which utilizes the prison reservation road as their common road network leading to their areas.
A plan to construct a perimeter barrier or hedge that would enclose and secure the prison reservation is in the works. This infrastructure would cover the radius for the 250 hectare reservation and would reintroduce a new road link that would re-route traffic for the housing site on the one hand and prison reservation on the other hand.
Meanwhile, the NBP Prison reservation remains dichotomized into two major planks divided and dissected by a major road commonly and almost universally utilized as regular road for ingress and egress of civilian housing and residential communities in the area. Imposing security on these lanes is a composite concern which local government of Muntinlupa must address including the re-routing of motorists and pedestrians. Bucor administration is left with no other choice but pursue its plan for the construction of a perimeter fence around its prison reservation.
New Bilibid Prison is also referred to as the National Penitentiary. It houses 22,000 national (read: convicted) prisoners out of the total prison population of 34,000 prisoners. That means NBP is host to almost 64% of the entire prison population in the whole archipelago. NBP is the biggest facility among 7 prisons and penal farms supervised and administratively controlled by the Bureau of Corrections.
Sometime ago, the state of Philippine corrections was in a limbo. DOJ leadership could not understand its situation. Public perception of prison administration was negative and adverse. A new prison leadership had assumed the mantle of management and he was clueless on where to start.
The prison leadership was therefore in a quandary. For the last two years, there were almost serial changes at the helm of the agency (two Directors and three Officers in charge were replaced one on top of another). For the last few months, heads of several prison superintendents likewise rolled one after another, four of them actually and another awaiting administrative charges. Heads of various divisions were also indicted and literally must have to give their explanation before investigative bodies on their participation in some alleged questionable deals. That made the management layer of the Bureau of Corrections virtually a ghost town.
That was a time when the prison leadership would compel me to move over from my former active post (at Davao Penal Colony) to NBP where for a time, I was also its off and on Chief Superintendent. But unlike in the past where I was merely designated as nominal head, I pleaded for a clarity on what I intend to do given a repeat performance. I intend to act as Superintendent and not as repository of blame like what happened to previous officers who occupied the post.
Then the orders came one after another. I would be Chief Superintendent of New Bilibid Prison, and at the same time Head of the Bucor Internal Affairs Service, acting Assistant Director for Security and Operations, Chairman of Bucor Transfer/ Movement Board, Chairman of Hospital Board, Chairman of the Uniform Board and on selection basis, Chair of the Joint Venture Monitoring Committee. This on top of my institutional function as Presiding officer of the NBP Hearing Committee and Chairman of the NBP Reclassification Board. Reading the list of my principal assignments was already a tall order.
July 15, 2013 I officially assumed as Superintendent of New Bilibid Prison. That was also the time when a fugitive (Cadavero case) who was supposed to be received by my office but was not properly turned over. There was national uproar in what could have been an alleged murderous act perpetuated by no less than the protector of the people, the police officers themselves. And my agency was suspected to have played a role in the rigmarole. One press conference after another, until we have properly explained our role and eventually pushed the issue away where eventually the limelight was focused on the police agency. Prisons has nothing to do with the crime. We were merely used as props to confuse the public from the dastardly prepared plan to take down an incorrigible character. It would grab national consciousness for a week.
That was my baptism of fire. Thereafter, I would sit down to check all the communications passing through my office and woe! I have to virtually edit and amend almost everything. The NBP administrative flow has gone awry and the NBP staff has to content with whatever would pass through them without guidance from anyone at the top. There was absence of leadership and the Director and his assistants have occupied the vacuum. This is fatal to the Director since every flaw would directly go up to his level. Under my stint, the buck stops in my office.
And it would be a very difficult orientation. While I have slowly introduced order and discipline, there were occasions when the usual disorganized system would creep into the organization. People who were inured at conducting on their own whatever that pleases them would disrupt the flow of command by getting through without passing through my office; the organization seems acquainted slowly with protocol already.
Nonetheless, after 30 days I could express the following endeavors: Medical referrals of inmates have been controlled and rationalized. Court appearances of maximum security (including high profile and high risk) inmates have been reformulated. Entrance of visitors reviewed and evaluated. There was caution in every security camp and security becomes the principal force in every corner. The Internal Affairs Service has been convened resulting in the immediate resolution of two out of three cases submitted thus far. Ordinances were imposed regulating movements of prisoners, restricting further entrances in the prison camp of personal items and related commodities, determination of a quarantine area in every camp and controlling entrance of unauthorized persons in all prison camps.
Furthermore, terms like “sleep out,” “living out.,” “stay in” were removed in the lexicon of prison administration and redefined according to what the rules dictate.
From there, I rest my case.
It has been said that 80% of inmates serving time in the maximum compound of the New Bilibid Prison are considered not only high risk and high profile but also referred to as pure predators. Violence is not only a second nature for this homogenous group; it is, as a matter of course, a normal occurrence, an instinctive expression.
If there are reported casualties among the denizens in the prison camp, it is either as a consequence of suicide (or what appears to be one) or bangungot (nightmare) a phenomenal ailment where a person fails to awake and literally would fell into a deep coma.
While in the past, fatalities were a result of gangland reprisals versus opposing gangs, the succeeding peace and collective amity have reigned to the point of stability. After all, in the land of the brave, only those with lesser bravery perish.
But there arise instances when collective peace is disturbed. This occurs when someone manifests treacherous conduct as in double crossing or disrespectful avoidance of debt. Death penalty is most likely issued by anyone on whose account deception and debt penalty accrue.
While suicide and questionable deaths surround all incidents in the National Penitentiary, it is only a minute portion, a small insignificant percentage in the over all situation of the prison community.
The prison camp pulsates with life and throbs with economic activity. There are however no contracts and receipts issued and circulated. Only the word of honor is sufficient as guarantee. Like in the cock fighting arena, a simple hand signal is enough. And such gesture is binding and reckoned majestically.
In prison, there is no such thing as secrecy. If at all there is something to protect, it is shared exclusively by everyone in the facility. The word is guarded with zeal and adorned with sacredness. Transactions range from triviality to complexity. From a simple movement from one bed bunk to another to a more complex one, from one facility to the farthest facility.
Everyone expects to be treated with caution although prison officers are seen by prisoners more in the context of an exploiter and at times, as the exploited. The prison officer represents that figure which the prison community must deal with regularly. They must have to live with the officer and conversely, the officer must have to contend with prisoners serving as normal background in his grinding routine and tour of duty.
Each must compliment another; each must watch over another; each must serve one another. Prisoners become guards and guards become prisoners. Their minds blend with environment and environment forms the kind of character they eventually become.
Prisoners grow matured as they serve time, they become subservient and subdued. They began to see things in perspective and appreciate plans in a distance. Incarceration, truly, tames any subject within its sphere.
I was directed to perform a task I have already done before. I was in charge of NBP twice in the past, in the early and mid 90s and lately would assume the same post all over again. It does not inspire excitement anymore. Truly, New Bilibid Prison (NBP) today is no longer the same years back.
As if the gods of controversy would tickle my senses to check my alertness, a simple routine in my first day (July 15, 2013) would be rocked with controversy that would even achieve a scale of national proportion! I was tasked to receive a recaptured fugitive. It would just be a basic Corrections 101 thing but one instance leads to another until finally, there was nothing to receive and worst, the fugitive I am suppose to collect was ambushed along the way to my institution.
The incident never stopped there. While public sympathy was nil on learning that a bona fide criminal perished in a gun fight, the way it was conducted was in a way too rough and too suspicious for comfort. And so a series and numerous investigations were carried out. National awareness of the incident was pushed as promoted by a vigilant media. Every Tom, Dick and Harry, I mean, every Juan, Pedro and Talpulano in the law enforcement pillar has to explain the puzzling incident which claimed the violent end of an incorrigible bank robber.
My office was not exempted from the brewing controversy. That is right. Had I obtained the fugitive from police jurisdiction since the person is an escapee and has to be returned back to prison to serve the remaining years of his sentence, there would have been no storm. I was made to explain how come my team did not receive a recaptured fugitive. The public was made to believe that my team was sleeping in the pancitan when things were moving. Worst, the world was even made to believe that my team has acquired the subject, the fugitive, and we bungled until the fugitive ended up in police custody ‘til kingdom come.
The real score is this. Recaptured fugitive (and now deceased) Ricky Cadavero still has a pending case as yet for inquest proceedings. This is for Illegal Possession of Firearms and Explosives filed by arresting police in Calabarzon. It is therefore incumbent for them to file the case against the suspect before he can be moved to another criminal justice processing. This is the theme, which the police authorities applied why they did not submit the fugitive to be turned over yet to the NBP team that I headed during the Camp Crame PNP Press Conference.
And it is a correct position although there are other options available. Inquest proceedings may be held within NBP premises like court hearings conducted similarly within the prison facility. But police authorities have procedures, which they can invoke in the course of its law enforcement responsibilities.
If an escapee has been re-arrested by police authorities while at large, the rule is to turn the fugitive over to the national penitentiary. Or, the police may inform the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) on the recovery of an escapee in cases where the police station is in a remote province. Once the identity of the fugitive has been determined, Bucor sends over a team to receive the fugitive, to be escorted back for re-admission into prison to serve the remaining part of his penalty including additional sentence for Evasion of Sentence. In the case of Cadavero, aside from the fact that he is a fugitive, he committed another offense for which he must be subjected for inquest proceedings first.
While there was a ruckus on the issue of receiving, or turning over of the fugitive, whether before or after the inquest is no longer the principal issue. The problem cropped out after the inquest while the police was about to turn over the fugitive to NBP. The succeeding procedure has been rendered incomplete because of the alleged ambush, which claimed the life of the fugitive. (Wags put it thus: In the morning, there was Cadavero; in the evening, he was a cadaver!)
The questionable incident brought forth more questions. It pushed law enforcement into an incredulous precipice. The integrity of the Philippine National Police once again was under the klieg lights of public scrutiny. As it tried to veer away from its unfortunate rank, per social survey, as the agency leading the most corrupt institutions a few weeks past, by recapturing a dreaded escapee, the law enforcement heroic deed overturned a few hours later with a perceived villainous act.
It was almost a national scandal. A sensational incident if you may. And I had my share of explanation to do. Despite my low key entrance in the controversial ridden post of the Bureau of Corrections, I was obliged to clarify our role in the whole spectrum of criminal justice administration in all media fronts.
What intrigued me however when my friends saw me on Television in prime news was not what I said, but on how I looked!
New Bilibid Prison is the premiere penal facility in the country, sometimes referred to as the National Penitentiary or plain “Muntinlupa.” The name of the city, especially its fearsome connotation, came directly from the central penal facility which is always featured in movies, news and other media projections as the massive concrete confinement of the country’s dreaded criminals, also the seat of the equally dreaded death chamber. It is a 9 hectare quadrangle housing some 12,000 prisoners mostly sentenced to life imprisonment. Although its ideal accommodation capacity is good for 5,000, the population ballooned for the last ten years.
It is one among seven prisons and penal farms under the supervision of the Bureau of Corrections. It maintains more than one half of the entire prison population in the whole archipelago. Its ground and administrative offices is host to the Bureau of Corrections leadership also that is why whatever happens in NBP reflects directly on the demeanor and direction of the one on top.
Once upon a time, in the mid 60s, NBP was the site of the worst serial violent riots that ever visited the penal facility since its foundation. Scores of inmates perished in one of the most gruesome viciousness of gang wars. A number of prison personnel also were virtual casualties during the lethal confrontation. It was a no man’s land for quite a time. Since then, it would be a scar difficult to erase. After a period of unforgiving ferocity came spring. With its introduction was born a number of unfortunate scandals visiting its perimeter on a regular basis. To claim that the facility is cursed is an understatement.
It has gained a negative reputation with several controversies it has been slapped later. While it can be said that the inmates were themselves a picture of controversy, which were representations of sensational cases, how they are treated, managed and contained presented another angle of dispute. Whether incarceration can be a prescription to rehabilitate wayward behavior is another issue subject for debate and further study. It is merely presumed that segregating an offender and kept in the prison community and subjecting them to a barrage of educational stimulation would in time soften their offensive proclivities in favor of reformation. Studies reveal that it is so.
For the last two decades, NBP has also been an enforced sanctuary of those sentenced to death penalty, high risk inmates and high profile celebrity prisoners as well. There was National Artist Amado V. Hernandez, film action star Eddie Fernandez, comedian Berting Labra, tinsel town heart throb Robin Padilla, controversial scion Hubert Webb, former Congressmen Junior de Guzman, Romeo Jalosjos, Baby Asistio, politician former Mayor Antonio Sanchez, Bingbong Crisologo, Antonio Leviste, activists Ka Nilo Tayag, Ka Jimmy Tadeo, rebels Ka Luis Taruc, and a host of eminent/ notorious personalities from various sectors of our society. Their luminary status deflected on the drab and monotonous environment of prisons.
On top of that, the premiere facility is almost a permanent asylum for hundreds of notorious characters—the drug lords, the gambling lords, local Mafiosi. In their midst are also those categorized as sexually deranged, mentally unstable, criminally insane, violent types, all considered as pure predators. From their ranks are born the leaders of various prison gangs operating within the enclosed four walls, imposing control and exercising jurisdiction side by side institutional workers and security personnel.
All of the inmates are cramped inside an enclave with token partition and makeshift dividers constricted within prison dormitories designed as communal barracks but subdivided into personal shacks to project privacy even on a tentative basis only. Life inside the four massive walls is already a stiff challenge for the denizens. Behind every stare is a blank face trying to understand where salvation is in the deafening silence of a compacted humanity. It is also a gargantuan task for prison officers to govern what could have been a haven debased with frustration and delimited by competent discipline.
Everyone must strive to survive the regime of congestion. They must acclimatize their nostrils on damp humid surroundings, cover their mouths while passing on filthy corners and familiarize their skin from cracked insect infested walls. Walking along the corridors for an hour is equivalent to a lifetime of emotional hardship already.
The prison community pulsates with feigned order. Its denizens engrossed in contrived activities. Some are creatively wholesome, others ingeniously deadly. There is no denying that tranquility is a wish and that harmony lies beneath every yearning to fulfill freedom whatever its cost.
These and more await whoever is tasked to administer the national penitentiary.
(RACHEL DURAN RUELO reached her retirement age this day, January 19, 2015, capping the highest post in the career ladder of the Bureau of Corrections. Considered one of the founding officers of Correctional Institute for Women in Mindanao, she also sustained the hall of fame category of the main CIW in Mandaluyong, carrying its prestige as the most well managed facility among all corrective facilities in the country.)
Rachel is a full fledged lawyer before she joined government service. Her academic record speaks high of her audacity for legal education and immediately after the Bar, she was, as expected, one of those in the top 20. She must have reached the pinnacle of law practice had she pursued it through private legal counseling but she would rather spend her best years in government, in the service of the people.
For this lady lawyer, returning the family favor was almost a devotion. Her father was a prison officer and a serious practitioner of corrections. After he retired, Rachel made it her personal pledge to follow the footsteps of her father—-in the prison service. She was easily employed and became the legal officer of New Bilibid Prison. She was that early a standout. I know, I was her first supervisor.
I was then NBP Superintendent when she appeared before my office requesting for a big desk from where she can review the entire complex of the facility. She knew that as a lawyer, every administrative facet of prison administration is anchored on case review and resolution.
She got her desk but not the room which was intended for the deputy Superintendent, my assistant. She took the arrangement as an invitation for argument and in no time, she was eventually assigned at the agency’s legal office. A few months after, she was the head of the Legal Office. Had she stayed longer in my office, she would have replaced me that instance!
She was the model and iconic officer as Chief of the Legal Office. She prosecuted less those who were administratively charged and offered a just and fair resolution to all cases brought before her office. Her fairness achieved heroic proportion. Easily, she was a celebrated officer, the pride of her co-workers and the toast of her clan in Bicol.
A few significant years later, the bureau’s selection board met. The post of Penal Superintendent IV was to be deliberated on. There were several qualified officers and one of them was Rachel. Every staff officer had their respective recommendees. Mine was Rachel. The chairman of the committee wanted to strike out Rachel because she was a woman. I submitted a justification which carried the day for Rachel. At that time, one of the recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsasay Award was a woman, a woman prison officer from Pakistan. I intoned that she might be our answer to the Pakistani honoree. The board decided to confer to her the promotion and she was elevated to the post of Superintendent.
It was not a rosy picture for her career though. While she was instantly designated to head the Correctional Institution for Women (in Mandaluyong), her stint attracted numerous criticisms and grumbles. That has always been the fate of command officers. There were too many envious personalities who also wanted a piece of the cake as if the position was teeming with perks and privileges. In Rachel’s case, it was all sacrifices and conciliation, at times confrontation and collaboration. Her term at the helm of CIW would witness several challenges. One day, she was a recognized administrator, in another day, she was to be relieved. It would be a ding-dong career movement for her. But she held on.
During her watch, CIW became a hall of famer as far as the best and cleanest institution of the Bureau of Corrections for several years on end, until she was required to stay at the background to enjoy the laurels and allow other facilities to shine on its merits.
Rachel took the cudgels of representing the cause and welfare of the female prison community. It was a crusade that most of the prison directors were threatened by her serious initiatives. She was already eclipsing the profile of all prison administrators and in effect, she had violated a cardinal rule: “never outshine your master.” Well, it was for her, worth violating because of her devotion to work. As a consequence, she would suffer one career set back after another.
She has not rested on her accomplishments; she initiated a step to hasten the policy of organizing a satellite prison for women in Mindanao. While it was a concept I pursued during my incumbency at Davao prison in 2004, it never took off because of changes in the prison leadership. From there, Rachel took the ball from my court and went straight to the Department of Justice to dunk it. In 2007, with her effort and close association with then Director Vicente G. Vinarao and eventually with then Secretary of Justice Agnes Devanadera, the Correctional Institution for Women in Mindanao became operational.
The lady lawyer has never mellowed despite years of confronting one challenge after another. She still retains her feisty disposition, has maintained a spirited outlook and has constantly kept her professional bearing amidst the strain and demands of government service.
Superintendent Rachel Ruelo is somehow an enigma, a rare comet that has visited contemporary prison administration, yet a constant illumination, a symbol of steadfastness, an image of dependability.
With her feat in the prison service, those following her will have a ready role to emulate and eventually, correctional administration will be able to achieve a progressive status in the entire criminal justice system of the country.
Kagalang-galang Benigno S. Aquino III
Pangulo ng Pilipinas
Sa paglulunsad ng Bureau of Corrections Roadmap
[Inihayag sa New Bilibid Prison, Lungsod ng Muntinlupa noong ika-27 ng Enero 2012]
Kapag nabanggit ang salitang Bilibid, tila ang unang pumapasok sa isip ng marami nating kababayan ay mga imahe mula sa mga Pinoy action films: mga grupo ng kalalakihang burdado ng tattoo, nagsisiksikan sa isang dipang selda, at araw-araw na nakikipag-riot. Kapag sinabing Bilibid, para bang nakakulong na rin dito ang kawalang-pag-asang makalaya ang mga bilanggo, hindi lamang mula sa matataas na pader ng piitan, kundi maging sa panghuhusga ng lipunan.
Ngayong hapon, babaguhin natin ang pagtingin na ito. Sa paglulunsad natin ng Bureau of Corrections Roadmap, itutulak natin ang ating sistemang koreksyonal tungo sa tuwid na daan, kung saan ang tanging layunin ng Bilibid at ng lahat ng bilangguan sa Pilipinas, ay ang tiyakin ang makabuluhang rehabilitasyon at pagbabagong buhay ng mga bilanggo, upang sila ay maging handa sa kanilang pagbabalik bilang bahagi ng kalakhang lipunan.
Binabati ko ang bawat gwardiya, warden, at ang lahat ng bumubuo ng BuCor, at nagpapasalamat ako lalung-lalo kay Director Gaudencio Pangilinan, sa kaniyang maayos na pamumuno, at sa pagbubukas ng bagong pananalig sa mga bilanggo at sa kanilang mga pamilya. Sa kabila ng bigat ng iyong responsibilidad; sa kabila ng mga hamon na araw-araw mong kinakaharap, patuloy kang naninindigan para itaguyod ang kapakanan ng mga kababayan nating nasa loob ng bilangguan.
Nais rin nating bigyang-pagkilala ang mga magiging bahagi ng BuCor Board of Advisers mula sa iba’t ibang sector. Batid natin kung gaano kahalaga ang bawat minuto sa mga personalidad na kasama natin ngayon at ang pagtanggap nila sa panibagong responsibilidad ay patunay sa kanilang wagas na hangaring maging kabalikat ng pamahalaan sa pagdudulot ng pagbabago sa ating bayan. Kayo ang magbibigay ng bagong perspektiba sa mga bagay na dati ay nakakaligtaan sa ating sistemang koreksyonal, mula sa kaisipan ng bawat gwardya’t warden, hanggang sa iba’t ibang mga pangangailangan ng mga bilanggo. Buo ang tiwala kong magagampanan ninyo ang inyong tungkulin nang may dedikasyon at katapatan, upang sa lalong madaling panahon, matagumpay nating mabago, hindi lamang ang mismong sistemang koreksyonal ng Pilipinas, kundi maging ang pagtanaw ng ilang mamamayan sa kanilang kapwa Pilipino na nasa loob ng bilangguan.
Dito nagbubukal ang ating hangaring isulong ang malawakang reporma sa ating sistemang koreksyonal. Kung may nagkasala, maparurusahan siya ayon sa kaniyang hatol, subalit kikilalanin pa rin natin ang kaniyang karapatang pantao, kaya magiging patas, at makatarungan tayo ho tayo. Pananagutan niya ito sa loob ng bilanguan—hindi sa impyerno; hindi sa purgatoryo. Layon nating tapusin na ang araw ng mga seldang maihahambing sa lata po ng sardinas. Hangad nating wakasan na ang pambabalewala sa kalusugan at karapatan ng mga nakabilanggo. Nais nating putulin na ang talamak na kuntsabahan at palakasan ng mga may impluwensyang tao.
Siyam na libo lang po dapat ang kapasidad ng New Bilibid Prison, subalit sa kasalukuyan, humigit kumulang dalawampung libong katao po ang nakakulong dito. Ibig sabihin, ang seldang panlimang tao, labindalawa o labintatlo ang nagsisiksikan dito. Ang isang pirasong isda na sapat lang dapat na pananghalian ng isa, paghahatian pa ng tatlong magkakakosa. Kaya naman kasalukuyan nang inaayos ang planong paglilipat ng New Bilibid Prison sa mas angkop na lokasyon upang ang NBP ay maging isang mas malawak at mas epektibong koreksyonal na pasilidad. Pinag-aaralan na lamang po kung saan pansamantalang ililipat ang ilang bilanggo, upang mas maging maayos ang kanilang pagpasok sa kanilang bagong tahanan. Nagpapatayo na rin ng mga karagdagang gusali sa mga kulungan sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng bansa. Hindi ito katulad ng mga kontrobersyal na kubol na pinapatayo at tinutuluyan lamang ng mga may mga kayang inmates. Sa halip, magagamit na ito ng kahit sinong bilanggo—mayaman man o mahirap—sang-ayon sa pamantayang inilatag ng tanggapan. Samakatuwid, BuCor mismo ang may kakayahang magdikta kung kailan ito maaaring gamitin at kung sino ang gagamit nito.
Maliban dito, sinisimulan na ring ilipat sa ibang pasilidad gaya ng PMA ang mga bilanggong malapit nang lumaya upang magsilbing maintenance workforce. Habang nababawasan nito ang pagsisiksikan sa mga selda, nagsisilbing lunsaran rin ito ng mga bilanggo upang maihanda sila sa mga hamon na kakaharapin nila sa kanilang paglaya. Nakatutok rin tayo sa kanilang kalusugan at nutrisyon, kaya naman dumadaan sa tamang proseso ang pagpili sa kung sino ang maghahanda ng sapat at masustansyang pagkain ng mga bilanggo. Higit sa lahat, patuloy tayong naglulunsad ng iba’t ibang programang pangkabuhayan sa mga kulungan na maaari nilang kapulutan ng bagong mga abilidad at karunungan. Layon kasi nating masiguro na sa kanilang paglaya, handa at may kakayahan silang sumabay sa agos ng lipunan sa produktibo, malusog, at tuwid na paraan.
Sa isang pagpupulong, nakarating din sa akin ang balitang may mga presong tapos na dapat ang sintensya, at matagal nang dapat ay nakalaya, subalit nakakulong pa rin sila. Ang dahilan: nakasulat pa rin sa mga index cards ang ilang datos sa kanilang hatol, nadodoktor ang mga dokumento dahil walang maayos na sistema, at nagkukulang sa koordinasyon ang mga tanggapang dapat ay nag-aasikaso dito. Bilang tugon, inatasan na natin ang DOJ para madaliin ang pagpasok ng mga datos at impormasyong isasama sa National Justice Information System, na siyang magsisilbing database na lilikom at magtutugma sa mga impormasyon mula sa iba’t ibang ahensya ng pamahalaan. Sa pamamagitan nito, masisiguro nating malinaw at mas madaling mahanap ang mga impormasyong hinahagilap ng ibang katuwang na tanggapan. Higit sa lahat, maiiwasan din ang pagdodoktor sa mga dokumento ukol sa sentensya ng mga bilanggo. Samakatuwid, kung anim na taon ang sentensya kay Pedro, sa ikaanim na taon siya mismo lalaya; walang labis, walang kulang.
Siyempre, mahirap isakatuparan ito kung wala namang sapat na gamit, at hindi naman dumadaan sa angkop na pagsasanay ang ating mga gwardiya at warden. Ito ang dahilan kung bakit itinutulak natin ang BuCor Modernization Bill upang madagdagan pa ang kakayahan ng mga nangangalaga sa ating mga bilangguan. Mahalaga ring magkaroon ng regular na reorientation ang mga gwardya at warden upang ipaalala ang kanilang tungkuling maging responsableng gabay—ulitin ko po: mga responsableng gabay—ng mga bilanggo, sa halip na ituring silang kaaway.
Simple lamang ang batayang prinsipyo ng BuCor Roadmap: reporma sa kaisipan at buhay ng mga kababayan nating nasa bilangguan. Dahil kung pagbabago sa lipunan ang hangad natin—kung pagbabago ng mga nakabilanggo ang nais nating gawin—kailangan nating magsakripisyo at magtulungan, upang hubugin ang ating mga bilangguan tungo sa pagiging isang epektibo at modernong sistemang koreksyonal. Mahalagang mangyari ito dahil ang hustisya ay hindi nagtatapos sa parusa. Bagkus, dapat itong maging bukal ng pag-asa. Ito nga po mismo ang magiging bagong mukha ng Bilibid—Pag-asa.
Pag-asa, na pagkatapos nilang pagbayaran ang maling nagawa nila sa nakaraan, may pagkakataon silang magkaroon ng maayos na trabaho at disenteng pagkakakitaan dahil handa na silang humakbang tungo sa kanilang bagong buhay at kinabukasan. Pag-asang muli silang magiging bahagi ng ating lipunan, at mabibigyan ng pagkakataon para maging isang kapakipakinabang at produktibong Pilipino. Ito ang bagong pag-asang hatid ng Bilibid; ito ang pag-asang hatid ng ating sistemang koreksyonal; ito ang pag-asa—ito ang pagbabago—na ipinangako natin noon, na tinutupad natin ngayon, bilang isang makatarungan, maunlad at makataong bansa, sa tuwid na daan.
Magadang hapon po sa lahat at maraming salamat po.