Lawmaker seeks sale of New Bilibid Prison

 By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) Updated June 11, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (16)

MANILA, Philippines – Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas proposed yesterday the sale of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa and other penal colonies to finance the construction of new provincial jails.

He said the sale of Bilibid alone could raise hundreds of millions, if not billions, since it could be developed into an affluent subdivision like Ayala Alabang, also located in Muntinlupa.

He said the jail system should be decentralized and the inmates at Bilibid transferred to the provinces.

“They have to be transferred to the provinces where they come from or where they committed their crimes. This will enable their relatives to visit them often,” he said.

“Like in the United States, the provincial governor will take charge of the prisoners. We should let the governor take responsibility and be held accountable for running the jails,” he said.

He added that since the national government has decentralized health, agriculture and other services, it might as well include jail management.

He stressed that since prisoners would be dispersed instead of being concentrated in one prison like Bilibid, they would be better supervised and monitored. He pointed out that when he was governor of his province, he dealt with prisoners confined in the provincial jail but their numbers were only a couple of hundred compared to the more than 10,000 housed in Bilibid.

Fariñas was one of the members of the House justice committee who conducted an ocular inspection of the national penitentiary on Tuesday. They discovered that privileged prisoners have their own rooms and turf or cell composed of fellow inmates, and are practically running the jail.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who accompanied the lawmakers, ordered the dismantling of the special rooms and the scrapping of privileges of many prisoners. However, a day after issuing the order, she recalled it, citing security considerations.

Instead, she asked her people to submit to her a dismantling plan in two to three weeks.

Fariñas said he was surprised to learn that several men in blue uniform he saw during their visit were prisoners themselves acting as prison guards. He said it would be difficult for prison officials to carry out De Lima’s directives since it could spawn riots.

“Changing policies at Bilibid cannot be done overnight. We can solve the problems by separating inmates and returning them to their respective provinces,” he said.

On Wednesday, Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo decried the “absolute abdication” by Bilibid officials of their control over the jail to drug convicts and other prisoners.

“It’s the inmates themselves who guard the doors and decide who may enter or exit the ‘brigadas’ or jail cells. The key is literally in their hands. It’s deplorable,” he said.

He said prison officials and guards are “practically powerless to enter many of these cells.”

Like the lawmakers, De Lima was stunned by what she saw inside the penitentiary, which is under her department.

One congressman who joined the ocular inspection who did not want to be identified said De Lima, who has been justice secretary for almost a year, should have earlier discovered what’s wrong with the Bilibid prison.

“She should have fewer than daily press conferences and conduct more prison visits. She should be embarrassed by what is going on in her turf,” he said.

He also said resigned Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Ernesto Diokno, a friend of President Aquino, should have discontinued special privileges for inmates. Diokno quit in the aftermath of the ABS-CBN exposé on the living-out privileges of former Batangas governor and convicted killer Jose Antonio Leviste, whom NBI agents arrested near his family-owned building in Makati City. Leviste has been charged with evasion of service of sentence.

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