Corruption ensnares the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and it flew under the radar. Based from the Senate hearings last week, it is confirmed that inmates cough up as little as P50,000 to as much as P1.5 million for speedy release under the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law. The stench smells “yellow,” so read until the end.
While the amounts involved are smaller when compared to the better known corrupt agencies (i.e., Bureaus of Internal Revenue, Customs and Immigration), the fact remains that innocent Filipinos have succumbed to the illegal ways of government officials and this has been tolerated by their own leaders. There must be something with government “bureaus” that make them so susceptible to corruption, perhaps a wholistic review of government offices and its functions is needed.
Similar to what must be done with other corrupt bureaus, BuCor must be revamped immediately. The slow pace of government reorganization and the number of interested and influential parties make overhauling a government office a tough task. The better route may be to do it Road Board style — abolish then bring back its funds to the National Treasury.
Abolishing BuCor may require reversion of its functions to the Department of Justice and more to the local government units. However, penal institutions are an integral part of the Philippine criminal justice system. If there’s something that can be blamed on President Duterte on the BuCor fiasco, it is that his administration placed too much emphasis on catching criminals, particularly those involved in drugs, without thinking of their reform and return to society. The counter-argument is that these scoundrels have caused so much damage to society, then why should they be given another chance. We trust the criminal justice system in determining and filtering who deserves reformation or extermination.
Sen. Ping Lacson, last week, tweeted a good point to ponder. He asked, “Two interesting questions: How much does government spend to arrest, prosecute and convict a drug trafficker? How much does a convict pay to be issued a release order?” If we may expound on this — How much does maintaining a jail, including the salaries of the jail guards, cost? These questions shall come in handy at the congressional hearings for the Department of the Interior and Local Government budget for 2020.
Indeed, government must beef up its correctional facilities since authorities have been bringing in bigger fish to fry. Case in point: Joma Sison was ordered arrested by the Manila Regional Trial Court. We also see more rebels arrested in the latter part of the Duterte administration. In other countries, there appears to be more advanced and automated prisons with less prison guards.
This is different from the Filipino-style of traditional government offices — archaic office equipment manned by overstaffed and ageing officers.
Another option is to move the New Bilibid Prison to Nueva Ecija, sell the government property it occupies in Muntinlupa and use the revenue to fund the construction, maintenance and operation of a mega-prison. This proposal has been lingering for years since the previous administration, and it is time to take a second look at it. But given the thrust of this administration, we see this issue to push for the reimposition of the death penalty as the best way to prevent crime and to “declog” the prison facilities.
The interesting part of this issue has yet to unravel in the coming weeks. Out of fear of being subjected to a witch hunt, some of those wrongfully released under the GCTA Law have voluntarily surrendered. More witnesses are likewise expected to surface to testify on the corrupt ways of BuCor in relation to the release of inmates. Details that may implicate past BuCor chiefs, including incumbent Sen. Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, are yet to be learned.
Whatever comes out of this, we hope for an amendment of the GCTA Law that was signed out of pure good intentions in 2013, yet implemented faultily beginning with its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) in 2014. And if we look at the people behind the IRR, it was no one else but former Justice secretary Leila de Lima and former Interior secretary Mar Roxas. Did we even wonder?
Hence, in the witch hunt for accountable officials, the government must look no further and subpoena De Lima and Roxas to the congressional investigations. Let’s see them wriggle their way out of this, and maybe into the penitentiary where they rightly belong.