By Filane Mikee Cervantes
MANILA – A party-list lawmaker on Monday proposed integrating the government’s corrections, jail and probation management systems under a single department to address the longstanding issues of congestion, abuse and corruption in the country’s penal facilities.
Bicol Saro Party-list Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan said creating a line agency like the Department of Corrections will enable the government to introduce long-due reforms in its fragmented corrections and jail management systems.
Yamsuan made the proposal as the House Committee on Public Order and Safety is set to conduct this week a motu proprio inquiry into the reported disappearance of a person deprived of liberty (PDL) and the discovery of mass graves inside the New Bilibid Prison’s (NBP) maximum security compound.
He stressed the need to work on improving the living conditions and rehabilitation programs of PDLs, noting that the proposed department will be able to focus on safeguarding the rights of PDLs from the time of their detention up to their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Yamsuan said his office is now in the process of drafting the bill that aims to create the proposed Department of Corrections.
He cited Dr. Raymund Narag, a recognized international criminology expert and a former detainee, who said the appalling conditions inside the NBP and other jails are the result of the overly high congestion rate in these prisons, the lack of personnel and financial resources, and other structural deficits that breed corruption and irregular practices.
“Dr. Narag’s comprehensive briefing is a wake-up call for us in Congress to address once and for all the perennial problems that have long plagued our penal facilities,” Yamsuan said. “Based on Dr. Narag’s extensive analyses, there appears to be no significant improvements at all in our penal facilities despite the passage of a law in 2013 that aims to strengthen and professionalize the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).”
Yamsuan said he will closely coordinate with Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. to get their inputs on his proposed Department of Corrections.
The lawmaker noted that the Philippines’ jail management system is disjointed, noting that the prison and penal facilities are under the BuCor of the DOJ, while its district, city and municipal jails are under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology of the DILG.
Meanwhile, the provincial jails are under the supervision of the provincial governments.
According to BuCor data, the NBP and other penal facilities it manages currently house around 51,500 inmates nationwide.
The total capacity of all these jails is estimated at only 12,250 inmates, which leads to a congestion rate of 321 percent, Yamsuan noted.
Yamsuan further cited that the congestion rate of the NBP alone is at 377 percent, as its current population of 30,701 is only enough for 6,500 inmates.
The bureau data also showed that the custodial officer-to-inmate ratio is at 1 is to 30, far from the ideal ratio of 1 is to 7.
Narag backed Yamsuan’s proposal, arguing that it would be best to create a single authority to manage the government’s jail, corrections and probation systems.
BJMP chief Jail Director Ruel Rivera also supported Yamsuan’s proposal to integrate the country’s fragmented jail management systems.
Last week, BuCor Director General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. lifted the code red status at the NBP, but jail visitations are still indefinitely suspended. (PNA)