Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 September 2016


As of the morning of Sept. 23 (yesterday), the prison population in the maximum-security camp of the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa was 15,978, being guarded by 126 Special Action Force men per shift. I don’t know if the SAF troops are in addition to the regular prison guards (custodial personnel) who number about 160 per shift for the entire prison population (including the medium- and minimum-security camps).

Which means that the ratio of guards to inmates is 1 to 126 in the maximum-security camp if only the SAF troops are included. And that there is terrible congestion because the original capacity is only 3,000. Actually, a law was passed—Republic Act No. 10575, or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013—correcting these flaws as well as others in the system.

So why is there still congestion and scarcity of guards? Because the implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) of RA 10575 were passed only last May. Which gives rise to another question: Why does it take three years to complete IRRs for a law?

And what is the status of the reformation of prisoners? Let the Reader judge: The deputy director for reformation was asked to resign. He was actually given a grace period of 30 days, so he resigned end of July.  He—Martin Perfecto, who has a PhD in criminal justice from a US university—was reportedly a good deputy director. I think he was assured that he would be reappointed, but almost two months later, no reappointment has yet been made. The wheels of the bureaucracy spin at a glacial pace. So the reformation program is headless.

What about the reformation programs that were in place? Perhaps the experience of Gang Badoy, head of an NGO called Rock Ed, will provide an answer: Gang’s group had been visiting Muntinlupa weekly for the past nine years to conduct educational and training programs. She had 60-80 students on a rotation basis. Her program, called “Rock the Rehas,” was canceled last July, no reason given, after nine years. She is hoping that she will be recalled because she had a good thing going. If her status is any indication, there is no current reformation program.

By the way, the prison meal ration is P50 a day, but the amount that actually goes for meals—because I heard that prison officials get their cut—is P35-P40 a day for three meals. This, on top of the congestion.

In other words, our national penitentiary is suffering from an acute lack of resources, as evidenced by the guard-to-inmate and reformation-personnel-to-inmate ratios and the food scarcity. And to some extent, that is the reason there is a proliferation of gangs there—the Warays, the Cebuanos, the “Genuine Ilocanos,” etc. They serve a purpose. With the scarcity of “custodial personnel,” the gang leaders are in effect responsible for their members. If anything goes wrong, the gang leaders of the culprit get the blame, and they in turn mete out punishment to the erring member.

But that’s not all. If the member gets sick, it is the gang that takes care of him in terms of medicines and food. If the member needs protection, it is provided.

To some extent, I am told, the same role is given to the rich and the connected (Teehankee, Leviste, Jalosjos, Panlilio, Webb, etc., past and present). They get served hand and foot, and the inmates who serve them do so with gratitude because of their protection. The inmates get sick, or they get into trouble, and their padrons take care of them.  And they get the best food. The same is true for the drug lords—also served hand and foot by those lucky to be picked.

In any case, Gang Badoy tells me, this prison system, warts and all, is still preferred by some inmates who never had it so good when they were “free.” Because there is nothing waiting for them outside. They can’t even go back to their homes either, because they had no homes to start with, or because they have caused their families shame.

On the other hand, she also told me of the case of a young man named Dizon, who was told he was being released—only to be told on the awaited day that it was not he, but another inmate of the same name, who would be freed. The man snapped. And since there is no counseling or psychiatric help to be had, he was merely chained, and taken care of by his gang.

But the most interesting insight I got from Gang, given her nine years of experience in Bilibid, was her take on the drug convicts that have been paraded in the House of Representatives. Did she think they were for real?

The simple answer is NO. These people are narcissists—and to offer them national media attention is like offering them heaven. They will do anything, say anything, for the attention they get. Given that the reward to them is immunity, and whatever else is being offered, as the saying goes, “All this, and heaven, too.”