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Pimentel wants a modern penitentiary complex to replace ‘outdated’ prisons

10:49 AM February 03, 2015
Senator Koko Pimentel. INQUIRER.net file photo

Senator Koko Pimentel. INQUIRER.net file photo

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III is urging the government to replace the country’s “outdated, outmoded and dilapidated correctional facilities” like the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City with a “modern national penitentiary complex.”

“Gone should be the notion that prisoners are criminals who deserve little or no sympathy at all,” Pimentel said during a recent privilege speech at the Senate.

Citing the United Nations Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, the senator said, all prisoners should be treated with “respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.”

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He also quoted democracy icon Nelson Mandela of South Africa, saying “no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.”

Based on records by the Bureau of Corrections , Pimentel said, the country’s seven penitentiaries have a total prison population of 40,185 inmates as of August last year when they are only good for 16,000 inmates, translating to a congestion rate of about 150 percent.

He said the Bilibid Prison, site of a recent scandal involving high-profile inmates, was more “disconcerting” as it has a congestion rate of 170 percent with a population of roughly 22,800 in a prison which was intended for 8,400 inmates only.

The inadequate and poor maintenance of penal facilities resulted in bloody fights and anarchy and the proliferation of criminal activities while others live like kings in their air-conditioned special cells, called “kubols,” the senator said.

Pimentel also noted the overlapping functions of various national agencies like the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the different local government units (LGUs) charged with similar correction and rehabilitation functions.

A 2003 study conducted by the Supreme Court in coordination with the United Nations, he said, showed lack of information technology and expertise to properly maintain the inmates’ records and process documents for their release.

There is also concern to improve overall management capacity and resources and resolve issues on unattractive compensation, emoluments and benefits and inadequate training facilities, he said.

Among the reforms cited in the study are provisions for opportunities to develop proper work skills and acquire education and training which will translate into economic self-sufficiency upon release of the inmates.

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“Next is the engagement of inmates in meaningful work assignments to help defray the tax burden of their incarceration, and provisions for counselling, life skills training and spiritual guidance to give inmates new directions in their lives,” Pimentel said.

He said many inmates also live in poor living condition and have limited access to legal services, problems that are compounded by delays in the administration of justice.

The senator then asked his colleagues to commit themselves to the unfinished task at hand “to bring about genuine and lasting reforms that will center on our incarcerated countrymen.”

Congress recently enacted Republic Act No. 10575 or the Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013, mandating government to zealously promote the general welfare and safeguard the basic rights of every prisoner.

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