DoJ panel unearths more jail anomalies
MANILA, Philippines—The discovery of former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste’s unauthorized trip from jail has opened a can of worms regarding the “systemic irregularities” in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
In her report to President Benigno Aquino III, De Lima said the fact-finding panel that she had formed to look into the “caper” of Leviste, a homicide convict, found not only evidence of VIP treatment accorded some influential prisoners but also “numerous issues and problems” in the national penitentiary.
Chief among these is the existence of “zombies,” or prisoners hired as assassins and allowed to leave the NBP compound for a hit job, De Lima said.
She said the problems also included drug peddling, congestion, the “kubol” (hut) system, the killing of inmates, the use of banned communication gadgets, such as mobile phones inside the NBP, and anomalies in the food budget for inmates.
De Lima underscored the need to “overhaul” the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) from “top to bottom” to effect genuine reforms and transformation in the agency.
She suggested to the President the drafting of a comprehensive plan of action to rid the NBP and BuCor of corruption and other decades-old flaws.
“In sum, the current controversies and occurrences highlighting the problematic state of the national penitentiary system and the corresponding public awareness … call for the immediate formulation and implementation of a National Penitentiary Framework and Masterplan,” she said in her memorandum to Mr. Aquino.
De Lima’s memorandum was attached to the report of the fact-finding panel. Her office furnished reporters copies of the documents on Wednesday upon the President’s approval.
5 for suspension
The officers recommended suspended and charged were Leviste’s custodial guard Fortunato Justo, who will also be facing a criminal complaint; Chief Supt. Armando Miranda, the former NBP head; Chief Supt. Ramon Reyes, the incumbent NBP head; Dante Cruz, the former chief of the NBP minimum security compound; and the incumbent, Roberto Rabo.
The panel said it was Miranda who had granted Leviste VIP treatment and approved his transfer from the minimum security compound to the agro section of the penal reservation where he built his kubol.
Reyes should be held accountable because he did not revoke Miranda’s order favoring Leviste despite reports that the latter had been leaving the NBP without a pass, the panel said.
It said that Cruz allowed Leviste’s exemption from the daily head count of “living out” inmates, and that his successor, Rabo, consented to such an arrangement.
The panel also said these steps should be taken to prevent a repeat of the Leviste caper:
Deploy police or military personnel to meet the ideal ratio of one prison guard for every eight inmates, from the current 1:81.
Set up surveillance cameras to monitor the movement of people within the NBP compound.
Hold regular seminars and training for prison guards and other BuCor employees.
Strictly enforce prison rules on vehicles and visitors entering the NBP.
Build security fences delineating the NBP compound from the nearby government housing projects.
Introduce a new system in monitoring “living out” inmates.
Review and amend the BuCor manual.
Reshuffle prison guards regularly to avoid familiarity with inmates.
Speaking with reporters, De Lima said the use of “zombies” was continuing, “but it’s something that has to be validated.”
“We heard about ‘zombies’ who are allowed to leave at night and return the next day or a few days later after doing their ‘assignments,’” she said.
According to De Lima, the panel members were also told that some politicians had been intervening in the affairs of BuCor “to favor certain inmates.”
“These problems all boil down to corruption. In the case of the ‘zombies,’ they cannot do that without connivance, without corruption,” she said.
De Lima said a technical working group composed of representatives of the Department of Justice (DoJ), other government agencies, Church-based groups and other nongovernment organizations, as well as penology experts from the academe, could best deliberate on the panel’s recommendations.
The panel is composed of Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Susan Dacanay, Assistant State Prosecutor Rohairah Lao, National Bureau of Investigation intelligence chief Ruel Lasala and State Counsels Wilberto Tolitol and Charlene Mae Tapic.
Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III supervised the panel’s five-day inquiry.
As for Ernesto Diokno, the resigned BuCor director and a close friend of Mr. Aquino’s, the panel recommended the filing of an administrative case against him for neglect of duty.
De Lima said Diokno did not take appropriate action when he was purportedly informed of Leviste’s trips outside the NBP.
In its report, the panel said that because Diokno was “a presidential appointee who serves at the pleasure of the President.” Mr. Aquino may replace him, order his preventive suspension or ask him to take an indefinite leave of absence.
But the panel virtually absolved Diokno of complicity in the grant of “sleep out” and “living out” privileges to Leviste.
De Lima also backed Diokno’s argument that the principle of command responsibility should not apply to him because he was the “overall manager of the national penitentiary system.”
“Instead, Director Diokno’s direct accountability in the Leviste incident is based on dereliction of duty,” De Lima said.
She said she also believed Diokno who said that the controversy of the Leviste case was used by “certain quarters, both within and outside the NBP,” to block his campaign against illegal drugs.
The panel said 109 inmates were already enjoying the “sleep out” arrangement even before Diokno was appointed to the NBP in October last year.
“To be fair to him, he has not granted this privilege to any inmate … But it is just unfortunate for him that inmate Leviste’s undoing happened during his incumbency,” the panel said.
It also recognized Diokno’s significant accomplishments to curb the drug problem in the NBP during his seven-month stint.
OK by Aquino
Edwin Lacierda, Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson, said De Lima had been authorized to make the panel’s findings public.
“That means [the President is] adopting the findings of the DoJ,” he said in a telephone interview.
Lacierda said Malacañang wanted the issues of congestion and proliferation of drugs in the prisons addressed.
“The tasks before the DoJ and other concerned agencies are clear. The President himself has expressed concern about congestion in our prisons and drugs being introduced into the lives of inmates,” Lacierda said.
“These factors combine to promote corruption and disorder and saps, in turn, discipline and justice as rules may be unclear or arbitrarily applied to inmates,” he said.
Lacierda said there was also a need for a more systematic implementation of rules inside the prisons as well as the education and rehabilitation of prisoners.
He added: “Our correctional system cannot function if it is inhumane, if it is underfunded, and if its rules aren’t further codified and applied in a fair and strict manner.” With a report from Norman Bordadora
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