DOJ bent on building new prisons, relocating inmates
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has firmed up plans to move inmates from the maximum security compound of New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City to the Sablayan penal colony in Occidental Mindoro, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Thursday.
The relocation plan, according to the DOJ chief, is long overdue considering the national penitentiary’s record of 400 escapes over the past 20 years and the proliferation of illegal drugs within its walls.
Remulla informed the House justice committee that his department was also looking to convert the Mega Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, into a minimum security prison.
There is also a related plan to set up a medium security facility in Tanay, Rizal, on a property owned by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), the official said during the House briefing.
“We do not have to house all the inmates together in one compound. It is possible to put them in separate facilities,” Remulla said.
READ: Bilibid inmates to be moved to 2 Mimaropa colonies
He said the DOJ was in talks with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to build a maximum security facility in Sablayan, a first-class municipality in Occidental Mindoro that is home to the 16,190-hectare prison and penal farm established there in 1954.
“It’s about time really that we move out the maximum security prison from the middle of the city, especially [considering] that we have more than 400 escapes in the past 20 years,” Remulla said, expressing concern for the safety of Muntinlupa residents living in such close proximity to Bilibid.
Worse, “these escapes have not been properly monitored and have not been properly documented,” he said, adding that he only recently learned of the prison break incidents when he was briefed by BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag.
“This is very worrisome … Before the roads of Muntinlupa were closed, people used to pass by the prison on a daily basis just … like passing through a mall,” said Remulla, who, as DOJ head, supervises BuCor.
He said there was such laxity that it was quite easy for people to have access to the prison “from a very, very comfortable vantage point” in a road system that led directly to the front of the maximum security prison.
“So it’s about time to really change the location of our maximum security prison since these are housing PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) who have been sentenced to serve time for crimes that may be violent in nature or may have a very pernicious effect in our society,” Remulla said.
At present, the maximum security compound houses 17,400 inmates even though it was only built for 6,000 people, according to the official. “So you can imagine the rate of congestion right now, which is almost at 300 percent capacity.”
Built in 1940, NBP is the largest prison managed by BuCor with a population of 28,900 PDLs, of whom nearly two-thirds are in the maximum security compound. Within the compound, the infamous Building 14 houses some of the most high-profile prisoners, many of them convicted drug dealers.
As the most tightly guarded facility, the gate to the building is not accessible from the main entrance, is protected by its own set of security guards and equipped with surveillance cameras and signal jamming devices.
The penitentiary was constructed on an initial 551 ha of land, but a 104-ha portion was diverted to a DOJ housing project.
Remulla said the proposed P4.8-billion budget for the construction of the maximum security prison in Sablayan town would be embedded in the DPWH’s budget for its public buildings program.
But he said funding for the project would still depend on the design, as a special consultant might be needed to ensure the facility complied with international standards for prisons.
“We hope we can build a first-class prison for this purpose,” he added.
READ: Pimentel says PH must build one ‘world class’ maximum security prison
As for the DOJ’s plans to use the drug rehabilitation facility in Fort Magsaysay, the justice secretary said he visited the center and found it “may pass for a minimum security prison.”
“The persons who are located therein did not have much of a tendency to escape anymore and probably we can put the drug rehabilitation facility to good use if we move the minimum security prison there,” Remulla said.
He said the medium security prison could be moved to Tanay town, where BuCor controls 100 ha of land. “Hopefully we can still recover the land in Tanay so this could be of value to our country,” Remulla said.
Besides NBP and the Sablayan penal colony, BuCor manages five other facilities: Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City, Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Davao del Norte, Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm in Palawan, San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm in Zamboanga City, and Leyte Regional Prison in Southern Leyte.
These are distinct from jails operated by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, which are generally used to keep custody of persons who are not yet convicted of crime.
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