SolGen pushes for return of DOJ full control over BuCor
Congress should consider restoring the “full control, instead of mere supervision” of the Department of Justice (DOJ) over the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), according to former Justice Secretary and now Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra.
“[M]ost of the shenanigans at the BuCor are very deeply rooted and institutionalized. It really needs total overhaul,” Guevarra told reporters. The bureau has recently been in the spotlight following reports about the alleged involvement of its suspended chief, BuCor Director General Gerald Bantag, in a series of controversies.
Bantag is facing murder complaints for the deaths of radio commentator Percival “Percy Lapid” Mabasa and New Bilibid Prison (NBP) inmate Cristito Villamor Palaña, supposedly one of two middlemen in the plot to kill the broadcaster.
According to Guevarra, who served as DOJ chief from 2018 until his appointment as Solicitor General by President Marcos in July this year, BuCor became autonomous under Republic Act No. 10575 or the BuCor Act of 2013.
BuCor’s joint venture
“The DOJ now merely supervises, but does not exercise control over the BuCor. But still the DOJ steps in whenever the BuCor exceeds the limits of its powers,” he said.
In a previous interview, Guevarra said the law that diminished the DOJ’s control over the bureau may have to be reviewed.
Some of the things that were accomplished in BuCor during his term as DOJ secretary were fixing the good conduct time allowance rules and the single “carpeta” (prison records) system, and including persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in the COVID-19 vaccination program.
Guevarra said he also ordered BuCor to put a stop to gang wars and the construction of “kubol” or makeshift dwellings, and tempered the bureau’s actions prohibiting the passage of residents near the NBP.
In addition, he recommended the disapproval of BuCor’s joint venture agreement with Agua Tierra Oro Mina Development (Atom) Corp. for noncompliance with legal requirements, among other supervisory actions.
“Sadly, however, the huge excavation inside the NBP was purposely hidden from the knowledge of the DOJ,” Guevarra said, referring to diggings inside the prison reservation that were exposed recently by Bantag’s successor, BuCor officer in charge Gregorio Catapang Jr.
Guevarra earlier said he had “absolutely no knowledge about this alleged excavation.”
“The same being an operational matter, the BuCor probably did not find it necessary to inform, much less seek authorization from the DOJ,” he added.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla had said in a previous news briefing that during Bantag’s term, BuCor entered into a memorandum of agreement and joint venture deal with Atom Corp. for a project that would supposedly decongest the state penitentiary and earn revenues for the bureau.
Under the deal, Atom Corp. would donate 234 hectares of land to BuCor and put up buildings to relocate 28,000 PDLs or inmates of NBP.
In return, the company would develop the 375-hectare NBP Reservation in Muntinlupa City into a commercial, residential and industrial area.
Remulla had said that he was opposed to the idea of transferring a megaprison to another facility.
“I was never keen on that plan because as secretary of justice, I have to look at the overall future of our correction system. I am not project-bound… I will look into the universe of the problem, that’s why we have regionalization [and] decongestion. These are proactive measures to improve the correction system,” he said.
He added that he had ordered his staff to look into the possible violations committed by Bantag in connection with the huge excavation at NBP.
Remulla said Bantag had admitted to him that he had the area dug up for treasure hunting.
But Bantag denied this in public, insisting that the excavation was for the construction of a deep swimming pool where prison personnel could be trained in scuba diving so that they could be tapped in rescue operations during calamities. INQ
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