New penitentiary to open in Army camp by yearend
CABANATUAN CITY, Philippines—Sprawling and far from any congested metropolis, the military reservation at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province appears to be the ideal relocation site for the national penitentiary, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vice chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr.
Catapang was in this city last week to turn over hundreds of chickens to active and retired soldiers for their livelihood projects.
The ceremony was held at the Philippine Army’s 70th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Barangay Canantong in Laur town, Nueva Ecija.
The transfer of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) from Muntinlupa City could be completed by yearend or in early 2015, Catapang said.
“The President wants it done by the end of 2014,” he said, adding that the logistics required for such a move were being worked out with other government agencies such as the Department of Justice and Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
Catapang said the transfer could be carried out as a public-private partnership (PPP) project.
The Fort Magsaysay military reservation is located in Palayan City and covers areas that formerly belonged to the towns of Laur, Sta. Rosa, Gen. Tinio and Gabaldon, all in Nueva Ecija. It extends to Dingalan Bay in Aurora province.
Earlier, Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan, who oversees the BuCor and the NBP, said the government wanted to improve its prison facilities to meet international standards and the transfer of the national penitentiary to Fort Magsaysay could be a step toward achieving this.
Baraan said the facilities for a new modern prison could cost P40 billion. He said the 551-hectare NBP in Muntinlupa City, which was opened in 1940, was congested with over 20,000 inmates. Its maximum security section houses 14,500 inmates, although it was designed to hold 8,400 prisoners.
Once the transfer is completed, the NBP in Muntinlupa could be transformed into a commercial district.
In 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 568 authorizing the transfer of the NBP to a 272-ha reservation in Barangay (village) Cuyambay in Tanay, Rizal province. But Tanay officials opposed the plan.
In May 2012, the Aquino administration began studying the option of relocating the NBP and the Correctional Institution for Women to Fort Magsaysay.
Several sites in Cuyapo and Talugtog towns in Nueva Ecija were also considered but the administration concluded that the 44,000-ha military reservation at Fort Magsaysay was the most ideal, the Inquirer learned.
Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and Catapang have identified the military reservation as one of the military camps that would host American facilities under the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with the United States.
The other sites are Subic Bay, Clark and Cubi Point in Central Luzon, Oyster Bay and Brooke’s Point in Palawan province, and Batanes province.
Officials said Fort Magsaysay was ideal due to its proximity to Dingalan Bay, which could be used for naval maneuvers. The reservation has been a venue of the joint military exercises conducted yearly by Philippine and US military forces.
At present, Fort Magsaysay hosts the headquarters of the Army’s 7th Infantry (Kaugnay) Division, the Special Forces Regiment and the Special Operations Command.
It is also the site of the Aquino-Diokno Memorial Shrine marking the place where the late Senators Benigno Aquino Jr. and Jose W. Diokno were imprisoned and held in solitary confinement for a time by the martial law regime.
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