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House to probe prison laxity; resets justice’s impeach case

By: - Reporter / @cynchdbINQ
/ 08:17 PM May 21, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—The House committee on justice will investigate the apparent abuse of the “living out” privileges given former Batangas Governor Antonio Leviste and other similar irregularities involving wealthy and influential jailbirds at New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa.

Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr., committee chair, said that the hearings will begin on May 25 and that, consequently, the scheduled hearing and voting on the substance of the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Justice Mariano del Castillo will be postponed to May 31.

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Tupas told the Inquirer in an interview that he decided to give priority to the investigation of Leviste’s unauthorized trips outside of the prison because it was alarming.

“An inmate illegally going out of a detention facility on several occasions makes a mockery of our justice. It is incumbent upon the committee to investigate this in order to establish command responsibility. I believe that Bureau of Corrections Director Diokno should be made accountable,” Tupas said.

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Tupas said the decision to investigate was arrived at in his meeting last week with committee’s deputy chairmen—Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Farinas, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali and Marikina Rep. Federico Romero Quimbo—as well as ex-officio members Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III in their capacity as deputy speakers.

“The (Leviste) incident is central to the justice system and should not be tolerated. I heard (on TV) when he (Diokno) said that he cannot guard all those 32,000 or so inmates. He should be fired,” Tupas said.

He said the investigation will focus on the irregularities in the Bureau of Corrections and possible remedies to address the situation.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares agreed with Tupas that Diokno should be sacked, citing at least two statements to the media which he deemed “fatal”—first when Diokno admitted that he knew about Leviste’s frequent trips and even warned the convicted killer and then when he said “maliit na kaso lang yan (it’s just a small case).”

“Leviste is not the main issue here. The burden is on Diokno. He should be fired for saying those things. I think the issue here is not even command responsibility. There is no such thing as living out of the prison without permission. Definitely there is corruption here,” Colmenares said.

Colmenares recalled that when he was imprisoned for subversion for four years from 1979 to 1980 and from 1983 to 1986, inmates were allowed to get out of prison only for medical examination. The case against him was later dismissed by the courts, he said.
He said the legislative inquiry should focus on remedial legislation aimed at reviewing and reforming the penal framework on the Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners which has not been updated since the 1960s.

The review should be based on the philosophy of rehabilitation.

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“It should not be treated as punitive because to me, it’s a social thing. But definitely, we have to review this living out system because it seems only the rich can afford it. What about the poor (inmates)? We should regulate this practice,” Colmenares added.

Tupas said that officials of the Bureau of Corrections led by Diokno, Department of Justice, and Bureau of Pardons and Parole will be invited to the committee hearing on May 25.

A Malacañang spokesperson said Saturday that President Benigno Aquino will make known in the coming days what he plans to do with Diokno in the face of calls for sanctions against him.

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TAGS: Antonio Leviste, Bureau of Corrections, House inquiry, living out, New Bilibid Prison, Prison
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